|I don't know why it's sideways. But the book looms.|
Anyway, after all these years, I have been drawn back to the book. Since I’ve been gnawing along the edges of Meaning, Purpose, Happiness, and Success, it really seems time to tackle this one again. I found it on our basement bookshelves. I opened up the acid-yellowed pages of my old paperback. There in the preface were these words:
Again and again I therefore admonish my students both in Europe and America: “Don’t aim at success - the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out the best of your knowledge. Then you will life to see that in the long run - in the long run, I say! - success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”
Well. Jackpot. Dr. VF on success of all things. I should pay attention, because really, he should know.
However - and let’s be petty for moment. Petty and deconstructionist about this - however, Dr. VF did not publish his book anonymously, and it did become a huge bestseller, and not only it but he is a success because of his accomplishment.
With that bit of pettiness out of the way, let me back up to what he says about success being a by-product. I actually believe that. “success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue,” Or at least the successful-feeling part, because in this equation, success is a feeling not an outcome. Like happiness, it’s an abstract noun in this sentence. And that abstract idea of Success is definitely a by-product of something. That something is some kind of action. And dedication.
This seems to me to be particularly Jewish. There’s a superstitious element to recognition of good fortune that I’ve encountered among Jews. I’ve experienced it myself. We all want good fortune, career advancement, publication, or a happy home life. If you have any of these things you tend to downplay them. Maybe your children are basically good students and fine people. You shut up about it. You don’t look good fortune in the face. That would be asking for it. Whatever "it" is.
Why is this particularly Jewish? Is it in fact particular to Jews? In my experience, yes. But I speak from the inside, so to speak. It may simply be particularly human. Anyway, the point is that you don’t attract too much attention to yourself and your good fortune, because you know, historically, how quickly, totally, and easily these things can be taken away. And while I don’t know if I will be able to bear reading Viktor Frankl’s book again (even though I know, I really, really know I should), I did get far enough in that he says that every survivor of the Holocaust knows the truth: the best among them in the camps did not survive.
Talk about Jewish guilt.
(As I type this, I am hearing my voice reading my words, and I’m reading in a Yiddish accent. Yes, I am. Oy. )
The point is this. Success is most definitely a by-product of a life full of meaning. A life of meaning has work that provides us with autonomy, mastery, and purpose. So, yes, indeed, one has to tack towards success. There is no direct sailing for it. But it is still okay, and important, and valuable, to consider success part of the bigger package. Call that bigger package well-being, as I did last week, or happiness, or self-actualization. It’s still a goal. And that is okay. It’s okay to admit it. Whether you clawed your way to survival during the Holocaust or not. Success matters. Dr. Frankl, you were a big success, and we thank you for that.
* These lectures trigger my agnosticism because they often end up saying there is much more to the brain and consciousness than we currently understand, which I then interpret to mean that there might actually be a sixth sense, another dimension, or some kind of ultimate meaning to the universe and our existence. A gal can always hope. God willing.