Link to the Amazon page for “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl One of the best things about the Co-Active Leadership Program I am now a student in is the tight bonds one forms with the other members of one’s “tribe.” I have seventeen new friends that I am very proud of. Dave Baillie is one of them. Dave is a combination of great personal power, great personal warmth and great desire for a deeper understanding of the human condition. Today, I am pleased to be able to add guest post from Dave to the guest posts from my other new friends you can see links for at the bottom. Here is Dave:Sitting on my patio in southern California, it is now
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One of the best things about the Co-Active Leadership Program I am now a student in is the tight bonds one forms with the other members of one’s “tribe.” I have seventeen new friends that I am very proud of. Dave Baillie is one of them. Dave is a combination of great personal power, great personal warmth and great desire for a deeper understanding of the human condition. Today, I am pleased to be able to add guest post from Dave to the guest posts from my other new friends you can see links for at the bottom. Here is Dave:
Sitting on my patio in southern California, it is now the golden hour, that last hour of daylight that has a special glow and brings a quiet reflectiveness—both about what is past and what is yet to come. I realize that, for me, it has been the golden hour of reflection and reorientation for the last decade and that I am at the dawn of a yet-undiscovered future. A new book in the series of my life has begun with the conscious quest for a beautiful life purpose as I author the rest of my life.
Defining “my life purpose”—my new aims—is something worth puzzling over. I have 56 lived years now under my belt. I open this decade by stepping away from a home city, a career, and a marriage each of nearly 3 decades.
Central to my efforts toward defining my forward life purpose is the work I am doing in courses given by the Co-Active Training Institute (CTI). (A past protégé who referred me to CTI’s coaching and leadership programs.) I began by thinking about ambitions and goals of a familiar sort. But during a mentoring walk with a career Naval Officer, my dive went deeper than expected as he shared with me his life pivot point while on a mission during the Iraq war in the 2000s. He spoke of virtue, love and a life well led. He urged me to read Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. Reading Man’s Search for Meaning is helping me reframe my life purpose. I feel as if I am being opened up so that I can discover what life is asking of me—and how I will show up to answer that calling.
First published in 1946 as A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp and later called Say Yes to Life in Spite of Everything, today’s English edition of Man’s Search for Meaning, includes an Introduction to Logotherapy (1964) and a postscript written in 1984 entitled The Case for Tragic Optimism. Viktor Frankl’s 1946 work is less a documentary of concentration camps, and more an observation of the psychological effects of going through that harrowing experience, and the understanding he gained of what makes for a fulfilling life—a life with true meaning. Herein lies the core of Logotherapy: to be confronted with and reoriented toward the meaning of one’s life. (The definitions of all the possible meanings of the Greek word logos run on for pages, but one of those meanings is “meaning” itself.) His Experiences in a Concentration Camp opens with a statement that his writing is not intended to be an account of all the suffering—there are other books for that. Instead, Viktor conveys how the experience was reflected in the mind of the average prisoner and how those psychological effects can illuminate a broader understanding of the human quest for meaning.
Man’s Search for Meaning opens with the scene of Viktor disembarking a rail car upon arrival at Auschwitz with his young, and pregnant, wife. Immediately, they were commanded to leave their suitcases on the train and stand in two lines, one for men, the other for woman. There is no mention of a farewell. At the head of the line, a well-dressed SS officer who wielded, literally, a fickle finger of fate, as he wiggled his index finger left or right; right for work, while left led to the gas chambers and crematorium:
The significance of the finger game was explained to us in the evening. It was the first selection, the first verdict made on our existence or non-existence.
Having smuggled the manuscript of his life’s work into camp, he retained some hope, but even this was taken from him as they were stripped naked, showered, and then given prison rags to wear. Nothing of his former life retained. Later, Frankl realized that the one last vital possession which could not be taken was how he chose to show up in the world, no matter the situation!
Next to being dragged to a concentration camp, my situation is heaven on earth, but by more ordinary standards, leaving a marriage of 3 decades, moving to a new town, taking up a new career assignment—and, along with many other people, being put under a form of home arrest by this pandemic—are upending. It has rattled my conception that life is stable, the future predictable.
As a goad for thinking through one’s life purpose, Viktor Frankl offers this quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche:
He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.
To that, Viktor adds:
It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future - sub specie aeternitatis. And this is his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task.
The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed.
This underscores the value of connecting with a vision of one’s future as well as tuning into one’s purpose.
Whether you have recently experienced a pivot point in your life journey or been knocked off balance by the world’s pandemic shift, you too may be wondering, “what’s the point? What’s the meaning of life and where do I go from here?” Dr. Frankl’s work has helped me consider these questions for myself. Let me share the process I am using to become better attuned to my true self and to reframe my life purpose—a process that is allowing me to see opportunities and a vision of a resonant future even amid personal upheaval and the ever-changing mess of the world around me.
Searching for Meaning: Dave’s Process
A life pivot point is any event that can create a fundamental shift to one’s perspective and attitude towards life. Leverage the shift.
Through life’s challenges we alone can choose to play victim or take ownership of our lives. When things are really bad, as in Viktor Frankl’s situation when everything was taken from him, we may only truly own how we choose to show up. Attitude is everything – so, choose a good one.
Calibrate your internal compass. Create space and spend time to get to know your true, authentic self again. What virtues do you subscribe to? What are your boundaries? What feeds your soul?
We discover our life purpose only once we take full responsibility for showing up as our authentic selves and stand in our own truth. When we are impeccable with our word and our actions come from a heart of love.
There is no singular, abstract definition of the meaning of life. Our purpose is not defined by what we expect from life. Rather, what really matters is what life expects from us.
Life is comprised of tasks (actions) and experiences. Therefore, life is concrete, not abstract. By being in tune with our authentic self and remaining open to the challenge and possibility of each situation, we will discover and live our purpose.
The answers we seek may be found through action, and how we choose to show up. We can:
Drive to shape our fate through creative action, or;
Simply accept fate and bear its cross.
Either may be the “right answer”- the path that is at once authentic to ourselves and responsive to the situation at hand. There is a lot to be said about allowing fate to unfold and then remaining open about what to do next.
There is a third choice. We can contemplate the situation in order to realize the help and resources that are available, and with these to step into action as our fully authentic selves. This requires great humility: ask for help and be open to receiving unanticipated gifts.
The answers we seek are be found through authentic action. But the key is that word “authentic.” To be able to be authentic, you will need to calibrate your compass.
David Baillie is an experienced leadership coach and facilitator who helps managers in public service grow into their full leadership potential. He has over 30 years experience as a leader in the U.S. Navy and is currently engaged in his next leadership quest through co-active coaching and leadership programs. He lives in Ventura, CA and may be contacted through his LinkedIN account: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-baillie-209954/
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