facebookWhat a Holocaust Survivor Can Teach Us About Finding Meaning in Your Work
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What a Holocaust Survivor Can Teach Us About Finding Meaning in Your Work

profileJoel Koh


By the time you read this article, the weekend might already have been over.

Source: South Park | Giphy

And if you are dreading the thought of work on Monday and find your work to be meaningless, pointless and tiring, you are not alone.

Is there more to life in Singapore than the endless cycle of work, weekends and yearly holidays?

How can we find meaning in our work?

If you would like to know the answers to these questions, read on.

Assess That You Are Not in a Job That Is Toxic or Objectively Bad for You

Before we begin, I would like you to refer to our earlier pieces about the seven signs of a toxic work environment and the top five reasons for leaving a job.

If your workplace displays the majority of these signs of a toxic work environment, displays most of the signs that you quit your job and you’ve exhausted all reasonable means to solve the problem;Ā it might be better to justĀ (leave the company) and look for a better opportunity elsewhere.

Yes, I know how scary it is to be out there in the job market again. But sometimes, we need to really weigh the consequences of ā€œsucking it upā€ and continuing work in a toxic company.

While you may be earning good money, there is also a soul-crushing mental cost that you have to pay.

It really boils down to this.

Do you want to lead a fulfilling work life?

If personally, you have assessed that you are at your wit’s end, finding another job might be better.

But if your work is not objectively terrible, you might want to hear what Viktor Frankl has to say about finding meaning in your life and your job.

Most People’s Jobs Are Meaningless

As London School of Economics professor David Graeber argued in his book Bulls*!t Jobs: A Theory, many jobs are pointless. Here are some examples he quoted in his book:

  1. Flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants, store greeters;

  2. Goons, who act to harm or deceive others on behalf of their employer or to prevent other goons from doing so, e.g., lobbyists,Ā corporate lawyers,Ā telemarketers,Ā public relationsĀ specialists;

  3. Duct tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g., programmers repairing shoddy code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags do not arrive;

  4. Box tickers, who create the appearance that something useful is being done when it is not, e.g., survey administrators, in-house magazineĀ journalists, corporateĀ compliance officers;

  5. Taskmasters, who create extra work for those who do not need it, e.g., middle management, and leadershipĀ professionals.

If you think about it, there are millions of people around the world who know that they are slogging away at these pointless and unneeded jobs.

There is some truth in Grareber’s argument, but I think there’s room for debate.

The essence of work lies in finding fulfilment through it. If we search for it, we can discover meaning in any task, and more often than not, we might surprise ourselves at how much we can endure.

One such person who has endured plenty is Viktor E. Frankl.

Source: Guardians of the Galaxy | Giphy

Manā€™s Search for Meaning

For the uninitiated, Viktor E. Frankl was a Jewish-Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who wrote the best-selling 1946 classic Man’s Search for Meaning:

Source: Amazon.sg

In the book, Frankl describes his experiences as a Nazi concentration camp prisoner during World War II, focusing on his time in Auschwitz.

Frankl experienced unimaginable suffering and a truly horrible situation.

During his time in the camp, he was not given proper clothing, starved, beaten, tortured, worked until the brink of death and suffered from many ailments like frostbite and oedema.

Every day, people only around him dropped dead like flies due to disease, starvation, and systematic executions by the Nazis.

Even more tragically, his father, mother, brother and wife did not survive the Nazi camps.

However, Frankl survived and wrote about what he learnt in this book, where he contemplates the great pain and loss he suffered and witnessed and reflects on this key existential question: What gives life meaning?

Frankl argues there are puts across three main ways you can discover your purpose in life: work, love and suffering.

1. Work / Creative Endeavours

Frankl stresses the significance of pursuing meaningful work, whether it be a career or an individual creative endeavour. We can find meaning and a sense of fulfilment by devoting ourselves to tasks that are consistent with our values and advance the greater good.

By concentrating on the potential meanings he could make for himself, Frankl was able to maintain his will to meaningā€”or his desire to lead a meaningful lifeā€”during his three years in the concentration camps. In addition to finding purpose in his suffering, Frankl kept himself motivated by considering the work he hoped to undertake after he left the camp. He specifically intended to redo the logotherapy manuscript that the Nazis had stolen from him before they deported him to Auschwitz.

As German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said:

He, who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how.

But life is not that straightforward.

For example, let’s say you value family. Taking up a high-paying but pointless job may be soul-crushing. But you will still be able to devote yourself to a task that is aligned with your values as you can support your family with the job.

2. Love and Relationships

To Frankl, meaning can be derived from our ability to love and be loved. He emphasizes the importance of interpersonal relationships and how they might improve our lives. We can discover support, comfort, and a sense of belonging through meaningful connections.

Frankl discovered hope in love as well, and the thought of his wife saw him through many of his darkest moments.

That’s what makes us human, after all.

3. Attitude Toward Suffering

Frankl contends that people have a choice about how they react and behave, even in the midst of immeasurable pain. He highlights the significance of seeking personal improvement, relying on one’s inner strengths, and embracing the chances for resilience and spiritual growth that can come from hardship in order to find meaning in the face of suffering.

Living ultimately entails accepting responsibility for resolving life’s issues and completing the responsibilities it continually assigns to each person. These responsibilities vary from person to person and moment to moment, and as a result, so does the meaning of life.

So, a change of external circumstances (finding a new job etc.) might not help you. You must dig deep and solve the root cause of your issues (get into therapy etc.) Once you address these issues, you may find that your work is meaningful again.

Concluding Thoughts

The resilience of the human spirit is demonstrated in Frankl’s work, which also provides insights into how people can find meaning and purpose in life, even in the most trying situations.

Source: Tenor

I hope that his ideas will help you find meaning in your work and bring you deep fulfilment.

And if you have the time, I would urge you to read Man’s Search for Meaning.

Take care!

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About Joel Koh
History student turned writer at Seedly. Before you ask, not a teacher. I hope to help people make better financial decisions and not let money control them.
You can contribute your thoughts like Joel Koh here.

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