Chapter 1: Life Doesn t Just Happen to Us


Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but
rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is
questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his
own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. [1]

Every day, Vita delivers my mail ”cheerfully. It s her trademark attitude. One day, in lousy weather, I heard her whistling as she went about doing her deliveries. Instinctively I shouted out to her, Thank you for doing such a great job. She stopped dead in her tracks with surprise. Thank you , she said. Wow, I m not accustomed to hearing such words. I really appreciate it.

I wanted to know more. How do you stay so positive and upbeat about delivering mail every day? I asked her.

I don t just deliver mail, she said. I see myself helping to connect people to other people. I help build the community. Besides, people depend on me and I don t want to let them down. Her response was enthusiastic and proud.

Vita s attitude about her work reflected the words inscribed on the General Post Office building in New York City: Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. It was the Greek historian Herodotus who wrote these words in the fifth century B.C. The ancient delivery of messages from one person to another is at the very heart of our Information Age; yet these days, it s the phrase going postal that we re more likely to recognize.

Fair or unfair, going postal has become the symbol of all the negativity a job has to offer: boredom, repetitiveness, exposure to the elements, dangerous dogs, irritated customers, and a kind of automated behavior that ultimately inspires an explosion of pent-up rage ”a killing spree, retaliation against all the suffered injustice of the job.

What threatens contemporary man is the alleged meaningfulness of his life, or, as I call it, the existential vacuum within him. And when does this vacuum open up, when does this so often latent vacuum become manifest? In the state of boredom. [2 ]

No matter what our opinions might be about the stature of any career or profession, it is the person doing the job that gives the job meaning. Vita is proof that those ancient words of Herodotus are alive and well in the twenty-first century.

But Vita s attitude goes beyond the swift completion of her appointed rounds (to paraphrase Herodotus). She experiences her work as serving a higher purpose. Her attitude about her job, and its drudgery, goes far beyond an exercise in positive thinking. Vita sees her mail delivery responsibility as a personal, life-saving mission, one that could be fulfilled by her, and only by her. She knows she is depended on, perhaps even by people who feel disdain for her work, and it means something. She brings meaning to her job, and in turn , it becomes meaningful.

I am convinced that, in the final analysis, there is no situation which does not contain the seed of meaning. [3 ]

Why is it that some people, like Vita my mail carrier, experience their work ”even mundane work ”with passion and commitment? Why do some people have an easier time dealing with complex and challenging situations at work and in life? Why do some people deal more easily with change? Why do some people find meaning and fulfillment in their work and everyday life, while others do not? There are no simple answers to these complex questions; but there are meaningful answers. That is the goal of this book: to illuminate the search for meaning, as a path to meaning, whether in our work or in our everyday lives.

[1] Viktor E. Frankl, Man s Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (Boston: Beacon Press, 4th Edition, 1992), pp. 113 “14.

[2 ] Viktor E. Frankl, Psychotherapy and Existentialism (New York: Washington Square Press, 1967), p. 122.

[3 ] Viktor E. Frankl, Viktor Frankl Recollections: An Autobiography (New York: Plenum Press, 1997), p. 53.

Prisoners of Our Thoughts
Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankls Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work
ISBN: 1605095249
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 35

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