Don t aim at success ”the more you aim at it and make it a target,
the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness,
cannot be pursued; it must ensue and it only does so as the
unintended side-effect of one s dedication to a cause greater than
oneself or as the by-product of one s surrender to a person other
than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds
for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. [ 1 ]
Andrea Jaeger was the youngest seeded player in Wimbledon history in 1980. At only 15 years old, she was also the youngest U.S. Open semi-finalist that same year. Described as a pigtailed, teenage Wunderkind, Andrea was positioned for continued athletic success and fame. Yet, by 1984 her career in tennis had come to an end because of injuries and burnout, and Andrea disappeared from the sports radar screen and the public s eye.
Admittedly, the life of Andrea Jaeger had taken a turn , but her legacy was just beginning to unfold. You see, during her years as a tennis phenomenon , Andrea had spent her off time with sick children in hospitals around the world. Through these heartfelt encounters, Andrea s true metamorphosis was taking place. After moving to Aspen, Colorado, in 1989, she made the decision to dedicate her life to terminally ill children, to give them a greater opportunity to experience life.
The whole mission was to bring opportunities for children with cancer and other life- threatening diseases to enhance their lives and to make things possible on a long- term basis, Jaeger said.
Jaeger created a charity, the Kids Stuff Foundation, and with the help of friends and other supporters, brought children from all over the world to Colorado for a week at a time to experience life outside the hospital room. At first, Andrea relied on local hotels to accommodate her young visitors . However, with the development of the ten acre Silver Lining Ranch, built totally through donations, Andrea s dream for a properly designed facility became a reality. In June 1999 the first children, twenty in all, arrived to stay at the ranch, and Andrea was there to greet them.
The Silver Lining Ranch, which is within the Aspen city limits, touches every soul, in addition to attending to the children s individual needs. Groups are kept small intentionally, and for good reason. I believe in the philosophy of one child at a time, Jaeger says. She continues: If you can make a child smile or laugh , well, your place in the world has been preserved. You carry a lot of what the kids bring and, when you see the strength, the character, the hope in their eyes and hearts, it gets you through the darkest hours you could ever have fundraising.
In July, 2001 Andrea Jaeger was interviewed on NBC Dateline. After a tour of the ranch, the interviewer was so impressed, she asked Jaeger How do want to be remembered? Without having to think, Andrea Jaeger quickly replied I don t need to be remembered . I want the kids to be remembered. In no small way, Andrea s response shows us that the heart s light within the human spirit is most brightly illuminated when we create meaning beyond our own lives.
When we work creatively and productively with others, our experience of meaning can be profound. When we work directly for the good of others, meaning deepens in ways that reward us beyond measure. Whenever we go beyond satisfying our own personal needs, we enter the realm of what Frankl called ultimate meaning. Some call it connection to a higher self, to God, to our own spirit, to universal consciousness, to love, to the collective good. No matter what it s called, it is deep meaning and it transforms our lives.
We all know team spirit when we feel it, but what exactly is it? A leading authority on team spirit offered the following observation:
When you ask people . . . what it is like being part of a great team, what is most striking is the meaningfulness of the experience. People talk about being part of something larger than themselves , of being connected, of being generative . It becomes quite clear that, for many, their experiences as part of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest. Some spend the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture that spirit. [ 2]
Team spirit is something that exists among us, almost when we are not looking; it s something we recognize instantly but have difficulty defining. It is bigger than we are, no matter how large our group . Yet it cannot exist without us. And no matter what our goal is, team spirit is not goal oriented. Team spirit comes out of doing and being together. It is part of the process, the results, or product, always comes later.
It is paradoxical that focusing too much on the goal takes us out of the play and makes the goal more difficult. When team spirit is in place, everything becomes possible. On the playing field, whether in sports or in business, team spirit raises everybody s individual spirits. Even when the result is a smashing success, the personal rewards are always more profound during the process. It is the being and doing together that we remember as deeply meaningful and transformative .
