By Elisabeth Goodman, 9th November 2020
The concept of ‘meaning’ or ‘purpose’ being a route to well-being is not a new one of course. I referenced it in a previous blog (Goodman 2020) referencing an article by David Kessler in Harvard Business Review.
Reading Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s search for meaning” brought things home for me in a powerful and insightful way. His beautiful book is poignant, very readable and conveys a wealth of insights in just 154 pages.
Frankl survived the holocaust and his experience led him to create and practise logotherapy, which, unlike psychotherapy, helps people to focus on the future. Logotherapy is many things, but the core of it would seem to be about what meaning we can bring to our lives.
There are parallels with my work as a coach, which is also about helping people to find a way forward in their thinking, feeling and doing.
I have found some of the insights from Frankl’s books to be sources of strength for me too, and hope that, by sharing them, they can also be of help to others.
Life’s meaning is what we choose to make it
There are times when I wonder why I’m here, and others when I’m just living moment to moment and suddenly realise time has gone by without my paying attention to it.
Frankl provides a salutatory reminder that life’s meaning is within our remit to choose. We have the freedom to make what we like of it, and we also have the responsibility to do so. That can feel daunting at times, but the good news is, we can change and evolve this meaning.
Frankl helps us by suggesting that we can find meaning in one of three ways:
- Through our work or what we create
- By an encounter with a person or with an experience
- In what we can learn from and how we grow from suffering (though we should certainly not deliberately choose to suffer)
I also like his suggestion that “life is like a movie”: we can find meaning in each moment (or film clip), and also when we look back on our lives (or on a film as a whole).
We can influence our sense of well-being
To quote Frankl:
“mental health is based on…the tension between what one has already achieved and what one still ought to accomplish…what one is and what one should become”
My coach training always alerts me to the use of ‘ought’ or ‘should’ because of course we are also in control of what we choose to accomplish in our lives and what we would like to become. Ultimately, only we can decide these matters, and we are the best judges of them!
We can also choose to give in to a situation or to stand up to or rise above it… This is self-determination.
Frankl gives us the concept of “tragic optimism” and the “tragic triad”:
- Pain or suffering – that we can learn or grow from (though this is not to minimise the pain or the suffering in any way, nor the time that may be needed to heal from it)
- Guilt – where we can choose to make a positive change for the better (for instance in making amends)
- Life’s transitoriness – which brings us back to taking responsible action in our lives
Logotherapy, like my approach to coaching, helps people to widen their vision of what’s possible: what choices we have and, in the case of logotherapy, what meaning we might give to our lives. This is powerful stuff!
It’s perhaps suitable to end with one of Frankl’s frequent quotes from Nietzche:
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Frankl, V. (2004). Man’s search for meaning. London, United Kingdom: Rider
Goodman, E. (2020) The manager as coach: helping your team find new meaning – https://elisabethgoodman.wordpress.com/2020/07/06/the-manager-as-coach-helping-your-team-find-new-meaning/
About the author
Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through coaching, courses and workshops, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.
Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.
She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to achieve authenticity and autonomy in the workplace by enhancing their management, interpersonal and communication skills, and their ability to deal with uncertainty and change.
Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.
Elisabeth is also a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester.