For the first installment of this newsletter, I have to start with the OG coping superstar, the father of existential psychotherapy himself, Viktor Frankl. We will be reading Frankl’s foundational book Man’s Search for Meaning in our monthly book club later this year, so I will be brief in my introduction of him here. Frankl and his family were imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII. During this time, he suffered tremendous trauma, challenge, and atrocity. Yet, he emerged as one of the great philosophers of psychotherapy. Frankl, and his story, taught me 3 critical truths. First, it is our job to find our own meaning. The second meaning can always be made, even in the most dire of circumstances. Finally, it is through finding meaning that we can find the path to a meaningful life.
“We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life and instead 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 right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answers to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” - Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Frankl helped me understand my quest for meaning after my father’s suicide. His insight and approach helped me see past the horrific reality to the power of what could be. This framework makes so much sense to me that I consider myself a “practicing existentialist.” Now, please, I know you are probably so put off by the mention of existentialism. You may be having flashbacks to high school, struggling through Camus or the depths of Nietzsche, or the confrontations of de Beauvoir. Perhaps you even think those existentialists don’t believe in anything, and that’s a real bummer. If that is the case, let me introduce the alternative, the “fun-stentialist,” because nothing has any inherent meaning, and you are totally in control. You get to do 100% you. That’s the type of freedom I embrace every day; it is the reason why this club even exists. Just because I think it is meaningful.
“...the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” - Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
All that being said, there are some rules. Your actions can’t intentionally hurt yourself or others. It is essential to work to do the right things in life. Still, we must add in the compassionate insight that sometimes even when we have the best intentions, we do things that cause harm to ourselves and others. In cases such as these, it is also our job to make meaning of them and, if appropriate, to do so, take meaningful restorative action. We must continue to learn through whatever challenges we face.
“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather 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.”― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
So join me in celebrating the OG Coping Superstar that is Viktor Frankl. If you are interested in learning more about Viktor and his transformative work, I highly suggest you learn more about his book Man's Search for Meaning here