True story, I was reading a magazine article about Victor Frankl and left my computer on. The article gave one of his most famous quotes, and sure enough the same quote was simultaneously staring back at me on my computer screen from an eBook I left open. Serendipity is indeed a strange and wonderful thing.
Frankl has inspired millions of people, including many artists and leaders today. Having survived a Nazi concentration camp, he wrote a book about happiness upon his release. In the camp he was simply known as prisoner 119104.
Franlk lost his wife and unborn child in the camp, but came away with a certain discovery about human life and lasting fulfillment. His timeless quote about existence was, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
This was no theory for Frankl, everything really was taken away from him. But he found that if people knew why they existed, they could endure almost any ‘how’ that arose. They could use any circumstance, no matter how grim, to find an empowering meaning. You can learn more in his book Man's Search for Meaning, available at Cleveland's Half Price Books.
Consider Oprah Winfrey. As a child she suffered severe abuse. From those haunting experiences she determined to live her life treating people with dignity and compassion. Instead of letting the experiences dictate her actions, she chose a meaning that could serve others; she learned to use her pain to bring healing. It was a conscious choice.
In the camp, a particularly cruel punishment for the prisoners was having them stack rocks, then take them down, then repeat this over and over for hours. This was one of the quickest ways the guards learned that drove people literally insane. There was no purpose to the task, there was no goal or outcome, and many people’s minds cracked under the meaningless chore.
Frankl helped other men survive the camp by helping them find meaning in their lives, to have something waiting for them to complete once they were free. Once they saw a purpose beyond their immediate circumstances, they were able to endure.
Frankl concluded that true happiness comes with meaning, and meaning is what we choose to give any given moment.
To uncover your purpose, author David Deida suggests starting by asking the question, “What is it I must do before I die?”
Once you answer that, then list all the reasons you can think of that pursuing that outcome will benefit you and the world.
There is a Navajo proverb that reads, “You can’t wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.” Choose to be awake, to be fully present, to be in the here and now, to pursue something greater than yourself and don’t let the world distract you from your calling.