7 Words of Hope from a Nazi Death Camp

 

One of the hardest books to read, but one of the most rewarding. I just finished psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning. During the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of an estimated 17 million humans like you and me, Frankl was moved from camp to camp, doing forced labor in brutal conditions, threatened constantly with death. Man’s Search for Meaning serves both as a memoir of sorts for his time in concentration and labor camps and as an explanation of how that experience shaped his understanding of psychology.

I want to share with you just a few of the words of hope that I found in Frankl’s book, and I hope you’ll be inspired to read the rest of the book yourself. I can’t state strongly enough the impact that this book has had. No matter how sad its stories, I found it to be one of the most hopeful books I’ve read.

 

1. You matter.

Some days you may question whether there’s any point to your being here. But even in the worst of times, Frankl found that if he and his fellow prisoners considered the impact they might still have on others through their love and their work in the future, they could see just how much each of them did matter.

“A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how.'” – Viktor Frankl

 

2. You get to choose your life’s meaning.

Life is a weird path of twists and turns for each of us, and in comparing ourselves to others or to the ideals we think we’ve learned, we sometimes can’t find how we matter. But Frankl learned that peace can be found in giving up the search for an ultimate meaning, and instead choosing what you will live for.

“Everyone has is own specific vocation or mission in life to carry out a concrete assignment which demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as is his specific opportunity to implement it. . . . Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked.” – Viktor Frankl

 

3. You can always find joy and fulfillment in LOVE.

Love is a powerful and beautiful thing. For me, this was one of the most meaningful and helpful messages in the book. In a strongly individualistic society, it is hard to grasp the significance and fulfillment in just loving another person. It is okay to live for love.

“My mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise. . . . A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth–that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.” – Viktor Frankl

 

4. You can reduce your suffering by observing it objectively. 

It’s hard to imagine suffering worse than prisoners in a concentration camp, but even in such intense suffering, Frankl found relief. He discovered that a simple change in how you observe the present moment can make a bad situation much more bearable. He told a story about when, during a particularly awful day, he started imagining that he was actually retelling his situation in a future psychological lecture. Just this simple mental exercise helped immensely, reminding him that life was bigger than his current hurt, that the present was simply a circumstance that could be observed.

“By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past. Both I and my troubles became the object of an interesting psychoscientific study undertaken by myself. . . . What does Spinoza say . . . ‘Emotion, which is suffering, ceases to be suffering as soon as we form a clear and precise picture of it.'” – Viktor Frankl

 

5. Feelings of joy and suffering are relative. You’re not stuck in your feelings.

This may be a blessing and a curse, depending on how you look at it and what focus you choose. Frankl observed that the feelings of despair, suffering, frustration, and sadness, weren’t necessarily worse or more overwhelming, in a situation as awful as a concentration camp, than in a less severe circumstance. Humans tend to feel suffering very completely, whether the stressor is big or little. On the one hand, that can mean a small disappointment can be overwhelming. On the other hand, that can mean that you may handle the very worst circumstances much better than you think–which is a hopeful thought. Studies have shown that people who go through awful events often end up much less devastated, at least after a while, than they think they will be. In the same token, feelings of happiness and joy can be extremely strong, even when found in very simple experiences.

“Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the ‘size’ of human suffering is absolutely relative. It also follows that a very trifling thing can cause the greatest of joys.” – Viktor Frankl

 

6. Growing old is going to be okay.

This one sucks. I always hate thinking of growing old, watching my remaining time in this life get shorter and shorter. This book honestly helped with that. Frankl has the most beautiful perspective on this that I’ve heard. It’s a peaceful and hopeful one. I’ll let him speak for himself. I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.

