One of Susan’s heroes was Viktor Frankl, influential psychologist and Holocaust survivor. As we talk about finding meaning and purpose in our lives this month, this passage from Embracing Uncertainty and from Frankl’s seminal work, Man’s Search for Meaning, help us to really understand how meaning can affect our lives and our choices.
Frankl had a degree in medicine before he was interned in the concentration camp. Hence, he found himself caring, as best as he could, for a number of fellow prisoners. At one point, he was invited to join a friend who had worked out a plan for escaping from the camp to the freedom he so often dreamed about. But, since Frankl was the only physician among the prisoners, he felt uncomfortable about leaving those who needed him. He brooded over the situation and finally came to a remarkable conclusion. He tells us:
“Suddenly I decided to take fate into my own hands for once. I ran out of the hut and told my friend that I could not go with him. As soon as I told him with finality that I had made up my mind to stay with my patients, the unhappy feeling left me. I did not know what the following days would bring, but I had gained an inward peace that I had never experienced before.”
Breathtaking! At that moment, Frankl discovered that there was something even more important than his personal freedom … and that was his sense of meaning and purpose. …
Viktor Frankl has given us a precious gift. He has given us a way to rise above any negative situation in which we find ourselves. With our sense of meaning and purpose, we can make something good out of anything bad. Given this ability, we don’t have to get stuck in our fear of the uncertain; we can transcend to that inner place where we understand that no matter what the future brings us, our sense of meaning and purpose will help us find the gifts.
Wrestling with mental illness in my family, Frankl’s and Jeffers’s books changed my perspective in a profound way. I learned I could change the meaning of an event or circumstance, present or past, at any time from negative to positive. What seemed a curse was such a gift.
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