Review of Viktor Frankl "Man's Search for Meaning"

I first read this book on my first year of college back in 1995. It is a book that I have re-read every other year.

Now this book is one that most relate to psychology but it is has a lot to teach outside of those that practice its science.

During the Holocaust, Frankl spent three years in 4 different concentrations camp, the majority of this time in Auschwitz and Dachau. Now the book does not focus on his experience in the camps or is it a story of his survival during such a terrible time in his life. The book focuses on what he learned about himself and others, lessons that helped him survived and later became the foundation of logotherapy, it is derived from the Greek word logos that translates to “meaning”.

Frankls theory in the book covers 3 primary principals learned from his experience. The first one is that man always has the power of decision even in those circumstances where others or a situation seems to rob him of choice. It goes against the notion that we are conditioned by the situation but that we have the power to choose how his existence might be. One might think this is impossible but even the stark-naked prisoners being taken to a gas chamber had the choice to go with their head high or low and afraid. No matter the situation man has the ability to choose how he will react and act at any situation.

His second principal is that we are constantly searching for meaning. Meaning is unique for each person. This is why many religions and people say to ask oneself not what one wants to be but who. By knowing who we want to be we set the foundation that holds us. Many times, we see in our industry and community saying that they want to be famous, they want to be a rockstar and yet have not define the core essential perspective of who they are but focus on the external perception of the what. Look at how many are constantly looking for validation of self in others, on their work, appearance or successes. These people when they set a goal and achieve such goal then feel empty because their definition of self was to become that “what” without ever defining “who” they are and once achieving the “what” their life seized to have a meaning.

The last principle is that there is always a meaning to life, we find that meaning in many places and this motivates us to move forward. Frankl is fond of quoting Nietzsche throughout the book, he seems to favor one quote in particular: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” It is for the individual to choose his own why and not let it be imposed so as to provide with that drive to keep moving forward. It is not a goal but a reason that fulfill us.

I know I tend to focus on infosec and hacking, but what better system to explore, learn and master than one self. I highly recommend this book if you have not read it. I re-read it every other year so as to reinforce those lessons that have kept me centered through times that would have broken the will of a person still searching to define himself. Many in our community have not define whom they want to be and constantly search for the what finding themselves in depression and find it hard to find their “why”. For those that read the book I hope you find it as enlightening as I did many years ago when I first read it. 


Note: 2 examples of the principals, one not knowing the "who", finding it and then finding a "why", another where he knows the "who" and how he overcame every adversity.