“At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence. . . . I should say having been is the surest kind of being. . . . The pessimist resembles a man who observes with fear and sadness that his wall calendar, from which he daily tears a sheet, grows thinner with each passing day. On the other hand, the person who attacks the problems of life actively is like a man who removes each successive leaf from his calendar and files it neatly and carefully away with its predecessors, after first having jotted down a few diary notes on the back. He can reflect with pride and joy on all the richness set down in these notes, on all the life he has already lived to the fullest. What will it matter to him if he notices that he is growing old? Has he any reason to envy the young people whom he sees, or wax nostalgic over his own lost youth? What reasons has he to envy a younger person? For the possibilities that a young person has, the future which is in store for him? ‘No, thank you,’ he will think. ‘Instead of possibilities, I have realities in my past, not only the reality of work done and of love loved, but of sufferings bravely suffered. These sufferings are even the things of which I am most proud, though these are things which cannot inspire envy.'” – Viktor Frankl

 

7. You are always free to choose and change.

Another one that is near and dear to my heart, that inspires compassion and hope for myself and for others: His life in Nazi death camps persuaded Frankl that people are not stuck being, thinking, speaking, or acting as they have, or as they’re conditioned to. Sure, the deck may be stacked against you. And on average, people tend to stick with their patterns. But at the end of the day, each of us is free to choose. Free to choose how we will react to the circumstances life brings to us. Free to choose who we are.

“Man is not fully conditioned and determined but rather determines himself whether he gives in to conditions or stands up to them. In other words, man is ultimately self-determining. Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become in the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant. . . . one of the main features of human existence is the capacity to rise above such conditions, to grow beyond them. Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.” – Viktor Frankl

 

Guys, it’s hard to communicate how much I loved this book. It wasn’t the most impressively written, it wasn’t the most exciting, it wasn’t the most pleasant. But it was full of the raw experiences of real life in all its nitty gritty weirdness. It was honest. And it was full of hope and inspiration. So full of hope. Real hope.

I hope you’ll read it. And I hope that every day for the rest of your life, you’ll find hope.

~

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” – Viktor Frankl

Blogging 101: 3 Do’s & Don’ts

“Ouch…”

The ominous title to one of my first ever blog posts.

“Tried to barehand a flyball today. Worst case scenario: Root canal.”

Another gem from 14-year-old-blogger-me:

“Does anybody want to buy me a package of two-hundred fifty-three thousand four-hundred and twenty-nine glow in the dark frisbee’s? I’d be much obliged. I can’t even begin to describe how much I would love that many glow-frisbees!”

You’re welcome, World, for sharing the dorky ambitions and random words of wisdom that only a 14-year-old could share. A few nights ago, I stumbled upon my oooold blog, hidden in the nether regions of the internet. I promise you, you will never find it. Thank God.

 

I’ve been blogging since I was a kid. Unfortunately.

On a more serious note, I’ve been writing on this blog for the last several years and have taken blogging seriously as a skill worth learning as well as I can. I write about anything and everything I’ve learned–at work, in my personal life, about communication, about motivation–anything that may be of a little help to someone else walking their own path in this journey we call life.

I’ve grown to really appreciate blogging and to wish that more people would try it. I see two big reasons for people to blog:

 

For other people.

Sure, there’s already a lot of noise out there. So many blogs, articles, opinions. Why would you want to add to it?

The truth is, you really don’t know who your unique way of seeing and saying things may help.

You have had a rich life full of all kinds of experiences, good and bad. You’ve learned from things you’ve seen, heard, and done. You have a lot more wisdom to share than you may think. And every day, others are muddling their way through the same complicated, confusing, challenging life things you have. Or maybe it’s not as deep as all that. Maybe somebody just needs help deciding which new pair of hiking shoes to buy. Can you help with that?

And even if these people find someone else who has learned the same lessons you have and has put it down in words for them, maybe those words weren’t spoken in the unique way that would resonate. Maybe that writer’s perspective isn’t quite what these people need. Maybe your unique experiences and emotions are what will make those lessons click for some.

And even if these people have already found an answer to their questions that resonated–even if they already know–they may still need to hear the lesson said again and again and again and again and again. We’re strange creatures. Sometimes we need to hear what we already know to remember it. Sometimes we just need a little inspiration.

