Viktor Frankl – Lessons from a Concentration Camp

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less ordinary living, find your purpose, enjoy life, enjoy your career

Find your Purpose

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What can we learn from a man stripped of all his worldly possessions and dignity?  The psychologist Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning spent four years in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.  He survived some of the most inhumane treatment in modern history.  As a doctor, Frankl focused his energy and strength on studying those around him during this deprivation.  He learned a huge amount about the importance of living a life of meaning.

Everyday Life in Auschwitz

Frankl interviewed hundreds of inmates he treated in camp hospitals.  He identified that those who survived the illness and mistreatment almost always had a deeper meaning or purpose in their lives.  In Frankl’s own case, he was determined to survive to be reunited with his wife, the love of his life.  This drove him to dig frozen earth, endure countless beatings and fight off the scourges of malnutrition and tetanus for four years.

What Makes Us Give Up?

Frankl watched fellow inmates succumb to what he called “giveupitis”.  One day, they would simply lie in bed and refuse to get up, ignoring beatings and abuse from the guards.  At this point, Frankl sadly noted that they had given up their reason for living and their death was usually came within a day or two.  Without purpose they had no reason to go on.

The Power of Purpose

Frankl’s groundbreaking work has huge significance for your life. Without meaning, life can be tinged with a deep seated feeling of futility and emptiness.  Frankl saw this manifest in “giveupitis” amongst his patients and fellow inmates.  Today this lack of meaning can lead to a lack of motivation, energy and excitement.  It can hold you back from chasing your vision and goals and keep you stuck in the ordinary.

Finding a deeper purpose provides the motivation to strive for success.   It helps with springing out of bed in the morning and providing the energy to push for what is really important.

How to Find your Purpose

Ask yourself the following questions to identify your purpose:

Overcoming Challenges

  • Think about your toughest situations when you’ve been closest to giving up. What was the spark that kept burning and got you through?
  • What did you continue to believe in?

Greatest Days

  • Think about your greatest and most fulfilling moments in life where you felt most proud?
  • What was your driving force to achieve these amazing feats?
  • What makes you feel proud about what you did?

People Power

  • Who are the most important people in your life?
  • What do they mean to you?
  • How do they inspire and motivate you?

So, what is your purpose?  How do you plan to make the most of that today and every day?  What have you learned from Viktor Frankl’s experience?  Please share your passion with the LOL Community by leaving a comment. And if you have time, pick up a copy of Man’s Search for Meaning, a truly inspiring read.

Photo credit: Studio 494 from Flickr Creative Commons

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  2. How to Think Big for your Life and Career – 5 lessons from Rudyard Kipling
  3. Find your Focus in 2010 – Oprah’s 4 secrets of focus
  4. Life's Too Short to be Ordinary
  5. The Lost Art of Being Happy – 5 Steps to a Happier Life


  1. Phil
    February 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    My purpose is to inspire others to live life to the full and make an impact in life. I find that it motivates me to strive for the extraordinary in everything I do.


  2. February 15, 2010 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    Great post Phil! My purpose is to help people to find their True Selves and live their lives aligned with who they truly are,with their passions and dreams. I truly believe that’s what brings fulfillment, meaning and happiness.
    .-=´s last blog won’t love THERE if you don’t love HERE first =-.

  3. Phil
    February 16, 2010 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Lana – that is a powerful purpose and must give you tremendous drive. Keep true to it and keep writing great articles.


  4. February 16, 2010 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    That’s a powerful story Phil. It takes a lot not to give up in this kind of context and puts into perspective what most of us deal with on a regular basis, certainly nothing this extreme.

  5. Phil
    February 16, 2010 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Marc – Man’s Search for Meaning is a life changing read. You should check it out.

  6. February 16, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil – This is one of those books that truly changed my life, and I love the way you’ve written about it. I used to have a purpose statement, but I kept forgetting it. And then I realized that trying to put my purpose into words felt too limiting. Like something was missing because it was deeper than words. So I’ve done some visuals of it, drawing and collage. Still doesn’t quite capture what I feel inside. But the one thing I do know for sure about meaning and purpose is that I must actively work to create it and sustain. Which is why I started doing Meaning Mondays!
    .-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Meaning Mondays: The Clouds Edition =-.

  7. February 16, 2010 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    Great post and book. MSFM is a short book that’s packed with life changing info! I wrote a post two years ago — that has not yet seen the light of blogging day — about something monumental I culled from that book. Forgot about it until I read your words. Thanks for the reminder! Will dig it up.

    Our schools could use a course called, “how to have a life with meaning.” The emphasis on getting a job seems to trump getting a life. That’s why there’s so much malaise out there. Too many of us wandering around wondering what we’re doing on the planet.

    My purpose is to help others take back their power, their voice, their lives. I love to challenge the status quo!

    Thanks for another fabulous post Phil!


  8. Phil
    February 17, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Patty – thank you. Yes it truly is a life changing book offering a deeper perspective on human existence. I love that you have expressed your purpose in the way that feels most fitting for you. We all brim with creativity and expressing ourselves in words sometimes isn’t enough. I love your meaning Mondays – they always help us to move closer to our real purpose. Thanks for a great comment and look forward to your next post.


  9. Phil
    February 17, 2010 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Giulietta – you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’m increasingly starting to think that the best purpose I could serve is to take life skills to young people. There is such a focus on academic rigour and passing exams. Little to nothing is ever explored about the bigger questions every human faces – why are we here? what is the meaning of it all? how do we live a life that has purpose. Simply stimulating people to think is so powerful and helps us find a happier and more peaceful relationship with our existence. Look forward to your post on MSFM too!


  10. February 17, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Phil for your inspirational posts. Though I have read a lot about Victor Frankl’s story, I have not yet read his book and it is now on my wishlist.

    You have an inspiring purpose which is very similar to mine.

    Mine is to live a life of kindness to myself and others – and to let my life be my message.

    Thanks for allowing me the space to share my vision.
    .-= Arvind Devalia´s last blog ..How to be an Infectious Lover of Life and not Feel Guilty =-.

  11. Phil
    February 17, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink

    Arvind – certainly a great book for the wishlist. It made a huge impact on my life. I love your purpose – visionary yet simple. Thanks for sharing.

  12. February 17, 2010 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil! I read this book many years ago when I was young and sheltered and it haunted me for weeks. I was blown away by how remarkable this man was and his story has stayed with me all this time, reminding me that each of us has the potential for legendary greatness within. Excellent post!

  13. February 18, 2010 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    I’ve read Man’s Search for Meaning three times! I loved that book because I have learned a lot from a man of tremendous courage. The important thing I’ve learned from this book is that life is meant to be lived with every inch of our courage and capacity that we have, after all, we will all come to our ends. :-)

  14. Phil
    February 18, 2010 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Belinda – thanks for sharing. It certainly is a no holds barred account of one of the most inhumane acts in history. There is such a message of hope though.

  15. Phil
    February 18, 2010 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Walter – death and taxes are apparently the two inevitable things in life. Living with all our courage and capacity is a wonderful approach and I’m sure you do that with aplomb. Keep up your great work.


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