In the preface to the 1984 edition of his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Dr. Viktor Frankl took the opportunity to write this admonishment to his students. “Don’t aim at success,” he explains, “the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”
It would appear that Dr. Frankl’s message to his students was to discourage ambition. But that was hardly his point. Indeed he was himself a man of great ambition who achieved extraordinary success – as a Holocaust survivor, renowned author and teacher he became one of the twentieth century’s greatest leaders in the field of psychiatry. Rather, his words admonish all of us to consider our motives. Who is it are we using our gifts, talents, and knowledge to serve and please? Are we here to serve others and to make the world a better place, or are we only in pursuit of our own glory?
One of my biggest failures occurred when I took a job one time for no other reason except I thought it would make me a lot of money. It turned to be a miserable mistake financially and a major setback for my career. By contrast my greatest successes have come about almost by surprise, times when I was scarcely conscious of pursuing success.
“. . . listen to what your conscience commands you to do,” Frankl says, “and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run – in the long run, I say! – success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.”