5 Things to Remember When Circumstances Overwhelm You

02 Apr 2014 9:52 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

Global citizens are often more aware of circumstances than those who remain in the routines of home. Inspired by Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl’s words, Norman Viss offers five thoughts to help us cope with times when circumstances overwhelm us.

By Norman Viss

Admit it: All of us tend to be influenced by our circumstances.

A two year old just knows his life is ruined if he doesn’t get that second pancake. A thirty-seven year old just knows his life is ruined if……well, I’ll let you fill that in. 

A year ago I read for the first time a fascinating book by Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust concentration camp survivor Viktor E. Frankl. The book is called Man’s Search for Meaning, and it is a powerful testimony to man’s ability to overcome his circumstances. 

The book inspired me to look at my life again, and accept the challenge to change myself instead of beat my head against my circumstances. Frankl writes:

“We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation – just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer – we are challenged to change ourselves.” 

As I’ve been processing this book for myself, I thought of five things we can learn from Frankl that we should remember when circumstances overwhelm us, as his certainly did him. 

1. Look around carefully at where you are 

Frankl was in a concentration camp. That was obvious. Our circumstances might not always be what we think they are. Be sure your thoughts about where you are are accurate. 

2. Understand what the problem is

Frankl’s obvious presenting problem was the camp, but he couldn’t do anything about that. He looked for the problem he could work with – his attitude and those of his fellow prisoners. What is the real problem you are facing?

3. Determine what tools you need to overcome

Frankl used his medical, psychiatric and psychological training and experience to attack his problem. What tools, training and experience do you have to help you now?

4. Search for meaning

Frankl quoted Nietzsche approvingly: ‘He who has a Why to live for can survive any How.’ Have you thought about ‘Why”?

5. Take action

Frankl again:

“Our answer must consist not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”

Right action and right conduct give and bring hope. Frankl tells us: “We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.”

Global citizens are often more aware of circumstances than those who remain in the routines of home. We have to be, because almost all of our circumstances are new and different. 

Global citizens are people; our circumstances can take our lives captive. Perhaps these five things to remember can help you be, think and do right, and live in freedom.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Norman Viss is an expatriate coach who has many years of broad international experience working with people from a wide variety of cultures, including a 10 year span of living in Nigeria, West Africa, and 22 years in the Netherlands. Currently he lives in the Philadelphia, USA and blogs at the Everyday Expat Support Center


  • 03 Apr 2014 12:51 PM | Tamkara
    Thanks for the 5 tips. Very relevant and useful for all aspects of life. I especially agree with what you say about Global citizens being more aware. I believe it has to do with the fact that they are uprooted from the familiar and the comfortable and thrust into an entirely new environment with new opportunities for growth, learning and mental expansion. scary at first but usually worthwhile in the long run.
    Thanks again for your insightful post.

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