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Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel
You might find it hard to believe that a first-hand account from the inside of a Nazi death camp is instrumental for the purpose of stimulating creativity. You might also think that anyone who’d find such a subject uplifting is a dark and twisted individual with emotional issues. Granted, the book isn’t exactly about rainbows, fluffy bunnies, and feel-good stuff. But in my experience, it was more uplifting than a hundred positive attitude books.
Since my second reading of Man’s Search for Meaning, I’ve made some fairly radical life changes. I now make a quasi-religious discipline of creative writing every day (whether I “have time” for it or not). I make time for doing things like taking walks outside. I don’t allow a single day to go by without doing something that enriches my life. My stress level has dropped, and my diet continues to gradually improve. I notice the sounds of little birds chirping in the pre-dawn hours.
Why did all of these things happen? Very simply, Frankel’s gripping story jump-started a process that has awakened me, little by little, day by day, to my life’s higher purpose.
I’ve heard people make disparaging remarks about Man’s Search for Meaning. It’s usually something along the lines of “I don’t need to read that kind of stuff.”(I’ve never heard a remark like that from anyone who’s actually read the book.)
Victor Frankel was more than a survivor, and his famous memoir is much more than a personal account of overcoming a tragedy or a “woe-is-me” story. Frankel is an example of what it looks like to use unspeakable horror as an opportunity to create personal growth. Also, Frankel’s matter-of-fact recounting of the facts in cold, calculated clinical detail almost makes it hard to believe that he himself was a victim. I say “almost” because no one would dare make up a story like Frankel’s.
For those of you who haven’t read Man’s Search for Meaning, here’s why you should. Frankel discovered the key to the gradual release of suffering. Under the duress of the labor camps, he saw that he had the power to create, moment by moment, a higher purpose for his unpleasant conditions. He and a few of his fellow camp-mates made a cognitive shift that empowered them to rise above their circumstances.
The camp experience proved instrumental when Frankel developed “logotherapy,” a breakthrough technique, in his later years. This therapy essentially guided patients through a similar paradigm shift to what Frankel had experienced in the camps, whereby they learned simple tools that helped them to overcome deep dissatisfaction with their lives.
After I finished Man’s Search for Meaning, I began to appreciate that putting off the pursuit of my passion was unacceptable, even for one single day. I also gained a deeper respect for my invisible enemy, “Resistance,” that Steven Pressfield discusses in The War of Art.
The world started to take on new dimension in my eyes as I read Frankel’s book. Things started to look more colorful, and I started to notice more of the beauty around me. I began to see that I didn’t have to spend three years in a Nazi concentration camp to benefit from the story of someone who had. While I can’t speak for Frankel himself, I suspect that played a significant part in his decision to publish the book. He wanted the world to collective derive the maximum benefit from his suffering. This is the core message of the book, and this is Frankel’s gift to the world.
Thank you, Victor. May you rest in peace.
Dave Baldwin is a writer who has lived and worked in Raleigh, NC since 2007. He has self-published two books: Pied Piper Entrepreneurship (2009) and Get That Book Out of Your Head! (2009).
Please comment here if you have read the book and would like to share your experience.