A friend reached out this week to ask if I’d ever read Viktor Frankl’s classic book Man’s Search For Meaning. I told her I had, it remains one of the most important books in my life and it’s formed much of my approach to living. We had a sparkling dialogue about it (I just love sparkling dialogues, don’t you?) and the next day I pulled my copy off the shelf and settled in for a re-read.
Frankl, a leading psychiatrist and thinker, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and other camps during World War II. Coming from that horrific experience, Frankl gained deep understanding of how people under tremendous physical, emotional and spiritual pressure react. It became his life’s work. In short, Frankl believed that people can endure nearly anything if they are deeply connected to something bigger than themselves, or are doing something in service to others.
This is why you might stay in a job you hate – it provides the income you need to give your children a great education. Or, it allows you to care for your aging parents. It might give you the space to write poetry, or raise rescue animals.
You do what you do – even if it’s hard – when you feel you’re serving a bigger purpose.
In the re-read, a key passage from Frankl’s preface stood out to me:
“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 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 to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live 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.”
And that’s when I realized just how powerful Taylor Swift is.
You see, I recently saw Taylor sing on a British TV show called The Live Lounge. Now, the premise of the show is this: famous musicians sing songs that aren’t theirs. They cover other popular songs - a really fun concept.
So, Taylor could have chosen any song. She could have phoned it in – I mean, she’s an international superstar! She could have been silly or jaded or intent on preserving her famousness and make a boring choice.
But she didn’t.
From what I could see when I watched the clip, Taylor chose to sing a song that gave her joy, that she could be creative with.
She covered Vance Joy’s great song “Riptide.” Here’s the link: BBC Radio
If you watch it, you’ll see that at certain points Taylor is amused with herself as she sings certain words. She lingers on phrases. She doesn’t just cover the song – she interprets it.
And that’s when I realized that Taylor Swift is deeply, powerfully connected to her “why”. And it doesn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with seeking fame.
Her why, in my opinion? She’s a musician. Plain and simple.
I am sure she faces a lot of pressure to be commercial and crank out hit after hit. There are probably people who suggest she phone it in and collect the cash. I’ll bet she has plenty of haters.
But I’ll also bet that despite all of that pressure, she feels compelled – yes, compelled – to do what she’s doing. And to do it her own way.
She’d do it even if she wasn’t famous.
Which, according to Frankl, is precisely why she’s famous.
Now to you. And to me. What can we learn here?
I think it’s this: whether you know it or not, whether you’re currently connected to it or not, you’re here to create something. You’re here to make meaning with your life – to do good – in service of something larger. The more you do it, the happier you’ll be. The more you do it, the more successful you’ll be.
Try as you might, it doesn’t work to only pursue fame – you live fully when you fully pursue meaning.
Serve your creativity – whatever it looks like for you – and in so doing, you will succeed. It might be a long path, and the success may look really different than you imagined, you might even fail a time or two. But if you are deeply in touch with your “why”, you’ll get there.
And, if you’re at a place in your life where you feel disconnected, or things seem futile, or you don’t even know why you wake up in the morning – do yourself a favor.
[photo credit: Time]