“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” – Andre Gide

So don’t be afraid to increase the volume of kind, positive wisdom in this world. We’re all in this together.

 

For yourself.

I think the writer may get more out of the practice of blogging than any reader ever will.

Writing–especially what’s deep in your heart–is an incredibly freeing and therapeutic experience. Try it and see for yourself.

As you put down in words the things you feel deeply and believe deeply, what you care passionately about and what you desire, and the ideas you most want to help others find–as you put these down in words, your thoughts become clearer, your convictions become stronger, and your ideas become more concrete. The practice of thinking and talking through something analytically, searching for the right language to use, is incredibly educational and thought-provoking. Writing is one of the best ways to learn.

And then, after you’ve written for a few years–after you’ve written to help others, written to feel freedom and healing, written to gain clarity and understanding–you look back and realize that your blog is really a journal as much as it is anything. How rewarding to look back and see how your thoughts and cares have developed over time with the turns your life has taken! And best of all, every now and then you will stumble across some of your own words of wisdom: Words you had forgotten, but that you desperately needed to remember on this exact day.

Bonus benefit: If you’re ever in a situation where there’s a need or an opportunity for someone to give a last minute presentation of any nature–inspirational, instructional, etc–having tons of your own prepared presentations at your fingertips is a lifesaver!

 

So why don’t you try blogging?

If you were to give blogging a go, what would you write about? What lessons have you learned in the last year? What do you care most deeply about in life? What have you struggled with? What has made you ecstatically happy?

If you’re ready, there are plenty of places to get started easily and without paying a cent. I use wordpress.com. You can create a blog free and start writing. And if you’re feeling nervous, they’ll let you hide your blog so you can give it a shot without any prying eyes.

What if you don’t know what to write about? What your big message will be? What your topic of expertise will be? That’s okay. Just write what you’re thinking about today, what you learned this year, what you want next year, and what you believe most strongly. What do you wish you could help the world to know? Just start writing. Or maybe write about your hiking shoes.

 

When you’re ready to give blogging a try, here are 3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts that I’ve learned (the hard way) in my experience as a blogger. Let’s start with what not to do.

 

DON’T . . .

. . . try to blog perfectly.

You never will. If you wait till you can do it perfectly, you’ll never publish a single post. Besides, sometimes you’ll think you’ve written your best piece and it won’t resonate with anyone. And then you’ll write one you just think is weak and poorly written, and you’ll be surprised to discover it spoke deeply to lots of readers. Your “best” will sometimes be your worst, and your “worst” will often be your best. So don’t try to blog perfectly.

. . . try to keep everyone happy.

You can’t. You have so many strong, genuine, deeply caring messages inside of you to give. So many ideas and experiences that could help others. But every one of those messages is going to piss someone off. It’s okay. You have to be okay with it. If you try to keep everyone happy, you’ll water down everything you write until your words don’t help anybody. (And then someone will still be displeased with you for being a people-pleaser.)

. . . be embarrassed.

Eventually, you’ll look back at a post you wrote a long time ago and you won’t like it. Your face will go beet-red, like mine always does. You’ll cringe and shake your head and panic a little. “I can’t believe I shared this with the world! This is awful! What was I thinking?” And then you’ll realize that everything is okay and that life went on. That’s a good moment to experience.

 

DO . . .

. . . write from your heart.

I know this is so cliche. But I think it’s the strongest and best advice anyone can possibly give. Even if it’s not blogging–maybe you’re a writer, a speaker, a leader, or an influencer of any kind. Be genuine! People can tell. And when you truly speak your honest and passionate message from deep down inside of you, that will connect with people.

. . . promote yourself.

It’s as simple as this: If you want to talk to people, tell them. Let the world know you’re hear to say something. It just might listen. There’s no shame in asking to be heard.

. . . keep writing.