What sport, theater, and every job on the planet have in common is the potential for play. When we give and take, when we are there for one another ”on the field and off ”it s play that brings us together. It gives us rewards that reach beyond our selves and anchors meaning somewhere out there, where it means something to us all, and beyond us all.
This wonderful manifestation of the human condition is most likely to get squelched where it s needed the most; at work. Being a boss is often like being a parent; we forget everything we learned along the way about play. We forget about fun and games and how well we learn and grow without being told how. Our natural inclination is toward playing together, cooperatively and joyfully. Yet, in the workplace, a lot of managers go into meltdown. Call in the brigades, work is not being taken seriously! Stop the fun before it spreads ! Shoot the bastards!
How many of us have had this experience? We re just getting somewhere with the task at hand or the problem of the day ”whether it s as an individual or part of a group ” and we get caught having fun. It immediately sucks the creative wind right out of our sails. Spirits get dampened; the progress we ve made is tarnished. It s usually only much later, when enough time has passed to allow us to recreate our feelings of success, that progress is restored. If only those beleaguered managers knew what a disservice they are doing to the company when they dampen the spirit of creative play at work. If we aren t getting juiced through working with others, we re getting it from working well as an individual. It s what keeps us at our most productive. It creates exuberance and if we can t freely express it the reward that costs the company nothing is destroyed .
Whenever our work takes us outside ourselves , we experience greater meaning, whether it s doing something as simple as choosing a location for the next company retreat or as complex as creating a meaning-based multinational corporation. When we work to bring meaning to a company, beyond the bottom line, we bring meaning to everyone who works there and to life itself. This is a gargantuan task when it comes to the corporate world because the sole task of a corporation, as a legal entity, is to grow money. Growing meaning is not in its job description. But the stockholders , CEOs, and the employees can, if they are heroic, grow meaning in a corporation.
Growing meaning in a corporation takes more than good intentions. Throughout this book, we ve seen excellent examples of companies that are focused on things beyond money, where the quest for personal meaning and fulfillment really matters. But what about those companies that espouse such existential values, and yet the rubber never meets the road? I m not talking about organizations that clearly have no intention of growing meaning. I m talking about those that say they do.
Years ago, I had the opportunity to work with George, the president and CEO of a mid- sized corporation that specialized in the development of state-of-the-art technologies to promote human potential. Thanks to George s solid reputation in his scientific field, he had worked in the space program, his company was able to recruit some of the best scientists in the country, as well as attract substantial investments of capital. George was flamboyant and charismatic and he loved being in the media spotlight (where he found himself often).
As both a leader and manager, George presented himself as a sort of guru, having self-published a book that laid out his philosophy of life and business. George saw everyone as interconnected , professing that the whole was greater than the sum of the parts . Moreover, he said that his company was intentionally designed and managed on such principles, presumably to ensure that meaning at work, and meaningful work, would always play a central part of his company. But, even though George talked the talk, and hugged all of his employees ”including frequent group hugs ”to demonstrate a kind of family solidarity behind his espoused principles, I observed low morale , high turnover , distrust , and disrespect throughout the company s ranks when I was associated with it. It goes to show you: that good intentions aren t enough to grow anything, let alone meaning.
We all know individuals who live beyond themselves and for others in their work lives and in their personal lives. Usually, they seem to be doing it because it s in their nature, or because they have been blessed with good mentors along their path ”including parents, teachers , and bosses, who have guided them by example. I suspect, moreover, that their giving natures often come out of personal experience. Perhaps they suffered as kids and know what it s like, so they become foster parents. Perhaps they were raised with a lot of money and comfort in their lives and want to give back, so they join the Peace Corps. Perhaps they ve been to the top of their profession, found it wanting, searched for deeper meaning, and then got a job in a low-paying, nonprofit organization that serves others. Perhaps they ve been to the top of their profession, loved it, and been inspired to help others.
