Man’s Search for Meaning

 John Ruh  Professional Development

By Viktor Frankl

Summary by John M. Ruh

My number one suggested book to read on putting meaning to life

Over the years, I have probably given out over 50 copies of this book to leaders I have met. Frankl’s work and his book are the best resources I know of to help one understand the power of purpose/mission. This mission can be for you individually, your department or your company. Here is a brief overview of its content.

Victor Frankl (1905-1997) was a practicing psychiatrist and neurologist and Holocaust survivor who in 1959 wrote “Man’s Search for Meaning”, his best-known work. The essence of the book is how he found meaning in all forms of existence even under the most brutal of circumstances at Auschwitz (only 1 in 28 survived the Nazi WWII camps). It is a classic book about purpose and meaning. The first half of the short book is about camp life, and quite frankly, it can be depressing to read. I read it for the first time when I was a young entrepreneur and the words jumped off the pages. The second half is about Logotherapy, a psychiatric study that Frankl developed focusing on the impact of mentally assigning meaning to everything, including suffering. This section can help one understand more deeply about their own personal suffering and the suffering of others.

Key Take Aways

  • Mission does not have to be grandiose. Just know “the why” of what you are doing what you are doing at the moment. Frankl makes it so real/practical.
  • A mission-based life provides a foundation that anyone can use to help them during their tough times.
  • Mission, although it sounds abstract, is very practical. For example, you can be a mission-based leader or mission-based salesperson or use mission-based marketing.
  • It touches on vision however it is really about mission. For example, he describes very vividly in the book, how he found meaning in a life surrounded by death: “Suddenly I saw myself standing on the platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! All that oppressed me at that moment became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the situation, above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past.”
  • On meaning of life: It does not mean something abstract, but rather something real and meaningful. For example, on the above quote his next steps had deep meaning to him in that it helped him deeply understand what he had to do and why he needed to do it in order for his dream or vision to become a reality.
  • On suffering. “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
  • There is a reason we all suffer and rather than think, “why me?” understand, accept it, and learn to support yourself right. In essence, learn to suffer wisely.
  • He also says, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.”

3 Additional Enlightening Frankl Quotes

  1. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: The last of human freedoms-to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”
  2. “Between stimulus and response lies a space. In the space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom”
  3. “I recommend that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast”

PS: If you want to discuss his book/thoughts or have a presentation to your company or team, please reach out to me at or call 773-641-9631.