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3 Important Lessons from Man’s Search for Meaning

A number of years ago, a colleague and I were discussing the challenges associated with our respective projects.  I’ve elected to leave out his name.   I’ll refer to him as Master Yoda or Yoda for short.  Yoda was/is a seasoned professional. He touts over 30 years in the IT industry along with an impressive string of credentials and unique experiences.  He boasts a humorous and engaging personality, which makes for a great dialogue every time we spoke.  I considered him one of my most valuable mentors back then.  He was also a great friend (still is) that has doled out some wonderful advice over the years.

The outcome of our therapeutic conversation (that’s code for venting session) concluded with Yoda making a book recommendation.  It went something like this:

“The book will be very different then any book you’ve read before…It’s not what you think it is…It’s very interesting”.

This cryptic response intrigued me a bit, but it did not inspire me enough to read the summary of the book before I purchased it. To be quite honest, I assumed it was business related as that’s really all I read at the time. The only thing I knew was that the book was called “Man’s Search for Meaning“, it was recommended strongly by someone I respected and I’d be receiving it in a couple days.

Planting the Seed

Upon receiving the book, I promptly flipped to the back cover to read a synopsis of what I was about to get myself into. My first internal (not kidding in the least) reaction was, “did Amazon accidentally send me the wrong book?” I then recognized the author’s name and accepted the fact that this was the book recommended.  I obviously gave it a shot.

“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.” Viktor Frankl #SideHustleMindset Click To Tweet

Quick Overview:

Man’s Search for Meaning is psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir with powerful descriptions of life in Nazi death camps, and its lessons for spiritual survival. There are more then 12 million copies in print worldwide and Frankl himself has published more then thirty books on theoretical and clinical psychology. He died in 1997.

My colleague reached out to me about a week after receiving the book. He asked me what I got out of the book. His exact words were: “what was your most significant takeaway?” At this point I had only read the first 40 pages or so, which essentially highlighted Frankl’s early days at the Nazi camps, laying the foundation, inch by inch, in support of his soon-to-be apparent thesis.

My response was timid as I didn’t really want to comment until I had finished the book in its entirety. But alas…I gave in. I believe I said something like this:  “so far the book makes me feel grateful for all that I have”. He promptly responded, in Yoda like fashion, “We’ll talk again once you’ve finished the book and I’ll ask you the same question”. I thought to myself, hmmm, that was a very peculiar response…What if I still feel the same way once I finish the book? Is that existential takeaway not meaningful enough?

“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.” Viktor Frankl #SideHustleMindset Click To Tweet

The Reveal

Several weeks later, Master Yoda reached out to me once again and asked, quite abruptly, “What was your most significant take away?”. By now I had finished reading the book. I immediately tensed up for a brief moment as I now felt the question was a much more important one, and my view was indeed very different then my original perspective. My exact response (I know because I saved the conversation) was the following:

“There were many. An important one was that even in turmoil, suffering or death, one does not need to give into circumstance and act as those around you. Even in those times, you can still maintain your dignity as that can never be taken from you, by staying true to yourself and helping and respecting those around you. Circumstance does not define someone…Your internal hopes and dreams are what keep your personal flame going”.

I paused, waiting in anticipation for his response, “Yes! I now feel like I have done something positive. You made my day, thank you”. Master Yoda seemed pleased…

3 Important Lessons (at least for me) in 2019:

Frankl’s memoir had a very profound effect on my thinking and subsequently sparked introspection for several weeks and many years that followed.  Based on his own experience and the stories of his patients, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward. At the heart of the theory, known as logo therapy, is a conviction that the primary human drive is not pleasure but the pursuit of what we find meaningful.  Many of these experiences were so moving that they nearly brought me to tears.

The book is chalked full of valuable perspective, not just 3 items.  I would be a severe injustice if I didn’t make that disclaimer.  With that said, these 3 points have always resonated the most to me.

  1. People can adapt and get used to literally any condition:  Personal limits are a mental construct.  Stepping out of ones comfort zone can make us understand how further we can stretch our capabilities.
  2. Have the mental foresight to accept the things you can’t control:  Common sense isn’t always common practice.  People should not waste their time with things they can’t control.  What matters most is our response to the uncontrollable.
  3. Surrender to a vision and avoid overthinking:  If you focus soley on making success your target, people are more likely to miss it. Dedicate time and effort towards a vision that is greater than oneself, and allow success to become a simple by-product of commitment.
“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” Viktor Frankl #SideHustleMindSet Click To Tweet

Closing Thoughts

Man’s Search for Meaning” delves into existentialism on a number of levels and its subject matter primarily leans towards critical circumstances, its findings and/or logic can also be applied to many minor challenges we face in our own daily lives. It offers perspective, which many books do, but it provides something most books do not. It provides clarity. Clarity on a topic so controversial that many shy away from the subject altogether for fear of self evaluation.  Not to mention, an even greater fear of what might potentially may be found.

The book and the perspective it offers is powerful to put it mildly, and fits neatly into our Side Hustle Mindset content.  Even more impressive, it’s everlasting!  The story above I shared about Master Yoda took place over 10 years ago.  Quite frankly, I remember it like it was yesterday.  I still pick it up the book several times a year as a reminder of all the value it has to offer.

Thank you once again Master Yoda for the most important book recommendation I’ve ever received.

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