“He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.”
Burnout was the best thing that ever happened to me. Really? Yes, really – because when I burnt out 6 years ago, I discovered my why and Lessons-in-Self was born. I slowly, but surely realised the reason behind the suffering, all the hardships I’d gone through, the negative experiences I’d encountered along my life’s journey. Discovering my why or the purpose of my life’s experiences led me to delve deeper and in doing so I found meaning as I learnt more about my Self. This resulted in creating my Education for Life programmes through which I now support others either beginning their own journey, or already on the journey of life – my how.
A meaning mindset.
Fact is, life, as we know, is full of hardships and struggles and comes part and parcel of what it means to live. It’s often through suffering we find true meaning. If we had a life without hardships, struggles and suffering but one of endless happiness then, according to Wong (2012:6), we’d be reduced to robots getting stuck on the hedonic treadmill. We’ll be searching for pleasures that may not completely fulfil us which only last for a short time.
While we don’t enjoy the hardships that life throws at us, whatever shape or form they may be, the obstacles, hardships and suffering we endure is quite individual and one person’s hardship can’t really be compared– we all have our stories, we all have our own unique experiences – even if somebody’s gone through something similar. The way we choose to deal with a negative situation, the way we perceive it, the reasons for it ‘happening’ and the decisions we make – that too is unique.
As I learnt, it’s the ability to look at the ‘inevitable unpleasant realities of life’ (Wong 2012:6) as opportunities for growth, to be able to translate negative experiences into positive outcomes as I did with burnout.
What are you afraid of? What’s stopping you from taking that crucial step forward? What are you pretending not to know?
There are many of us who choose instead to avoid facing a situation because of our fears, which are based on an imagined future outcome which we can’t completely determine. Rather than make that decision and face the outcome, it’s seemingly easier to avoid it. I remember I chose to avoid dealing with what was going on in my life, choosing instead to ignore or numb the pain in the hope that in doing so, it would go away.
Yet, while avoidance is a choice, there are times when using this strategy doesn’t work any longer. Burnout forced me to listen, it doesn’t do avoidance.
Attitude. It’s a choice.
I’ve said that how we respond to negative experiences and events is also very personal. One thing that is universal, however, is that no matter how bad the situation, we ALL have the power of choice in how to respond. Even under the direst set of circumstances. I know, you’re wondering, even under the worst circumstances? Yes, even those.
Living the extreme hardships faced in concentration camps during the second world war, witnessing death on an hourly basis, Victor Frankl chose to respond to the conditions by meaning in all the suffering and pain he encountered. He didn’t choose just to exist. He chose to live. He chose life. As a result, he chose and found meaning and purpose despite his circumstances as too did others.
There were those who offered kindness and comfort, gave away their last meagre piece of bread despite their own suffering. Despite the extremities of the conditions and circumstances which surrounded them – they still had the power to choose how to respond to their situation and shows:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
As Victor Frankl discovered there are always choices to make, every day and every hour irrespective of the circumstances we find ourselves in. We can choose to avoid, to justify, to blame, to complain, to succumb to a situation. If external circumstances dictate the limitations of our decisions, we still have the power to choose our attitude.
We always have a choice. Attitude is also a choice. Choose life. The choice is yours.
In our darkest moments we can choose to look for the light, the light is always there, it never goes out. It’s a matter of making a conscious choice to find it, as it may well lead you to your why and ultimately your how will follow.
Wong, T. P. (2012). Toward a Dual-Systems Model of What Makes Life Worth Living. In The Human Quest for Meaning. Theories, Research and Applications. 2nd Edition. New York: Routledge.
Frankl, E. V. (2004). Man’s Search for Meaning. The Classic tribute to hope from the Holocaust. Rider.
Image courtesy of Pinakeen Bhatt / Unsplash