“When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” -Viktor Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning”
A Short Story
There is a story that is written, as follows:
A blind girl hated herself and everyone around her purely for the fact she was blind. The only person she didn’t hate was her loving boyfriend, as he was always there for her. She always said that if only she could see the world, she would marry him.
One day, someone anonymously donated a pair of eyes to her – now she could see everything, including her boyfriend. The boyfriend eagerly asked her, “now that you can see the world, will you finally marry me?”
The girl was shocked when she saw that her boyfriend was blind too, and refused to marry him. The boyfriend walked away in tears and later wrote a letter to her saying: “JUST TAKE CARE OF MY EYES, DEAR.”
Control What You Can Control
How is it possible that a Friday is a different experience for us than a Monday; or a sunny day, versus a rainy day? There is not any meaning for a ‘Friday’ occurrence or a ‘sunny’ occurrence, other than that which we assign to it. The same is true for situations and people that impact us each day. Think about the name that pops up on your phone screen when receiving an incoming call. It is simply an assortment of letters that form a recognizable identifier; yet, a full range of emotions is instantly triggered by an innocuous device we call a phone. Our response to events is a choice we make and we make these choices thousands of times a day, many of them without thinking. Like the blind girl from the story, we can easily allow our circumstances to control us when the only thing we can truly control is what we think, what we say, and how we act. That is it, and we are 100% accountable for the choices we make.
Victor Frankl faced a circumstance in life that for most would be hard to even imagine. Living in Vienna, and a doctor in neurology and psychiatry, he was arrested and imprisoned with his wife, both parents, and brother in a Nazi concentration camp. A draft manuscript on psychotherapy that he considered his life’s work was confiscated from him. He would be the only to survive, after three years of confinement in Auschwitz, Dachau, and several other locations. Victor Frankl was stripped of everything; that is, except for his mental capacity to make choices. He made a choice to find meaning in his life, a purpose for living that would provide him the courage and strength to conquer his horrific circumstance, and emerge stronger than before. He envisioned a life of achievement that would advance the manuscript he no longer had to a completed creation that would benefit others; of loving relationships, from the foundation of love he shared with his wife; and of a stand for human dignity that would allow him and, through his work, others, to prevail in life’s most challenging circumstances. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl shares his favorite quote by Nietzsche, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Setbacks, obstacles, roadblocks, issues, and concerns are part of the business playing field; so, too, are opportunities for greatness. As Frankl suggests, what kind of person you are is a result of an “inner decision,” rather than your situation. The inner decisions of leaders, faced with situations they cannot change, have a profound impact on those they lead and the outcomes that are produced. It would be hard to argue that the inner decisions of effective leaders are linked to a compelling meaning worth achieving that is much bigger than them. They do not fear the challenge of changing themselves. They are the kind of person that would say, “Take care of my eyes, dear.”