Living With Meaning: Realize Your Will To Meaning

10/04/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Welcome back to the Living with Meaning conversation! And if this is your first time with us, I want to welcome you to a place where we can have an open and focused dialogue on what has become a "megatrend" of the 21st century--the search for meaning. I'm so glad to "see" you again or just meet you, and I especially look forward to exploring together ways to discover the deeper meaning in our life and work.

Last week, I introduced you to the first of seven core principles, "Exercise the Freedom to Choose Your Attitude," that I explore in my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, which was written with the personal urging of my mentor, the world-renown psychiatrist, Dr. Viktor Frankl. If you missed the post, or if you would like or need a refresher, I am certain that you will benefit from reviewing it as we move on to the next principle.

As quick background, Dr. Frankl is the founder of what is now known as the "Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy." The first and second schools, also based in Vienna, Austria, were established by two other very famous psychiatrists, Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler, respectively, who had been mentors of Frankl.

Unlike Freud's belief that, as human beings, we are driven by what he called the Pleasure Principle, known also as the "will to pleasure," and unlike Adler's belief that, because human beings are born with feelings of inferiority, we are therefore driven by an innate need to strive for superiority over others (and our environment), known also as the "will for power," Dr. Frankl considers our main concern as people to be fulfilling a meaning and actualizing values--what he refers to as the will to meaning. This primary, intrinsic motivation, in Viktor Frankl's view of human beings, stands in stark contrast to both those of Freud and Adler, who effectively reduce human behavior simply to the gratification and satisfaction of drives and instincts (a kind of "Who Moved My Cheese?" approach).

So, the second core principle that I would like to introduce to you as part of this Living with Meaning conversation is the following: "Realize Your Will to Meaning." Put differently, this principle asks you to "commit authentically to meaningful values and goals that only you can actualize and fulfill."

In Prisoners of Our Thoughts, I cite a number of everyday life and work-related examples we all can recognize for Freud's "will to pleasure," Adler's "will to power" (which, by the way, includes in a primitive form, the "will to money"), and Frankl's "will to meaning." In the world of business, for instance, the will to pleasure is illustrated by the former--and now imprisoned--Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski's $2 Million birthday bash that he threw for his wife at company expense. The will to power, both in business and politics, also knows no bounds. On the business front, do the names, Ken Lay (Enron), Bernie Ebbers (Worldcom), and Martha Stewart, ring a bell? I'll refrain myself from suggesting examples of either the will to pleasure or the will to power in the political realm because I'm sure that many people will immediately pop up in your minds! Indeed, the recent revelations of the sexual escapades of elected officials underscore that both of these motivational forces continue to manifest themselves among those responsible for managing the public's business! And I'm also sure that you can identify illustrations of these two "wills" from your own experiences.

To Viktor Frankl, both Freud's will to pleasure and Adler's will to power suggested that something was missing. In effect, he viewed the need or drive to seek pleasure ᅢᅠ la Freud or the relentless pursuit of power ᅢᅠ la Adler as really just attempts to cover up, but not necessarily fill, a void of meaning in people's lives. In other words, because their will to meaning had been frustrated, for whatever reasons, such individuals chose alternative paths to follow--paths based on the premise that pleasure and/or power would somehow be able to replace what had been missing. But it is only the search for meaning, Frankl would say, that holds the potential to bring the kind of authentic enrichment and fulfillment that most people desire from their work and in their everyday lives. And it is the ability to realize our will to meaning--our authentic commitment to meaningful values and goals that only we can actualize and fulfill--that guides us in the quest to tap into this distinctly human potential.

In this connection, we all know or have already seen examples of people, including corporate executives, who clearly demonstrate the central importance of Frankl's will to meaning in their work lives. So, when Bill Hewlett and David Packard, for example, built their company, Hewlett-Packard, from a one-car garage into one of the world's most admired success stories, it was a particular set of meaningful values, known as "The HP Way," that guided them in identifying and meeting their objectives, in working with one another, and in dealing with customers, shareholders, and others. To be sure, while such individuals may also want (or seek) pleasure and authority, it is important to underscore that the primary motivation for their existence is not pleasure or authority.

A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the "why" for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any "how."--Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

Now I'd like know what you've experienced...and your work and everyday life in regards to these different motivational forces. Recall a situation in your personal or work life where you were challenged to examine your commitment to meaningful values or goals. This may even be your current situation. Perhaps it was or is a relationship or a job assignment that isn't lining up with your personal values. Perhaps you were or are just unhappy with the work you are doing.

Consider these questions...
• How did you first recognize this challenge? What were the first signs?
• What, if anything, did you do? What would you like to do?
• How do you ensure that you remain committed to meaningful values and goals, thereby realizing your will to meaning in your life and work (or in your workplace)?

Once again, talk with me! I look forward to learning from your thoughts, questions, and experiences. Let's continue to use this forum to learn from and support each other so that we may all live with meaning! And remember to stay tuned in the weeks ahead for more principles for discovering meaning in your life and work!

You can find out more about Dr. Alex Pattakos in his HuffPost Bio and at Contact Alex at: