Become a Master of Circumstance


Your Search For Meaning and Viktor Frankl

As we explore our prosperity consciousness, one of the first admonitions is to find your path, your own true purpose, the meaning of your life. When we discover and manifest what we are supposed to be doing, the prosperity usually follows without further effort.

I’m a big fan of psychiatrist Viktor E. Frankl, who died in 1997 at the age of 91. His book, Man’s Search For Meaning, is surely one of the most recommended books ever. And it is one of those rare books, at least for me, that you can go back to again and again, always finding something new, always encountering something you didn’t notice or pay attention to on an earlier reading. For me, it was this passage about life in a German concentration camp during World War II:

“There were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.”

Maybe I hadn’t noticed it the first time around because I wasn’t in the same circumstances as the second time I read it while I actually was a prison inmate. Frankl was definitely a major mentor for me in triumphing over 12 years of incarceration, as he too discovered that the only way to accomplish this was to develop a powerful inner, spiritual life. True, I never had the physical hardships or hopelessness present in Auschwitz for him, but the concept is the same: As much as possible, ignore the physical reality and create your own inner reality.

But the phrase that leapt out at me during a very recent reading, that I hadn’t even focused on in prison, was “the Plaything of Circumstance.” And in another comment, I think Frankl gave us the clue on how to avoid merely being a plaything, tossed around on the tide of whatever circumstance comes along. He said:

Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

Frankl always provides large helpings of food for thought and in the two sentences above there is a whole workshop’s worth of wisdom. We have to exercise our power to choose in the space that follows the stimulus, and not just go on automatic pilot and become that plaything of circumstance. One of the essential freedoms I talk about is The Freedom To Decide, and this is exactly what Frankl illuminates when he says that our growth and our freedom lie in our response, and that we do have the freedom and the power to choose that response–as long as we take that space between the stimulus and the response to do it.

This reminds me of John Kluge, whom I featured in the post preceding this one. He talked about playing his luck, but he could just as easily have been talking about making that choice between the stimulus and the response. For him, the stimulus was running into a young man he knew while walking along a street in Washington, D.C. The young man said there was a possibility the old Dumont Broadcasting Network was for sale. Kluge took this stimulus and made a choice, to buy that network. It turned into Metromedia, one of the biggest communications empires ever created, which Kluge eventually sold for two billion dollars.

Kluge certainly was no plaything of circumstance, but rather a Master of Circumstance. He had an accidental meeting as the circumstance, the stimulus, and he took the space following it to choose, to decide, to act or respond. And right there may be the ultimate formula for success.  Let us all aspire to be Masters of Circumstance!



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