If we take just a few minutes to look around in our lives, every day we will see people doing things for others, quietly , unexpectedly, and without compensation. If we were to ask why, they might not have ready answers. But I suspect they would all agree It feels good. Selflessness feels good. It satisfies something in us that yearns to go beyond or transcend ourselves, that knows we are honoring a deeper meaning in life when we serve the needs of others.
The capacity to extend beyond yourself, according to Frankl, is another one of our unique traits as human beings. Indeed, self- transcendence , as it is referred to in Logotherapy, is the essence of our human -ness. Put differently, being human basically means relating and being directed to something other than oneself. Recognizing the abstract nature of self-transcendence, Frankl uses the human eye to explain it in a more tangible way:
In a way, your eyes are self- transcendent as well. Just notice that the capacity of the eye to perceive the surrounding world is ironically dependent on its incapacity to perceive itself, except in a mirror. At the moment my eye perceives something of itself, for instance a halo with colors around a light, it perceives its own glaucoma. At the moment I see clouding I perceive my own cataract, something of my own eye. But the healthy eye, the normal eye, doesn t see anything of itself. The seeing capacity is impaired to the very extent to which the eye perceives something of itself. [ 3 ]
Although such a comparison with the healthy eye helps us better understand the nature of self-transcendence, another transformational quality may help us come to grips with why self-transcendence is so vitally important. In this regard, there is a humanistic concept advanced in South Africa called Ubuntu, [ 4] that not only provides the foundation for African management but also is pertinent to our understanding of self-transcendence. The full expression in Zulu of this concept is UBUNTU NGUMUNTU NGABANTU, translated roughly into English as A person is only a person through other persons. Importantly, Ubuntu is not about relationships per se; rather, it is about human-ness and how only human beings can establish the human-ness of others. This concept is congruent with Frankl s humanistic philosophy. I propose that it is because of Ubuntu (that is, our human- ness can only be truly expressed as a reflection of others), that self-transcendence occurs. In effect, we must be able to extend beyond ourselves so that we can fulfill or realize more of ourselves.
To gain an appreciation for the reflective basis for self-transcendence, let me share with you the following story, called The Echo: [ 5 ]
A son and his father are walking in the mountains. Suddenly, the son falls , hurts himself, and screams: AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!! To his surprise, he hears a voice repeating, somewhere in the mountains : AAAhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Curious, he yells out: Who are you? He receives the answer: Who are you? And then he screams to the mountain: I admire you! The voice answers: I admire you! Angered at the response, he screams: Coward! He receives the answer: Coward! He looks to his father and asks: What s going on? The father smiles and says: My son, pay attention. Again, the man screams: You are a champion! The voice answers: You are a champion! The boy is surprised, but does not understand. Then the father explains: People call this ECHO, but really this is LIFE. It gives you back everything you say or do. Our life is simply a reflection of our actions. If you want more love in the world, create more love in your heart. If you want more competency in your team, improve your own competency. This relationship applies to everything, in all aspects of life. Life will give you back everything you have given to it. Your life is not a coincidence .
It s a reflection of you!
Now stop and think for a moment. Are you paying attention and listening to your echo? From what life seems to be calling out to you, what are you calling out to life?
The yearning to be of deep service often comes out of deep suffering. Viktor Frankl, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Aung Sang Suu Chi ”all transformed their suffering into service. They experienced their suffering as meaningful in the most profound ways. It wasn t bitterness that resulted from their suffering, it was love ”and meaning. The sacredness of being human was the legacy of their suffering and it informed and transformed the rest of their lives. Meaning became their life s work.
We aren t all called to be a Mandela or a Gandhi. But if we pay attention, we will find that life calls to us every day to go beyond our own interests. And, when we do, our own interests are served in ways that are inexplicably and profoundly meaningful. Even when we do the impossible , like forgive.
