4-things-i-learned-from-viktor-frankl’s-‘man’s-search-for-meaning’

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I’ve long believed strongly that we should find purpose in everything we do — that, to truly be fulfilled and get the most out of this life, it is necessary to discover meaning in all its aspects, including a career.

This philosophy came to me, at least in part, after I was introduced to Viktor Frankl at a young age. The Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor devoted much of his life to understanding and writing about the concept of “meaning”. In his famous 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning, he relates how he survived years in Nazi concentration camps by, somehow, finding personal significance in the experience. Having this sense of purpose gave him the strength he needed to endure incalculable suffering. 

Frankl believed, and I agree, that there are three courses of action one can take to find meaning in existence: through deeds or actions; by experiencing values through some kind of medium (which refers to our perception of beauty and experiencing togetherness with another person); and through suffering. These pathways, and Frankl’s overall approach to life, have stuck with me over the years, and in many ways, taught me what it means to find purpose in this world, especially when it comes to careers and businesses. 

A few of my key takeaways:

Related: Want to Be An Entrepreneur? Focus on What Gives Your Life Meaning

1. Set meaningful goals

Both my parents came from academic backgrounds, and my mother was particularly interested in psychology. As a child and teenager growing up in Hungary, I’d spend hours talking with her about Frankl’s beliefs and written work — conversations that planted in me the idea of building a business that could help people find meaning in their careers and personal lives. The key, I came to find, was creating a more meaningful job search experience and allowing job seekers to set and pursue worthwhile, long-term goals. In the end, finding and applying for “just any job” isn’t going to be fulfilling. On the other hand, when people find roles and careers they genuinely enjoy and care about — something that brings meaning to their lives — it’s much more likely that they’ll be happier, more successful and have a stronger sense of professional purpose. In turn, they’ll find more happiness and fulfillment in their personal lives. 

It’s important to consider that what constitutes a “meaningful” goal will be different for each person. For some, it might be making lots of money and becoming rich. For others, it will be to simply provide for their family in the form of a roof over their heads and food on the table. No matter what you’ve set sights on, as long as it means something to you, no time will be wasted in pursuing it. 

Related: 3 Questions to Determine If Your Work Brings Meaning to Your Life

2. Life is a cyclical journey

A person’s meaningful goals won’t necessarily stay the same. For example, in the context of careers and job searches, the journey is inevitably cyclical: You’re either looking for a new job or actively working in a job and trying to progress in that role. Most of us go through these two phases more than once in our lives.

I would argue that throughout this process and at every stage within it, there are opportunities to establish meaning in one of those three ways Frankl detailed, especially number two: experiencing values. The most surefire way to solidify and apply your own values is to place yourself in an environment where must practice them daily, namely at work. This is why it’s so important to find a position that best aligns with what makes you who you are: your goals, personality traits, background, wants, needs and values. Success is about so much more than which roles look best for you based simply upon education and work experience.

3. Embrace failure

While none of us like to experience failure or suffering, Frankl advises keeping in mind that we don’t have to be in a perfect situation to find value and meaning. To take an example from my own life, in the world of product development, the path to creating the most successful products is typically littered with false starts and failures, but in the end, my team and I find ourselves energized by the prospect of building and improving on products that make the process of job search better aimed, and more intuitive. Everything we do – every experiment and functionality enhancement (no matter how small), and every failure along the way — are iterations of this core idea. We find meaning in this work, and when what you’re doing is fulfilling you, it’s okay to fail… okay to start over. Every new beginning is an opportunity, so when things don’t go as planned, the best move is to embrace the lessons of that moment and keep going. 

Related: 8 Reasons Failure Makes You a Better Entrepreneur

4. Invest your energy intentionally

Whether you’re an entrepreneur trying to break into a marketplace or a job seeker looking to make the next big career move, my advice is the same: Be conscious of what really creates a sense of purpose for you, have intentional conversations with the people around you, and invest mental and physical energy in injecting meaning into everything you do. In the context of leadership and management, this self-awareness involves spending time getting to better know the people who work with you. Unless you have conversations with them about what they truly care about, you’ll never understand what makes them tick, and you’ll rarely be on the same page. 

If you invest your energy in things that matter to you, and seek purpose in all you do, you’ll be on the right track, and will be on the way to making the world a better and more meaningful place. 

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