already knowing the answer

I’m doing an isolation journal prompt series and welcome you to join! I’m only sharing responses to prompts that feel acceptable enough to share (don’t involve others for example).

Your prompt for today:

Make a short list of texts from your past, even better if you can select particular passages or moments that meant something to you. Without necessarily revisiting the book (you can do that later), start writing about your relationship to it, in narrative terms. When did you read it? What was your life at the time? Write a scene of your reading it, replete with all the ways it made you feel. Then, consider why you needed it at that particular time. Follow it from there—feeling free to depart from the text.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl has been a monumental text in my little life. I first read it when I was 16 and it reached me in the midst of a horrible time in my life. Every adult seemed to only want to give me surface level answers and cliches rather than jumping into the thick of things alongside me. I was fortunate to have a lovely therapist but that didn’t do enough to counterbalance against the lack of depth I felt elsewhere. The book came at the perfect time and filled my craving. To find out that someone out there thought suffering was meaningful was a massive, life saving relief. I exhaled reading it and wrote, “I’M OKAY” in all caps in my journal after I finished reading it.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.” Viktor E. Frankl

I set off to find and refine my “why” soon after reading this book. It’s hard to explain what kind of impact doing so had on me at such a young age. I believe it helped me take risks, make decisions, and embrace the most vulnerable parts of myself. It gave me a mindset of “somehow this pain will be useful” that I still lean on today.

I brought the book to college. It was an odd thing for me to do as I was quite minimalistic even then. I brought it with me as if it were as sacred as the Bible. I tore my ACL in February of that first year and I held onto that damn book as I began my recovery with my identity as an athlete completely shaken. That summer I decided to stay in Chapel Hill, my college town, to focus in on my knee recovery and because I likely wasn’t keen to go home. It was a wise decision — nearly free physical therapy, free housing thanks to my (shitty) job, and more time to be independent. I worked as a conference assistant at a dorm building at times working 12am to 8am. I showed up to orientation in crutches and in pain.

Years prior, I read that one of Anson Dorrance‘s favorite books is Man’s Search for Meaning. One day, while I was sitting at the front desk trying to keep myself busy, he walked right on in. I couldn’t believe it. I forgot that the soccer program would hold camps. We chatted and I even poked fun at him for not knowing where his other coaches were meeting despite him being the head coach (he couldn’t figure out which building his own meeting was taking place in). I immediately thought of my favorite book hidden in my room and, during my next shift, I brought it with me hoping he’d come back through.

At the very end of my shift, he walked in. The lobby was crowded and there were young, nervous girls scattered around giggling and whispering. I’m naturally intense but I grew more so in this moment. None of them recognized him despite all of them being in this dorm building trying to be good enough to get his attention. I used this to my advantage. I don’t remember what I said but I called him over, pulled out the book, and asked him to sign it. As he grabbed my copy, he was visibly surprised — “Wow. Great book, right?”

My Bible of a book just leveled up in sacredness when I got his signature. Cut to the Spring of my sophomore year and a dear teammate turned friend came back into town after spending the last year training at the Olympic Training Center for rugby. She was a wreck. Turns out being a professional athlete and not getting paid enough to survive takes a toll. After a practice, we walked back to my dorm room to catch up. I remember she was eating the healthiest meal from Chipotle I’ve ever seen.

Before she left, I reached for my Anson Dorrance signed copy of Man’s Search for Meaning that got me through some of my worst years. I could have ordered a copy of the book for her but it was important to me that she have this copy. This well worn and well traveled book that gave me more hope than I knew what to do with. I handed it to her and never saw it again. She texted me a few days after leaving: “I finished that book. I’m pretty convinced the entire reason for me coming home was so you could give me that book”.

I felt the loss of my sacred companion but it felt like a worthy loss. The book had already helped me and it felt right to pass it on to someone else who might need it. This has become a theme with my most favorite books. I’m always looking for the perfect person to give my copy to with the hopes that they’ll pay it forward.

When I graduated from UNC, my girlfriend at the time had a surprise for me. We were sitting in my car when she pulled out a copy of Man’s Search for Meaning. It had a different cover than my original version. “Look at the first page”. Earlier in the day, I had dropped her off for a meeting only to find out later that the meeting was with Anson Dorrance where she asked him to sign the book I now held. I burst into tears and gripped this new copy close.

4 months later, I’m in my final chat with Matt for the Happiness Engineer role at Automattic and he asked me what book I’d recommend all of Automattic to read. I smiled already knowing the answer.

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” ― Viktor E. Frankl

One Comment

  1. Bryan Wagner

    Well said. I love Viktor Frankl. I realized one day when at a monastery while sitting near a pond that life’s meaning is what I apply to it. I will never forget that experience. If I wait for meaning to appear it’s going to be a long wait. Or, I can apply the meaning. Thanks for this.
    Be Well.

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