Why Most People Will Never Be Successful (Viktor Frankl and Jesus)

Most people will never be successful. Authentically successful. Here’s what I mean …

“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.” 

Success (and happiness) happen as a side-effect of something else

Those words are Viktor Frankl’s, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist. He’s a Holocaust survivor who spent two-and-a-half years in Nazi concentration camps. He lost his pregnant wife, father, mother, and brother. His sister survived.

My quick paraphrase of Frankl’s words—“You become successful and happy when you pursue something beyond yourself … when you dedicate yourself to others. Then success and happiness show up.” 

If he’s right, most people will never be successful because they obsess about success and happiness in a self-absorbed way.

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Discovering meaning in life is our ultimate pursuit

Man’s Search for Meaning is his best-selling book about his experiences at Auschwitz. Frankl wrote that meaning can be discovered in any circumstance. However horrible. There is a reason to continue living.

Personal meaning is our deepest drive, not “success” or happiness. Our quest is to discover life’s “potential meaning under any conditions.”

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” We can’t always choose what happens to us. But we can always choose how we respond.

It’s universal and timeless … success and happiness follow life meaning.

See This Man Faced Unimaginable Suffering, and then Wrote the Definitive Book About Happiness (Huffington Post)

Love is the highest aspiration … the source of meaning

He believed that love was the highest goal to which we can aspire. Frankl found bliss in the camps, if just for moments during their early-morning marches to the work site when he contemplated his wife, Tilly.

“Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of Man is through love and in love … For the first time in my life, I was able to understand the meaning of the words, ‘the angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.'”

most people will never be successful, Viktor Frankl, Tilly Frankl, Viktor Frankl marriage

Real love looks away from the self and focuses on the highest good of the object of love.

Frankl came to believe that love is the greatest source of discovering personal meaning. It’s transformative.

See Jesus Shows Us That Love Is How Things Work (Jesus Smart)

What is success really?

Sex. Money. Personal power. Fame. The craving for many things. We have to reappraise what “success” is. No matter what the culture and the times say.

Frankl is right. True success and happiness come from contributing to something beyond ourselves. And prioritizing others. It’s love-sourced. Not greed. Selfishness. Or power-obsession.

Jesus taught this. And he modeled it.

Serving is greatness. Love is how things work …

For Jesus, ultimate personal meaning is to “Seek first His (God, the Father’s) kingdom and His righteousness.” Our needs and desires (true desires we are designed to express) will then be added to us. See Matthew 6:33.

Jesus re-connects us with our deepest sense of meaning and our highest life-design.

If we take Jesus’ sayings seriously, we will understand that most people will not choose to experience success. Real success. Now. And in the new heavens and new earth.

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Jesus, Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus is challenging. Most will miss it. It’s tight. Even offensive. But I believe it’s Jesus Smart …

See Jesus Way Servant Leadership = True Greatness (Jesus Smart)

How is the culture shaping our sense of what “success” is? Is Jesus’ saying about the “narrow gate” offensive? Where are you on these issues?


happiness, meaning, success

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