Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist, victim of the Holocaust and author of the most impactive book on a purpose-driven existence (Man’s Search for Meaning), wrote, “Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.” In the same vein, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
How true is the life philosophy that such sayings promote? To be frank their veracity can probably be underlined by the fact that so many writers on the subject of personal development and the associated psychologies quote them. But their popularity does not necessarily make them right, any more than Lady Gaga’s views on American politics have a sound academic base because she writes nice songs.*
What is your experience?
My own life is a series of successes, followed by severe disappointments followed by bounce-backs followed by plummeting failure and back again. In fact, if I delve too deeply into my history I’ll probably depress myself – which is okay because I’ll come right back in any case. History says so.
Seriously, most successes have a history of failures to look back on. (Some successes still have those failures to come!) Two good example are Abraham Lincoln – many, many failures in terms of his political ambitions before becoming arguably the greatest US President to date – and Winston Churchill, who was up and down like the proverbial whore’s drawers (best simile I could find, sorry) between:
- entering Parliament, becoming Home Secretary and being hauled over the coals for personally attending a siege,
- later First Lord of the Admiralty, resigning over Gallipoli and sending himself to the Western Front,
- then being constantly carped at over his warning about a famous German painter and decorator before
- finally being given total command over Britain’s defence during WWII, then
- voted out of power immediately after victory before
- becoming PM again at the age of 77 before finally retiring from politics at 81.
Churchill could really have been forgiven for thinking, ‘Bugger all this’ instead of more famously deciding to ‘Keep Buggering On!’
Both these famous men, along with the likes of Gandhi, Malala Yousufzai, Britney Spears, Drew Barrymore and Robert Downey Jr, are testament to the fact that if you have a deep, meaningful reason for doing what you do (and a talent for it that people recognise and appreciate) then the occasional setback – even the really embarrassing ones – need not be your Final Act.
The examples I use – celebrities and politicians – may not have had to deal with quite the levels of Nietzsche’s ‘what’ that Frankl suffered (concentration camp bereavements and horrible experimentation visited upon his person) but ultimately they had a sense of purpose that drove them through the pain and back towards success. As some sage put it – “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.” (I’d say Ducky from NCIS but I think he pinched it).
I’m still really awaiting my next comeback after my last setback, but it’ll come. Meanwhile I have a sense of meaning that revolves around my grandchildren and their parents. (Is that order somehow symbolic?) I am lucky in that income isn’t a big issue – not rich, but secure – and maybe one day all this writing will ‘pay’ off. But if it doesn’t I’m still going to try.
I’m going to try because The Third Resolution drives even the biggest failures towards optimism. It drives me and it serves others – even if they haven’t been served yet. They’ll come around when they need me.
Which reminds me, the grandkids are coming around and I need to brace myself……..
*She may well have a degree in politics but THAT will be why her views have strength, not because she has a Poker Face.