Stop pursuing the Meaning of Life. Find your Meaning in Life!
I recently re-read Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.
Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, explains not so much the graphic horrors of his time in concentration camps, but more-so the psychological dimensions of survival, hopelessness, why people acted the way they did, gradations of good and evil. In the second part of his book, he walks us through his concept that man is not meant to search for the meaning of life, but rather must understand his own meaning and purpose within life:
It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life--daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
Frankl challenges us to know our purpose, a meaning that transcends our individual desires:
As each situation in life represents a challenge to man and presents a problem for him to solve, the question of the meaning of life may actually be reversed. Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he 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.
Happiness and success are not objectives to be pursued, he tells us, but rather outcomes of a pursuit of meaningful accomplishments and relationships (love):
Don't aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run --in the long-run, I say!-- success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.
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".
As we pursue our individual priorities, our family priorities and our business priorities, it behooves us to think constantly of our true purpose of the pursuit.
Are we looking to receive purpose and meaning, or do we understand our obligation to contribute purpose?
Are our actions driven by a quest to create a meaningful difference?
Are we willing to let success and happiness be outcomes of our mission, our purpose and actions?
Are we willing to stop pursuing the meaning of life, but apply ourselves to the meaning we give it?
If so, then in understanding ourselves, we find a natural avenue to release our self-purpose and to focus on delivering meaning and purpose to others.
Every small step we take makes a difference. Every small thought of purpose leads to a meaningful action. Frankl sums it up like this:
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."