Here’s something awesome: You get to do whatever the fuck you want.
That’s right. This human life right here, it’s totally free. Forget what other people tell you to do: you’re free to make your own choices.
I know what you’re thinking…
It’s true that there are widely varying levels of privilege that exist in the world, and the kind of options available from one person to the next are not at all the same. I have immeasurably more options for what I can do with my life than someone living in an oppressive dictatorship, or someone experiencing poverty in the United States. On the other hand, someone with no debt and lots of money has more options than I have.
But no matter what, you still have a bottom line of freedom. Although I imagine he was an abnormally strong-willed person, to say the least, the acclaimed author, philosopher, and psychotherapist Viktor Frankl found his freedom in the confines of a Nazi concentration camp. As he said:
Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.
— Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Even if a sick person were to take you prisoner and tie your body down, you would still be free to “choose your own way” on the inside of your heart and mind. I’m not saying that people who don’t take a positive attitude in horrible situations are lacking will, or not living up to their potential. Nor do I think taking a positive attitude in such a situation would necessarily be the right thing to do. All I’m saying is that some degree of human free will always persists regardless of one’s outer circumstances.
So what does that mean?
That means we don’t have to limit ourselves to the paths offered by others.
People are always trying to convince us that there’s a “right way”, and that it’s the only right way. Your parents, schools, religions, the government, and even your well-intentioned friend – everybody has an idea about what you should do and who you should be while you’re here on Earth.
Go to school, get a degree, start a career, and make something of yourself. Then you’ll feel satisfied.
Marry your perfect match. Everybody has one, and when you find yours you can settle down and be content.
Believe in this god, this prophet, and this teaching. Read this book and do what it tells you. Keep your spiritual rap sheet clean, and your soul will experience eternal bliss after you die.
Buy more stuff! With this car and that shaving razor you’ll be the hottest person around. Don’t you want to impress everybody?
Or the flip side…
Despite everyone’s best efforts to convince each other that their preferred way is the “right” way, the reality is…
There is no rulebook to life.
You’re free to live how you want. We don’t have to fulfill any cosmic demands from above, and there is no high score for which to strive.
We’re just here for a time, we do a bunch of stuff, and then we’re gone. It’s understandable if you feel uncomfortable about that; I know I do from time to time. Often we are driven by a certain purpose. We get out of bed in the morning to get something done. The idea that there’s no grand purpose for life, no ultimate thing to “get done,” can take away the foundations on which we base our lives. It forces us to ask the question: “Well, then, what’s the point of it all?”
“The point” is whatever you make it to be, and the fact that we have the freedom to choose in that regard astounds me. It is a beautiful truth that I absolutely revere. I get to decide my life’s purpose, and you get to decide yours.
Life is marvelously meaningless. Meaninglessness leaves an empty space in life. We are blessed with the fortunate position of filling that space with whatever the fuck we want. We work with the medium of free will upon the canvas of life’s empty space to create and express ourselves.
So stop listening to all the commercials. Cast away the definitions of success that have been conditioned into you. Don’t worry about what your friends will think, worry about your own moral conscience. What kind of life will you feel at peace with? Ask your own heart and mind what’s right for you. And then, most importantly, go live your answer!
by Viktor E. Frankl
“Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Between 1942 and 1945 Frankl labored in four different camps, including Auschwitz, while his parents, brother, and pregnant wife perished. Based on his own experience and the experiences of others he treated later in his practice, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose.”