I’m reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. I’m only a few chapters in and Frankl is recounting some of the initial horrors of his holocaust experience. The preface explained that detailing the horrors of the holocaust was not its main objective, but rather to illustrate how to find meaning or hope in even the bleakest of circumstances. Frankl explains that the only people who survived were those that never lost hope and/or never lost meaning. It’s remarkable that someone finds hope and meaning while in such horrific situations. It makes me wonder if there’s something lost in the middle experience. How do you find hope and meaning in the everyday experiences? That’s the challenge for many of us. The middle where everything is comfortable and maybe a bit non-exciting is where we spend most of our lives. It’s so easy to just sink into the middle. Nothing is bad enough to prompt serious change and nothing is good enough to inspire or build confidence.
I’m hesitant to say that people with bigger challenges have an advantage. I have noticed that the most meaningful, fulfilling, and successful times in my life have been those in which I face a serious challenge. When my father died, I felt a desperate need to make meaning come out of it, so I poured myself into law school prep.
My father always seemed excited about the idea of me being a lawyer and fascinated with the thought that I could go to Harvard Law School. I didn’t get into Harvard, but reaching for that huge goal, to give meaning to my father’s life and death, pushed me harder than I’d ever been pushed. It was the first big loss of my adult life and while it initially came with confusion and numbness, that eventually gave way to massive inspiration. Inspiration so strong that it was like being pushed by an invisible hand every day. Perhaps this is what writers feel when they talk about a muse writing the book for them. I think back on that now and it was incredible. It was the most effort I ever put into anything but I recall it feeling mostly effortless. As a result of this I got into Northeastern University, which as it turned out, was a far better law school than I should’ve attended given the fact that I actually had very little interest in being a lawyer (that’s a story for another day).
So, yes, adversity, loss, challenges, seemingly bad things can change our lives for the better. They can give us that need to hit back and say, ‘No, I need this to be a positive thing, and I’m going to make it happen.’ That can be a comfort for us when things are good and we worry about the bad; we can remember that the bad events can awaken our superpowers and help us achieve things we didn’t know we could. But how do you awaken those superpowers without having to lose a loved one or experience some other tragedy? There has to be a way right? If we can do that stuff in the toughest of times, we can definitely do it in good times. I think it comes back to finding a strong reason – a strong why. Giving meaning to my father’s life and death through my own actions, and converting that into something not altogether painful and terrible was an incredibly strong purpose. Fuck, it’s purpose. So obvious, right?
If purpose is the answer, then I suppose the next question is how do you identify and internalize that purpose that will be your muse pushing you to new heights of energy, confidence, work ethic? I don’t know. If I knew, I’d be doing that work right now. Writing might be part of that job actually. Exploring your mind, your experiences, your emotions for answers. What causes you pain? What brings you joy? What is something you can’t imagine not achieving in your life? For me, right now, I can’t imagine not regaining my physical fitness and energy. It’s that thing that weighs me down physically and mentally almost everyday. That seems like an excellent starting point, but what’s missing? Pain.
There is pain, but it’s pain that has come on so slowly over the years that you can almost not even notice it most of the time. Alcohol, food, entertainment all help numb the pain. The pain needs to be more fully realized. I need to see all that I’m losing to my lack of physical fitness. I avoid pictures like the plague. I avoid seeing old friends because I don’t want to endure that moment where I’ll say, ‘yeah, I got fat.’ I avoid putting myself out there confidently in the world and trying new things because I don’t think I can do them at a level of which I am proud. I enjoy most things less and am less present because I’m tired. I achieve less. I hate seeing my reflection. I mean wtf. I hate seeing myself? I feel embarrassed by the way I look much of the time. I hide. Man, this shit is fucked. I’m starting to get angry.
I’m 38 years old and if I don’t fix this soon it’s just going to get harder. Why do you want to fix it? Because I want to play sports, and be in the world without worrying about how I look. I want to feel like a young, successful man. I want to feel fucking great when I wake up in the morning, so I can be excited to be alive. I want to pursue challenges and make a unique contribution to the world. I want to be really fucking good at something. Something that has a physical component. I want to have enough energy to create everyday, and to help other people improve their lives.
I’ll never do any of this stuff the way it’s going. Drinking, smoking, undisciplined eating, inadequate sleep, inadequate mental and emotional work. Just undisciplined aimless living across the board. I’d be fine with all of it if I were happy, but I’m not. Something is missing. Fulfillment, joy, health, enthusiasm, confidence, clarity. All missing most of the time. Just knowing I can get it back through hard work is really nice. I like hard work and honestly the hardest part of hard work is just getting started, so let’s get started.
I’m going to go sign up for a gym today and work out. That’s the start. I can do that. I want to do that.
We just need to start. Pick a bite-sized action that’s just exciting enough, but that you know you can totally handle. Then let’s do it again tomorrow.