Three friends stand in the middle of Tokyo’s Shibuya Crossing. Shock and confusion are on their faces. Something is most entirely off. Shibuya Crossing, an intersection normally buzzing with traffic, regularly filled with hurried pedestrians and vehicles alike, is empty. No cars honk their horns impatiently. No business people shove past on their way to a meeting. Instead, there is silence. Silence and empty, dark buildings.
In the show, Alice in Borderland, based on the graphic novel of the same name, three friends find themselves in a world where nothing makes sense. Everyone has disappeared. Or, at least the population has significantly diminished. And on top of that, the friends are forced to play sinister, puzzle-like games in order to survive. If they refuse, they die. If they fail at a certain game, they die. As drama and darkness ensue, many of the characters are faced with a life-threatening question: what do they play for – particularly when their existence is so bleak?
For one young man, he tells of his wife and soon-arriving child. He fights on for the hope that he may see them again someday. For another, he continues on so as to avenge his friends. Friends that sacrificed themselves so that he may live. And for another still, she fights on because she feels the will to live deep inside herself. Even at her lowest point, even when she wanted to quit, from the pit of her despair came the thought: I’m hungry. I should eat. She continues because she is compelled to.
Don’t forget to shave
Viktor Frankl was imprisoned in World War II concentration camps for three years – Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Kaufering III, and Türkheim. Upon his arrival, he and a group of others were given advice: “… Shave daily, if at all possible, even if you have to use a piece of glass to do it … even if you have to give your last piece of bread for it. You will look younger and the scraping will make your cheeks look ruddier. If you want to stay alive, there is only one way: look fit for work. If you even limp, because, let us say, you have a small blister on your heel, and an SS man spots this, he will wave you aside and the next day you are sure to be gassed…”
The advice continued, “‘All of you standing here, even if you have only been here twenty-four hours, you need not fear gas, except perhaps you.’ And then he pointed to me and said, ‘I hope you don’t mind my telling you frankly.’ To the others he repeated, ‘Of all of you he is the only one who must fear the next selection. So, don’t worry!’ And I smiled. I am now convinced that anyone in my place on that day would have done the same.”
Separated from everyone he loved, signaled out as a goner, Frankle faced death at every turn. Yet, he persisted. He continued to fight. And he lived to tell the tale. What kept him going? As mentioned in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he says that the hope that one day he would be reunited with his family as well as be able to finish his life’s work kept him moving when so many others couldn’t.
Cheers to the graduate
The two examples used are extreme edge cases. However, you don’t need to be in a fictional Tokyo or a concentration camp in order to question your motives. You don’t need to face death in order to wonder what it is that pushes you forward. Rather, reflect on those reasons now. I began regularly seeing a psychologist when I was in a fairly decent mental state. I didn’t need to go. But I was being proactive. Better to have a psychologist in place before you need them than to scramble to find one as stress overtakes you.
So in that vein, consider what it is that gives meaning to your life. Think of those things that fill you with fulfillment and purpose, that would keep you fighting when a situation turns dire.
What’s that? You say you don’t have anything? Nonsense. You most certainly do. You just haven’t spent enough time contemplating. So do it now. Ponder what it is you’re working towards. Maybe that’s building your relationship with your daughter or publishing your philosophy on life. Perhaps it’s seeing your grandkid finish college. Or maybe it’s seeing an important cause through to the end.
When you are faced with challenging situations, recall that purpose. See yourself in the stands, cheering your grandkid on as she receives her diploma. Picture yourself getting the first copy of your book in the mail. Use this positive imagery to fill you up. To persist through whatever dilemma stands in your way. Use meaning to fight on. Expect that the world you envision will be made real. Let those positive feelings keep you in the game. Until, inevitably, that world becomes reality.
Moving forward in the fight
Test this idea out for yourself. On your next hike, as your thighs burn, your lungs constrict, and you feel like quitting, envision the meaning. See yourself playing soccer with your daughter as she gets older. Picture yourself watching the officials sign into law the cause you so cared about and fought for. See the smiles, hear the joy, feel the experience. Lo and behold, you will look up to find yourself at the top of the mountain. Out of breath and tired, sure, but at the top nonetheless.
Instead of dwelling in the pain and discomfort, you will be overcome with purpose. Often it’s the inner dialogue that trips us up so greatly. The voice that says, “I’m tired. Let’s take a break. I can’t do this. It won’t work. I need rest. I should stop.” When you replace that voice with a vision of meaning, you redirect your inner dialogue. You take your mind off of struggle and instead focus on fulfillment.
And just like that, the fight becomes all the easier.