I didn't notice how much Yiddish I use until I moved to Wisconsin and people had not heard any Yiddish. I keep using it, though because it’s a great supplement to English; almost all Yiddish words we use with English are actually extremely nuanced ways to express negative feelings about something or someone.
Take, for example, tsotcke, chazzerai, and schmate. In this photo, the candlesticks are tsotchkes—they are stuff I don't need but I have in the house because I like them. In general, if it's your stuff, it's valuable or sentimental, but to other people, it's just tsotchkes.
The stuff in front of my candlesticks is chazzerai—junky toys. The kids still play with them, but only in so far as they are weapons to catapult into each others' heads under the guise of a missed toss. Chazzerai is more negative than tsotchke. If it's a tsotchke, everyone wants to throw it out except for the owner. If it's chazzerai, even the owner will not rescue it from the garbage.
Using Yiddish is a way to feel a sense of belonging through a common language. There are lots of ways to feel like you belong. When I work at a company I belong through a common goal.
He didn't actually say that. He might have if he were Jewish. Instead, he said, “That sweater is pretty dirty.” I put another schmate over my schmate because if you have one schmate it's just a rag—which is the literal translation of the word. But two schmates, I was hoping, is more Mary-Kate Olsen.
I had a fun trip with Ryan. I was happy to talk about how to conquer the recruiting world with Brazen Careerist's new product, Network Roulette. I liked being part of the energy a group has when doing something big.
Then I went back to the farm, to the tiny town of Darlington. We live next door to the high school principal, who the farmer told me I would probably hate because the principal was the football coach for so many years. And, it's true, I hate high school football.
But in fact, I feel like I belong in Darlington because I adore our neighbors. They are dream neighbors. Here's an example: I needed a stick of butter and they weren't home but they said my kids could walk over and take a stick out of their fridge. And my kids made themselves chocolate milk before they came back home.
There has been only one time, ever, that the neighbors said we couldn't come over. It was a night they were having company. But the kids had already walked in their door by the time I caught up to them, so the neighbors let us stay. If there were a word that conveys houseguests who are schmates, I think me and the kids would have been it that night. But my neighbors didn't care.
Numerous studies show that a sense of belonging is a hugely positive force in good health. When I had a nervous breakdown after my second son was born it was because it was clear to me that I was not ever going to be part of mommy groups—I just don't understand how you belong simply because you're a mom. But I also was not a part of the business world. I was disconnected from everyone. Then: despair.
I'm convinced that the initial slip toward despair is the sense that you don't belong.
That sense of belonging I get from Yiddish is not language so much as Jews trying to figure out how to be Jewish in their life. Invariably, people who were brought up with Yiddish and still use it as adults are actively exploring religion and culture in a way that Brazen Careerist is actively exploring how to solve recruiting and social media.
I think our strongest sense of belonging comes not from belonging by default, but belonging by solving problems together.
Did you notice how I just did the redesign of this site and it could have been the perfect time to get rid of the workplace angle for my blog? After all, I dumped the moniker Brazen Careerist. But I want to keep writing about careers because I think the topic is actually mostly about belonging. We each want to contribute to something, and we each want to feel safe. Work is so much more than just earning money. Work is about figuring out where we belong in a wider context than our circle of friends and family.
Writing about the workplace and careers is writing about belonging in the most fundamental sense of the word.