12/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

And The Oscar Goes To... You !

The 81st Annual Academy Awards will be presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on February 22, 2009. Held at the famous Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in California, the "Oscar Night" ceremony, once again, will be seen on television around the world. Besides waiting for confirmation of who will host this gala event (rumor has it that the British comedian and actor, Ricky Gervais, may be the host, replacing Jon Stewart who presided over the 80th Academy Awards ceremony), rest assured that the buzz around the nominations will build until they are announced on January 22nd, two days later than usual in order not to clash or compete with the presidential inauguration.

Did you know that, like the actors who receive Academy Awards for their outstanding performances, each of us plays the leading role in our own life's movie? Yes, this includes you too! And, just like these Award-winning actors, we're responsible for assuming the role that has been assigned to us and playing it out to the best of our ability.

We all know that playing our part in life is not always easy. Even when we think that we've memorized our lines, we often find that they don't come out the way that we had wished. Or, we may say our lines in the "right" way but our motions don't seem to be in sync with what we are saying. It's as if our mind is telling us one thing and our body is doing something else! Have you ever experienced a situation like this? Have you ever wondered if you were playing your part to the best of your ability? And, importantly, if you didn't think that you were doing a good job "acting" out your role in life, did you ask yourself why, and how you could improve?

Like actors intent on winning an Oscar for their performance in a film, you must be willing to work hard -- "practice, practice, practice" -- at improving your knowledge, skills, and attitude about what you do all, not just some, of the time. And in real life, the challenge is even greater since our "script" isn't as straightforward and changes over time! Consequently, we've got to learn how to "roll with the punches" and be prepared to improvise when things don't seem to be going according to our "script." I'm sure that you can relate to what I'm saying, since, like me, you've probably experienced unplanned or unexpected situations before, whether at home or at work.

Some people think "life" has a way of letting us down. Or so they think. Believe it or not, by viewing life as something that "just happens to us," and ourselves as relatively powerless in life as a result, we effectively lock ourselves into our own mental prisons. In turn, we lose sight of our own natural potential, as well as that of others. Viewing life as inherently meaningful and literally unlimited in potential, on the other hand, requires new ways of thinking and responsible action to deal in a positive way with the changes in our life's "script," no matter how disappointing or hurtful they may actually or appear to be.

Importantly, I want to emphasize that the potential for meaning exists in every moment of life; but this meaning potential can only be searched for and detected by each of us individually. According to the famous psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor, Dr. Viktor Frankl, "Life remains potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable." And please take note: Dr. Frankl not only survived but was able to find meaning under the most horrific circumstances imaginable. During World War II, he spent over three years in various Nazi death camps, including Auschwitz, where his parents, his brother, and his wife perished.

Trust me, in no way did Dr. Frankl intend or expect to experience such horror as part of his life's "script." Yet he chose to live a life with meaning right up to his last breadth and gave us rich and ample evidence that the keys to freedom from life's "prison cells" -- real and imagined -- are within, and within reach.

Whether we choose this path of liberation, however, is a decision that only we, as the "lead actors" in our own life's movie, can make and for which only we can be held responsible. When we search out and discover the deeper meaning of our life's experiences, as did Dr. Frankl, we discover that life doesn't just happen to us. We happen to life; and we make it meaningful.

You are probably now asking yourself: How do I discover the meaning of my life's experiences? Well, for starters, it is important to re-emphasize that there is a "seed of meaning," as Dr. Frankl would say, in every moment of our lives, even the unpleasant ones and those that first appear to be insignificant. With this thought in mind, I'd like you to practice asking yourself the following four questions about different, especially challenging, situations or experiences in your life:

(1) How did you respond to the situation or life experience? (In other words, what did you do or how did you react to the experience or situation you were facing, be it at home, at work, or wherever?)

(2) How did you feel about the situation or life experience? (In other words, what kind of emotions were stirred up inside of you as a result of the experience or situation?)

(3) What did you learn from the situation or life experience? (In other words, what new knowledge, skills, or attitude do you now possess because of the experience or situation?)

(4) How will you grow from the situation or life experience? (In other words, based on what you have learned from the experience or situation, especially key learning about yourself, how will you apply this learning to and for your personal development?)

Even film actors, especially those who are serious about receiving an Oscar, must regularly ask themselves these four meaning-focused questions (I call this "existential digging," a process that I introduced in a previous post, "Living with Meaning: Detect the Meaning of Life's Moments"). Indeed, if actors truly expect to improve their skills and performance to meet Academy Award-winning standards, then they have to continuously learn and grow from all of their experiences, even those that they would rather forget--such as messing up their lines, missing a cue, failing an audition, and so on.

And as someone who is playing the leading role in your own life's movie, the same standard applies. In this connection, I challenge you to keep track of your "performance in a leading role" by detecting the meaning of life's moments as you experience them. Use my four existential digging questions as your guide to self-discovery and as a meaningful platform for personal growth and development. By remaining aware of the need to detect and learn from the meaning of life's moments, you make sure that you do not become a prisoner of your thoughts. At the same time, your "performance in a leading role" will also improve dramatically (no pun intended). And the Oscar goes to...YOU!


You can find out more about Dr. Alex Pattakos, author of the international bestselling book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl's Principles for Discovering Meaning in Life and Work, in his HuffPost Bio and at Contact Alex at:

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