VIKTOR FRANKL, LIFE PURPOSE and JAM

The notion that humans are intended for a certain life purpose goes back many centuries. Rumi, a beloved 13th century Sufi poet, wrote extensively about life purpose. He wrote, “Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart”.

The Christian tradition is rich with proverbs and passages from the Bible that discuss God’s calling people to a purpose. Apostle Paul says, “We are God’s handi­work, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

A search of life purpose books on Amazon yields 20,000 titles. My favorite book on the life purpose is Man’s Search for Meaning by the legendary Victor Frankl. Frankl was a psychiatrist and holocaust survivor. He survived three years in Nazi concentration camps and suffered unthinkable loss. His pregnant wife, brother, and parents were murdered in gas chambers. Yet, Frankl survived despite the atrocities he faced in the camps; starvation, being beaten, overworked, and constantly threatened with death.  He came to realize that man can and will survive even the most extreme conditions if he or she has a strong reason to live: a purpose or meaning in life that motivates him or her. Frankl wrote, “The last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Rumi, Paul the Apostle, and Frankl encouraged others to seek the answer to the question, “What is meaning in my life?” Meaning and purpose are nuanced, but a distinction can be drawn.

I’ve always been drawn to the concept of meaning versus the concept of life purpose. Life purpose feels singular and somewhat daunting. When you set yourself to find ONE thing – it’s easy to fail. We see this all the time with people who frame finding a partner or spouse to the search designed for “The One”. We can most certainly find more than one person to love deeply; people do it all the time. And, when we seek “The One”, we could potentially miss out on a lot of experiences that could inform or even transform us! My philosophy in my dating days wasn’t to find “The One”. Rather it was to experience, “What’s next?” I positioned every next relationship to teach me something about love and intimacy. It took a lot of the pressure off and with that aim; I was able to find meaning in each experience that eventually led me to my husband. Our relationship presented a new opportunity for meaning: marriage, family, and life-long commitment.

Meaning is more accessible and achievable. One criteria – it must be profound meaning. I define profound meaning as positive impact on both self and others. I’ll use one of the most noble professions and archetypes, teaching – as an example. If someone derives meaning from teaching (avocation or vocation) then it is profound because they are also helping others, and in turn, make the world a better place.

Rather than create a false choice of either meaning or purpose for people, I created Jam. Jam is when we use our passions and skills to create meaning in our lives. Like Frankl found, it can be one thing or many things. For Frankl, he said meaning is present in three areas: love, work and the courage to face difficulty. I think these categories are useful, but ignore the creative force of Jam.

Jam is a creative force that resides within us – it shifts, changes, deepens, and is our quintessential unique expression. Jam gives us meaning and –all aspects of Jam is our life purpose – or Journey of Jam.

A final critical component to understanding Jam – Jam is NOW. Jam is not a future state. I’ll use myself as an example. My Jam is to help others lead a more fulfilling life. Right now, I take people on guided hikes to help them have the experience of using nature as a mindfulness practice. I write blog posts to inspire people to discover their Jam. I coach people to discover their Jam – it doesn’t scale – but that’s not an immediate concern. I create inspiring Jam videos – stories of people who live their Jam. My digital marketing strategy (so far) consists of taking pictures of myself hiking and sharing a smattering of timeworn inspirational quotes using low-end design software. There’s little science to what I’m doing, but I follow my ideas, use my unique skills (coaching, humor, and a large influence of existential humanistic psychology) and focus on what gives me meaning. All of that is my Jam. My Jam IS NOT out in front of me –when I finish the book I’m writing, or cross the chasm and leap out of Internet obscurity with 100,000+ newsletter subscribers. It’s NOW. My Jam is NOW.

And, right NOW, I hope that you are following your Jam. I hope you are awake to life and listen for what gives you meaning. I hope that if you haven’t discovered your Jam, you are open to finding profound meaning in your life. I encourage you to read Frankl’s, Man Search for Meaning, so you can understand that meaning is always possible.

Jam on!

Ellen

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