“We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering… 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”. — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

When we are young, we often have lofty ideas of what success looks like ten or twenty years down the road. It looks like doing work that we believe in and that matters. It looks like being financially comfortable. It looks like a nice house in a coveted area of town. It looks like the partner of our dreams and 2.5 kids. It looks like happiness and stability and respect and purpose. I know I certainly defined it this way back then.

Now I know that success is both all of these things and none of these things at once. Why? Because there are always two measures of success and one is dependent on the other. Let’s return to Dr. Frankl…

“Once, an elderly general practitioner consulted me because of his severe depression. He could not overcome the loss of his wife who had died two years before and whom he had loved above all else. Now how could I help him? What should I tell him? I refrained from telling him anything, but instead confronted him with a question, “What would have happened, Doctor, if you had died first, and your wife would have had to survive you?:” “Oh,” he said, “for her this would have been terrible; how she would have suffered!” Whereupon I replied, “You see, Doctor, such a suffering has been spared her, and it is you who have spared her this suffering; but now, you have to pay for it by surviving and mourning her.” He said no word but shook my hand and calmly left the office.

Success and meaning in life is defined internally by the attitude we bring to our experiences and struggles. But we will only be measured a success externally by the deeds, encounters, and value we create for others. Yet, we can’t meet that external measure until we have met the internal one. In order to make the lives of others better we need to make sure we are equipped to do so. In order to make an impact, you not only need a place to land, you need a stable and strong platform to fire from.

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, then that is a measure of success I can believe in. Please let me know by contributing here.