Getting to forgiveness is perhaps the most challenging thing we can do to go beyond ourselves. At work, this is especially hard because our emotional ties may not be as strong, and therefore neither is the motivation to forgive. Yet when we look at forgiveness in the light of others ability to forgive, the path should not seem so daunting.
Frankl didn t subscribe to the concept of collective guilt and, whenever possible, fought this idea even though it was unpopular to be against it after the war. He also forgave his Nazi guards ; he even felt compassion for them. In his book Man s Search for Meaning , he tells the story about the SS officer who was the head of the concentration camp from which he was finally liberated. After his liberation, Frankl learned that this SS man had secretly spent considerable sums of his own money at the drugstore in the nearby village, purchasing medications for the camp inmates. [ 6]
Nelson Mandela walked a path of forgiveness during, and after, his thirty years of imprisonment. It almost seems as though meaning holds forgiveness at its core . That we can t get to life s deeper meaning without going through forgiveness ”of ourselves and others.
Forgiveness means letting go of our suffering. It has much more to do with our own well-being than that of the person we forgive. When we hold on to our suffering ”our resentment, hurt, and anger ”we are inside ourselves with self-pity. It becomes a veil through which we see ourselves and others; it becomes something we have to feed, keep alive , and justify. If we don t, we think we allow the other person to be right in their unjust treatment of us.
But forgiveness can be one of the most powerful things we do. Like any muscle, it has to be exercised to work well. Forgiveness can be complicated. Sometimes we think it equates to forgetting , diminishing , or condoning the misdeed, but it doesn t. It has much more to do with freeing ourselves from its hold. Our ability to live our lives with love and generosity is impeded when we don t forgive. It doesn t mean that we have to love and be generous to the woman who was disloyal to us at work or the man who belittled our ideas at a staff meeting. It means we forgive them and liberate ourselves from further captivity. Love and generosity will return in their own time.
The search for meaning in our lives takes us on paths large and small. When we go beyond ourselves ”whether in forgiveness, unselfishness, thoughtfulness, generosity and understanding toward others ”we enter into the spiritual realm of meaning. By giving beyond ourselves, we make our own lives richer. This is a truth long understood at the heart of all meaningful spiritual traditions. It s a mystery than can only be experienced. And when we do experience it, we are in the heart of meaning. We are no longer a prisoner of our thoughts.
Recall a situation in your work life in which you felt the need to self-transcend, or extend beyond yourself, in order to deal effectively with it (this may even be your situation today). Perhaps you were faced with a perplexing customer issue that required an extra ordinary response. Perhaps you were faced with a question of corporate social responsibility that required some soul searching for an answer. How did you extend beyond yourself to deal with the situation? What, if anything, did you do as a result of your shift in consciousness? As you think about the situation now, what did you learn from it? In particular, what did you learn about your capacity for self-transcendence? In hindsight, what would you have done differently in this situation?
Meaning Question: In what ways do you relate and direct to something other than yourself?
For Further Reflection: Think about the ways in which you can help your colleagues and/or co-workers learn and practice self-transcendence at work. What would you have them do to demonstrate that they understand and can apply this principle?
[ 1 ] Viktor E. Frankl, Man s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (Boston: Beacon Press, 4th Edition, 1992), p. 12.
[ 2] Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline (New York: Currency/Doubleday, 1994), p.
[ 3 ] Klingberg, When Life Calls Out to Us: The Love and Lifework of Viktor and Elly Frankl, p. 289. Speech given before Toronto Youth Corps, February 11, 1973.
[ 4] Lovemore Mbigi and Jenny Maree, Ubuntu: The Spirit of African Transformation Management (Randburg, South Africa: Knowledge Resources Ltd., 1997).
[ 5 ] Source unknown; See: Elaine Dundon and Alex Pattakos, Seeds of Innovation Insights Journal, Volume One (Santa Fe, New Mexico: The Innovation Group, 2003), p. 41.
[ 6] Frankl, Man s Search for Meaning, pp. 92 “93.