“The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself. What is called self-actualization is not an attainable aim at all, for the simple reason that the more one would strive for it, the more he would miss it. In other words, self-actualization is possible only as a side-effect of self-transcendence.” – Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
Not only was he a world-renowned neurologist, psychiatrist, and survivor of multiple Nazi concentration camps, in his spare time Viktor Frankl was an established mountaineer. He knew a thing about falling off a mountain and getting back up.
Most of us have plenty of mountains to climb in life – work, education, family, friendships, marriage. There are times when we feel like just as we reach the peak, when we have it all figured out, something knocks us back down the mountain. A transfer at work, a difficult class, a strained parent-child relationship, or a misunderstanding in a marriage – all of these have the potential to interrupt our pursuit of self-actualization.
But that is not what it’s all about, according to Frankl.
Life is not about striving for our own personal self-actualization. It’s about transcending our self, our needs, our wants in service to someone else – a cause or a loved one.
So when I fall off that mountain, maybe it’s not about finding the next one I want to climb. Maybe I need to look to help someone else climb their mountain. Maybe I should look to see who I can help so that I can achieve my own self-actualization.
But even in writing that, I’ve missed the point.
This self-transcendence thing is hard.