You’ll probably feel like a fraud. It’s a thing. Whether you’re an occasional writer, a hobby blogger, or you make a career of it–you’ll feel like you’re not good enough, not committed enough, and that people won’t take you seriously. Especially early on. You’ll feel self-conscious as you look at how little you’ve done. You’ll feel embarrassed that you only post once or twice a month, that it’s sporadic, or that you’ve lost touch with it for a time. That’s okay. Write another post. And then another. Just keep writing. Baby steps. It’s amazing how a few pieces written here and there add up over several years. Suddenly you’ll turn around and see behind you a hundred posts you’ve written. Words that may have helped countless people along the way and may still help others. Words that have helped you already and will help you again. Just keep writing.

 

Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite writers, said this. And it’s one of my favorite things ever said about being a creator. Whether you blog, write, speak, record a podcast, whatever you do…

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” – Neil Gaiman

I hope you share your message with the world. Blogging may be just the way to do it. What do you think? Will you give blogging a try?

If you already are, good luck and keep up the good work! :)

 

I recently presented this material as a Toastmasters speech entitled Blogging 101. At the end of it, I held a Q&A session to further the discussion about what blogging looks like–for me and for others. A few of the questions prompted some great conversation. I’m sharing them here in case it helps.

Q: Is there anything you WON’T write or post about publicly? Anything you wouldn’t want people from work to see? Anything that’s too personal?
A: Not much anymore. There used to be a lot. And then I learned the lesson that a very wise friend of mine once put into words: “People connect at the level of their struggles.” We’re all in this together. If anything, I’m happy to help everyone see that being real is okay.

Q: CAN you decide who gets to see what you write? Can you keep certain people from seeing it?
A: Yes. You can make a blog totally private, so that nobody but you can access it. You can share it with a few certain people so that only they can access it. You can change its search settings such that it’s easy to share but people won’t find it just by searching the internet. Some people who make money by writing valuable content will have their blog set up so that only people who have paid for subscriptions or who have used another related program can access the blog. All kinds of options!

Q: With so many opinions out there, how can you trust that the information you’re getting from a blog is accurate? Like someone’s review of a product?
A: Great question! First of all, there’s no guarantee. You use your best judgment. But a couple helpful ideas: First, if you’re looking for specific information, like feedback or tips on traveling to a certain destination or on which product to buy, does the review or blog you’re reading seem to match the feedback of others? If almost everyone agrees, that tells you something. Second, one of the advantages to blogs is that they’re typically independent. Sure, some bloggers are being paid by the company whose product or service they’re recommending. Generally, they’ll have to disclose this somewhere. But you’ll also find lots of independent third party bloggers who are just writing their own real experiences. If anything, these are more helpful than advertisements and biased info you’ll get on a company’s own website.

Q: Can you blog under a pen name?
A: Yes! Absolutely! You can do that forever, or you can do it to help you get started if you’re nervous.

I’d love to know your answers to these questions! And I’d love to hear if there are any other questions or thoughts you’d like to share.

 

If you are a writer, or are interested in writing, or just like reading about writing, check out My 100th Blog Post: A Few Thoughts About Writing.

Neil Gaiman - As Only You Can

Why Can’t You Talk About It?

Countless times, I’ve heard people say “I can’t say it” or “I can’t talk about it”–or worst of all, “I’m not supposed to tell anyone.”

Who says???

With a very few obvious exceptions (like corporate information that makes your company competitive or like national security and military secrets), you CAN talk about anything you feel you need to.

If someone made you promise not to tell anybody a deep dark secret that is eating you alive now, break that promise.

If your boss tells you you’re not allowed to discuss your employment (pay, treatment, etc) with anyone, don’t play by his rules.

If your dad or mom tell you you’re not allowed to tell people what goes on at home or you’ll be sorry, tell a teacher or another adult what’s happening and that you’re scared and need help.

I swear I have seen more damage done, more abuse prolonged, and more bullying enabled by people in every area of life being made to believe they have some obligation to keep quiet about something that’s slowly destroying them.

