Of course, being fully human and living an authentic life at home, at play, and at work are formidable challenges at best. They involve a willingness to embark down a path of self-discovery, drawing heavily upon what Frankl refers to as our will to meaning, that is, our inherent capacity to continually search for meaning under all circumstances. This human quest for meaning in every moment creates a discerning path that runs through all aspects of our lives. It is a path that weaves a process, not a product, for during our lifetime there is no final destination where everything comes to rest. This book offers guideposts along the way.
In Chapter 2, Viktor Frankl s Lifework and Legacy, we get a glimpse into the life and work of Dr. Frankl. As a mentor and author, he had a profound impact on my way of thinking and dramatically influenced my work and my life. As the founder of Logotherapy, he brought powerful insights and compassion to the therapeutic world, leaving a legacy of wisdom that only increases over time.
The many pathways to meaning are explored in Chapter 3, Labyrinths of Meaning, which also makes reference to the seven core principles of Frankl s work that were introduced earlier. Each of these life-meaning principles is then more deeply explored in individual chapters: Exercise the Freedom to Choose Your Attitude (Chapter 4); Realize Your Will to Meaning (Chapter 5); Detect the Meaning of Life s Moments (Chapter 6 ); Don t Work Against Yourself (Chapter 7); Look at Yourself from a Distance (Chapter 8); Shift Your Focus of Attention (Chapter 9); and Extend Beyond Yourself (Chapter 10).
One may say that instincts are transmitted through the genes, and values are transmitted through traditions, but that meanings, being unique, are a matter of personal discovery. [ 9 ]
Chapter 4, Exercise the Freedom to Choose Your Attitude, examines the Logotherapeutic concept of freedom of will.
This concept is best described by Frankl s famous quote in Man s Search for Meaning, Everything can be taken from a man but . . . the last of the human freedoms ”to choose one s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one s way. [ 10 ] The key ingredient here is the responsibility for choosing our attitude, which lies solely and soundly with the self.
Chapter 5, Realize Your Will to Meaning, explores Frankl s concept of our will to meaning and how we bring our values to life at work . Logotherapy, according to Frankl, considers man as a being whose main concern consists of fulfilling a meaning and in actualizing values, rather than in the mere gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts. [ 11 ] Giving meaning to work, in this context, means more than simply completing a task to receive a tangible reward, such as money, influence, status, or prestige. By committing to values and goals that might appear intangible but are nonetheless real and meaningful, we honor our deepest needs.
The fundamental presumption is that only as individuals can we answer for our own lives, detecting in them each moment s meaning and weaving our own unique tapestry of existence. Chapter 6, Detect the Meaning of Life s Moments , goes further ”into the realm of ultimate meaning or supermeaning. Frankl s holistic views on the importance of intuitive capacity for love and conscience offer great insight into how meaning at work and in everyday life reveals itself. Frankl has written: Love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. . . . The salvation of man is through love and in love. [ 12] Yet our ability to weave love into our lives, especially into our work lives, is not only sadly limited but also suspect in today s measurable world of work.
Sometimes our most fervent desires and intentions are thwarted by our obsession with outcome. In Chapter 7, Don t Work Against Yourself, the technique known as paradoxical intention is examined and applied to work and everyday life. Frankl calls this form of self- sabotage hyper-intention. The tendency to micro-manage the work of others, for example, may create hyper- intensive stress, performance anxiety, or even covert/overt actions of sabotage that can end up creating the opposite of the result sought by a manager. Sometimes focusing too closely on the problem can keep us from seeing the solution. Likewise, becoming obsessed with or fixated on a particular outcome, more often than not gets in the way of our best intentions.
Chapter 8, Look at Yourself from a Distance, focuses on the notion of self-detachment and how, among other things, it can help us to lighten up and not sweat the small stuff. Frankl observed that Only man owns the capacity to detach himself from himself. To look at himself out of some perspective or distance. [ 13] This includes that uniquely human trait known as a sense of humor. Frankl noted that no animal is capable of laughing, least of all laughing at itself or about itself . [ 14] A dose of self-detachment frees us to be more open and receptive about the universe of opportunities in our lives.
When Viktor Frankl was a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps, in order to cope with stress, suffering, and conflict, he learned to deflect his attention away from the painful situation to other, more appealing circumstances. In Chapter 9, Shift Your Focus of Attention, we explore this skill and how it can be effectively used in the workplace.
Self- transcendence is explored in Chapter 10, Extend Beyond Yourself. This principle goes far beyond shifting the focus of attention from one thing to another. It takes us into the spiritual realm of ultimate meaning, where we see how our lives connect seamlessly to the lives of others. We see how being of service, no matter what the scale, is where our deepest meaning is realized.
Finally, in Chapter 11, Living and Working with Meaning, I weave my own views into Frankl s lessons so that they can be integrated into daily work/life, bringing personal and ultimate meaning to all the moments of our lives.
So, let s first take a look at Dr. Frankl s lifework, explore more fully the foundations of his meaning-centered approach, and see how we can apply his groundbreaking philosophy to work, workplace issues, and our personal lives.
Recall a situation in which you felt especially negative about your job or career. Perhaps you just didn t like the work that you were doing, or maybe you disliked your supervisor, boss, or co-workers (this may even be your situation today). Did you view yourself as a victim of circumstances that were outside of your control, or did you feel responsible in some way for creating the situation and therefore were ultimately responsible for dealing with it? What, if anything, did you do about it? As you think about the situation now, what did you learn from it? What would you have done differently?
Meaning Question: What can you do to make your current work or job more meaningful?
For Further Reflection: Ask yourself honestly, are you a prisoner of your thoughts? Do you hold other people, including co-workers, prisoners of your thoughts?
[ 9 ] Viktor E. Frankl, The Unconscious God (New York: Washington Square Press, 1975), p. 120.
[ 10 ] Frankl, Man s Search for Meaning, p. 75.
[ 11 ] Frankl, Man s Search for Meaning, p. 108.
[ 12] Frankl, Man s Search for Meaning, p. 49.
[ 13] Viktor E. Frankl, lecture, Religion in Education Foundation, University of Illinois, February 18, 1963. See also Viktor E. Frankl, Psychology and Existentialism, p. 147.
[ 14] Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism, p. 4.