While having breakfast in Brisbane recently, Rowena and I were taking time out and got into conversation with a pleasant couple from the US. He, an academic, scientist and teacher, she a DC lawyer.
As we got into conversation, it came to light that his tenure as a teaching professor was ending and after many years as Acting Dean and as teaching Professor, he was really struggling to find his identity outside the University and the path forward that this change presented. The word that was most threatening in this I think was that old chestnut “retirement”.
In talking, we shared our wonderful experiences of life in Australia and we began exploring ideas and opportunities in thinking about the future and where he might develop to in that future. So, we were working on leaving the word ‘retiring’ out and discussing ‘evolving’.
We also got to talking about books and one we both shared a love for is a little book called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ authored by Viktor Frankl in 1946 after he had survived the Second World War and internment in the Nazi death camps. The horror of Frankl’s experience fundamentally changed him and through the experience he developed what is described as “a method which involved identifying a purpose in life to feel positively about, and then immersively imagining that outcome” (Wikipedia). This practice or method is called logotherapy.
In a nutshell logotherapy is a philosophy based on the idea that we are strongly motivated to live purposefully and meaningfully, and that we find meaning in life as a result of responding authentically and humanely (ie meaningfully) to life’s challenges. Simply, it’s about attitude.
Several powerful quotes in this very small book (186 pages) resonate and, coming from the core of the horror of experience, are apt for consideration in any situation. An example “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.” And perhaps more simply “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
This was where we found ourselves during our breakfast conversation and, as it turned to these quotes, I asked what he wanted to do with the time that he had left on the planet that would be either a suitable legacy or give his life greater meaning. Those questions weren’t for answering then.
As they left to continue their travels, I was reminded of another book by Tom Robbins called “Still Life with Woodpecker – Life inside a packet of Camel cigarettes”. The reason that had come to mind is that on the side of a packet of Camels was a very powerful word that reflects Frankl’s approach. That word is ‘Choice’ and that’s what it’s really all about.