Bad people get a lot of their power from secrecy. Abusers isolate the abused. Bullies threaten harm to their victims if they speak up. Scammers and crooks threaten harm to people who go to the authorities for help. Bosses manipulate and intimidate their employees who don’t know better into keeping silent about problems in the workplace and unfair treatment.

And the ones getting bullied and scammed and hurt rarely know that there’s a lot built into the system–our society–to protect them and help them when people are trying to use fear and secrecy to control them: Laws against discouraging employees from discussing their terms of employment, hotlines available for kids who need a professional to step in and ensure they’re safe, law enforcement who are well trained to help people who are being threatened.

And the bullied ones also rarely know that all the power they think bullies have over them–it’s usually not really there. I am becoming more and more and more convinced, the older I get and the more I see, that most of the power that bullies get just comes from their victims feeling like they can’t speak up.

So please help me spread the word. If there’s something that’s hurting or scaring or bothering you, and someone tells you that you can’t talk about it, that’s the best indicator that you NEED to talk about it!

If you ever feel like someone has backed you into a corner and has their hand over your mouth, be brave! There are lots of us out here who will listen and help.

A bully’s worst nightmare is that someone might speak up.

What is inspiring you this Christmas?

This Christmas I’m thinking a lot about what inspires me. I know a new year is right around the corner. Life is so short, and I want the next year to be just as full of adventure as this one has been. But twice as bold and free.

What do I feel passionate about at this point in my life? What has been meaningful about the last year? And what do I want out of the next year?

A few things come to mind…

 

Looking back at this year I wish that I had helped people more. So I find myself inspired to do more of that in the next year.

I have a friend who recently ran into some homeless people and after chatting for a bit went home and picked up her dinner in the crock pot and brought it back to share with them. I want to be like her when I grow up.

People all share the same humanity deep, deep down, and there are others just like me all around who don’t have what I have. There’s a lot of help needed in this big, messy world. And I want to do that any way I can. I wish I were an expert at answering where to go to help, who to give to, what organizations to volunteer with. I’m not, yet. But I know a few people who are, and I think the world of those people.

This next year I want to be as compassionate as I can be. My best friend tells me that to her, compassion means really seeing people. Not just the easy, surface, first-impression version. Stephen Covey talks about the widespread habit of listening to people through your own auto-biographical filter. What do I think of them? How might they affect me? What should I say to them now? When you see someone trying to work out at the gym, clearly their first time–or run into a mom at the grocery store who can’t seem to control her kids–what story are you telling yourself about them? What stereotypes do you impose on people when you meet them? What motives and purpose do you assign to the people in your life?

Do I ever stop to ask who someone really is underneath what I’ve decided about them? Do I ever make an effort to really understand someone–to really get to know why they are who they are? Do I listen to what they want me to hear about them, see what they wish I could see about them?

I want to see people through the eyes of compassion this year–to see the very best in people and to be honest with myself about how much more there is to everyone in their own joys and struggles than I could ever guess. I want to honor the real person inside of you, even though that means admitting that in all my wisdom and self-confidence, I don’t really know you and can’t be your judge.

 

The most inspiring times this last year were times spent in the incredibly beauty of nature. From the still, quiet swamp ten minutes down the road to the mountains of Utah and Nevada. From the Neskowin ghost forest off the coast of Oregon to the beautiful creeks flowing through the Smoky Mountains. We all get to share the gift of a world full of the kind of beauty that leaves you speechless and breathless. Taking the time to go out and look, listen, and feel nature must be one of the healthiest and happiest things you can ever do.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

 

And in doing and experiencing more of all these things that inspire me, I want to do them more freely, more boldly, and more unapologetically than I ever have before.
I want to live more by the words of my friend, Glenn: “What would you do if you were not afraid?”

 

What inspires you? What happiness and meaning will you find before the next Christmas?

