“The greatest tragedy is not death but life without purpose.” ―Myles Munroe
Until now, most folks around the world―and I am one of them―have been ensnared by a fairly predictable routine: Wake up. Go to work. Eat. Sleep… Wake up. Go to work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat…
Survival, it seems, has been the primary motivation for waking up in the morning. “But surely, there must be more purpose to my life than working to live and living to work?” you might have thought.
And now the wicked coronavirus disease outbreak that has brought a huge shift in our way of life. It is disrupting not just our routines, but also governments, business, learning, travel and the healthcare system. The world is at a standstill, with the pandemic becoming a huge stressor for individuals―young and old―and triggering anxieties, fears, uncertainties.
“What does the future hold for me and my loved ones?” one wonders, “And what’s the meaning of life, anyway?”
The Jewish professor of psychiatry and neurology, and Holocaust survivor, Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, offers great lessons on finding meaning in life.
Dr. Frankl endured a gruesome experience at Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps during World War II. In his bestselling book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Frankl describes the emotional ‘death’ he and other prisoners underwent within a few days of confinement. Witnessing the grim murders of loved ones, beaten and forced into cruel labour, cold and hungry, constantly fearing for their own lives, they had every reason to give up hope.
Soon, Dr. Frankl observed that their dreams and conversations were starting to centre solely on food. He also observed that the victims developed a ‘sheep mentality’ during their long, difficult marches to work. To avoid being noticed by the guards and get punished for every tiny mistake, everyone did their best to crowd into the centre―to be inconspicuous.
Later he noticed that he and other victims had developed a fear of making decisions or taking initiative, preferring rather to allow fate to take its course, as usually seemed to happen anyway. So when he eventually escaped from the death camp, he found it most difficult deciding what to do.
How do you rise above the unimaginable?
Paradoxically, he discovered that the kind of person one became in the bestial concentration camps was the result of an inner decision, rather than an outward reality. Dr. Frankl found meaning in the midst of enormous difficulty when he focused outside himself―with thoughts of his wife, the beauty of nature, or in humour, for instance.
Suffering under the Nazi barbarity was extreme; something most people will hopefully never experience. But Frankl’s observations are relevant in everyone’s particular circumstances.
We must find our purpose in the midst of the difficulties, pain, anxieties, fears and uncertainties of everyday life. Circumstances such as brought by the coronavirus pandemic―financial ruin, health challenges, loss and grief―straddle through our lives. They are the reality of our world. But they do not take meaning away from our lives. If we wait for circumstances to be perfect before we find our purpose, we will deny ourselves the opportunity to live a truly meaningful life.
It is true that no one can tell us the purpose of our lives. We must find it for ourselves. But Dr. Frankl has given us an amazing clue, not on what the purpose is, but on where it is to be found―outside ourselves.
What draws you out of yourself and transcends your circumstances? It may point the way to your purpose in life. In the quietness of the current moment, make a choice to find it. Pursue it.