Merry Christmas!

inspire

6 Steps to Stay on Track When You’re Discouraged

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I’ve been struggling with some personal things lately. Just some discouragements I’ve had to work through. Sometimes when you’re discouraged, it’s easy to lose sight of where you want to go–to doubt you’ll get there. And when you’re not fully expecting to get somewhere in the future, it’s not easy to discipline yourself to do the hard work today.

I remember learning this the hard way in my first job. But then I learned how to keep going anyway. Staying diligent through discouragement is hard, but it’s not impossible. Here are 6 steps you can take when you get discouraged. They’ll keep things in perspective and help you stay focused and productive.

     1. Calm your mind.

This is the first step I take in just about any personal challenge. When your mind is fighting (with itself or with outside influences), it is full of adrenaline and doesn’t think clearly or make careful decisions. So the first step to solving a mental and emotional crisis is to just calm down.

I like to go to a quiet place if I can, where I’m not surrounded by people or distractions. Sometimes I close my eyes and just breathe deeply. I let go of some emotions like anger and panic. I relax my mind until I am in a better state to think carefully.

     2. Acknowledge how much you change.

Your mind, heart, temperament, passions–they fluctuate by the day, by the hour, by the minute. Recognizing this helps keep things in perspective. How you feel right now does not have to define who you are. In fact, you are most certainly going to feel differently later.

Part of emotional maturity is being able to make decisions that are no longer based on current moods and feelings. But that takes perspective. It requires really understanding your mind, and appreciating how inconsistent it is, so that you stop basing decisions primarily on your mood. And take hope: You’ll feel better about it later!

     3. Get rid of unnecessary discouragements.

Don’t focus too much on the negative, but do take time to figure out what may be bringing you down. Maybe it’s problems on the job or in your relationship. Maybe you just didn’t get a good night’s sleep. Maybe you’re paying too much attention to one friend’s opinion. Or maybe you’re getting down on yourself for putting on a few extra pounds.

Some of these things will take longer to work on and will never be perfect. Like your relationship, or your career. You can’t just ignore those. But is there anything bringing you down that you can deal with immediately? Could you get more sleep tonight? Could you make healthier choices in your diet? Sometimes just getting rid of or changing your attitude about a little struggle can completely re-energize you.

     4. Ask yourself what you want your future to look like.

After deciding what I need to get rid of, I remind myself of what I’m trying to create. Try asking yourself where you want to be in the future. Be specific. What do you want to be able to do? Who do you want to be serving? How much money do you want to be making? Why? What do you want to be able to provide for family and friends? What experiences do you want out of life?

Dreaming of your future helps put things back in perspective. In fact, it’s one of the best ways to get re-motivated. What you’re doing today is not just for the sake of feeling good today. What you’re doing today is because you want to have something later. Whether you want to travel the world, start a charity, or send your kids to a good school, today’s work is for the sake of that future, not your mood.

     5. Ask yourself how you’ll get where you want to go.

Once you know what you want your future to look like–the place from where you want to be looking back on today–ask yourself two tough questions. They’re easy to answer but the answers demand your hard work and self-discipline:

Will you get there by being disciplined and productive? Maybe, maybe not (though if you do miss the moon you may land in the stars). But will you ever get there without being disciplined and productive? No. Definitely not.

6. Ask for help.

This might be the hardest step to take, but it’s often the most valuable, and sometimes the only one that’ll do it for you. When you’re struggling with discouragement, whether it’s laziness or depression, or just a little mood swing, reaching out for help can be a game-changer.

You can find encouragement, teamwork, accountability, or another form of support. And lots of people are ready and eager to help you. But you have to ask for it. You can ask friends and family. The most helpful teammate I have is my girlfriend, who knows me and cares about me more than anyone else. If you’re a religious person, you can reach out to God. An impressive amount of highly productive and successful people say one of the biggest anchors they have is prayer and church. Wherever you find support, don’t be afraid to go there. And when you feel embarrassed for needing help, that’s probably when you need it most.

These six steps help me a lot. I hope they help you, too!

We’re all in this together. What are some other ways you’ve learned to keep going when you’re discouraged?