YAPClassic: Donald Miller on Becoming the Hero of Your Own Life
YAPClassic: Donald Miller on Becoming the Hero of Your Own Life
Donald Miller is an author, public speaker, and business owner who is widely considered one of the world’s most entertaining and informative speakers. He is the CEO of Storybrand and the host of the Business Made Simple Podcast. He is also the author of several popular books, including the WSJ best-seller Building a StoryBrand, and his most recent book How to Grow Your Small Business: A 6-Part Strategy to Help Your Business Take Off.
In this episode, Hala and Donald will discuss:
– How Donald became the hero of his own story
– When it’s okay to be the victim
– What is the most fulfilling role to play?
– Internal vs. external locus of control
– What prevents us from transformation
– Why you should write your eulogy now
– What three stories do you want to live?
– The value of processing and accepting your death
– Why you should not view life as meaningless
– And other topics…
Donald Miller is the CEO of StoryBrand, an agency that has helped more than 10,000 organizations clarify their brand message, and Business Made Simple, an online platform that teaches business professionals everything they need to know to grow their business and enhance their value on the open market.
Donald is the host of the Business Made Simple podcast and the author of personal essays and books about faith, God, and self-discovery, including the best-sellers Building a StoryBrand, Marketing Made Simple, and Hero on a Mission. His most recent book How to Grow Your Small Business: A 6-Part Strategy to Help Your Business Take Off will give you a proven 6-step plan for growth so you can stop drowning in the details. Donald Miller currently lives and works in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife and daughter on their estate: Goose Hill.
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Donald’s Website: https://businessmadesimple.com/
Donald’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/donald-miller-540007124/
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Donald’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/donaldmiller/
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Donald’s Podcast Business Made Simple: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/business-made-simple-with-donald-miller/id1092751338?itsct=podcast_box&itscg=30200
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[00:00:00] Hala Taha: Hello, my young and profiting family in today's YAP classic. We're replaying my second interview with Donald Miller. Those of you who are regular YAP listeners, definitely know who Donald is. He's been on YAP three times.
Donald Miller is the c e O of StoryBrand, an agency that has helped more than 10,000 organizations clarify their brand message. He's also the c e O of Business Made Simple, an online platform that teaches business professionals everything they need to know to grow their business and enhance their value on the open market. donald Miller is the top expert when it comes to business storytelling. In this episode, Donald will share all his philosophies From his book Hero On a Mission we'll hear Donald's personal transformation from being a powerless victim to becoming a successful business leader and hero of his own story. He'll teach us about the four personas within us, the victim, the villain, the hero, and the guide, and how to become the hero of our own lives.
If you wanna learn how to become the hero of your own story, stay tuned to this incredible interview with Donald Miller.
[00:01:21] Hala Taha: Hey, Donald, welcome back to Young and Profiting Podcast.
[00:01:25] Donald Miller: It's good to see you, hala.
[00:01:26] Hala Taha: I'm so happy that you're here. You're one of my favorite people in this space. So for those of you who don't know, Donald. Donald is an amazing entrepreneur. He's also the c e o of a company called StoryBrand, which has helped thousands of companies, household names like Pantene and Chick.
Filet create their brand narrative. And Donald is a master at that. Donald's actually here today because he's launching a new book. It already launched, it's called Hero on a Mission, and so that's out now. And today we're gonna talk to him about his book and his transformation personally. So Donald, you're super successful now.
You're very well put together. You're a great businessman. You come highly recommended. But it turns out when I was reading your book that you weren't always like this. And in your mid twenties you had a victim mindset and you couldn't make any money and you didn't have great relationships. So talk to us about what you were like in your mid twenties and how you were a victim, and then we'll go from there.
[00:02:24] Donald Miller: Well, I will say when I look back at the kid in their mid twenties, I'm 50 now. I still really liked that kid. He was fun. He liked to write, he believed in himself as a writer. He had great friends. He went on some great adventures. But yeah, I think underlying all of that was this sort of idea of, of I'm doomed.
It's never gonna happen for me. I'm never gonna get my break. I. The world is against me and you know, my life showed, it showed that I was probably 150 pounds heavier than I am now. Oh, wow. Yeah. No, I was 3 87 at my highest. I'm two 10 or 2 0 8. The other day I was kind of proud. I'm down two pounds, so I'm, I was fat then.
I'm just chubby now, so, so things are getting way better. Right. Holla. I kind of had this default mode of seeing myself as a victim, and I didn't realize that I was choosing that identity. And I, I discovered it in the very strange way. In order to write, in order to be a writer, I'd studied story because, you know, you study story to try to get people to turn the page and you use these techniques and, and I noticed there are four characters in almost every story.
The victim, the villain, the hero, and the guide. And as I looked at my life, like a story, I realized, oh, my word. I If your life is a story, you're the victim, somebody else is the hero, and you're this bit part that lays around feeling sorry for itself, and somebody else gets the girl and gets the money and gets the job, and gets the, gets the accolades, and you just suck energy into yourself.
And quite frankly, it's not very attractive. And when I realized that, I stopped doing it. I didn't have to fight it. I just stopped doing it because I realized, wait a second, you are thinking of yourself as the victim because you wanna make excuses for not. Trying, you'll make excuses for not succeeding.
You want a rescuer, you want somebody to come and do the work for you 'cause you, you don't know how to do it. But none of it is working. And you know, it's a percentage game. When I began, you know, if I see myself 80% of the time as a victim, I began to see myself 32% of the time as a victim. And 60% of the time as a hero, everything began to change.
I mean, everything. Lost weight. Got a book published, started a little company, started to learn more and sort of acquire knowledge about how to get better and. It didn't change overnight, but now 25 years later, my life is not perfect. There's, there's hard things that happen to us all, but I enjoy my life and more than I enjoy my life.
What I'm really saying is I enjoy the story that I'm living inside of, and it's transforming me and continuing to make me stronger. And so, I wonder, now that I've written this book and there's been so much feedback about it, I'm realizing, oh my word, this isn't just me. There's a lot of people who don't realize, wait a second, I've been identifying as the wrong character in the story and it's not working.
And if I just identify as this character, things start to change. And of course, the four characters that exist in story, the victim, the villain, the hero, and the guide. Exist in story because they exist in us. All four of them exist in you and I, and I personally play all four every day. But to the degree that I give the victim stage time, my life goes nowhere to the degree that I give the villain stage time.
People don't like me and they wanna throw me in jail and they want, they want justice against me. And, and to the degree I give the hero stage time, I transform into a better. Version of myself. And so the idea is just try to give the hero more time in your life and your life will shape up accordingly without you having to do much of anything.
[00:06:00] Hala Taha: So what you said was just really powerful. We all have four personalities that live inside of us, and it's our choice to decide which one we wanna give the most energy to. So it's the victim, the villain, the hero, and the guide. Could you really take us deep on these, break it down. What are each of the characteristics of each of these personality types?
[00:06:20] Donald Miller: There are four and, and I, and my thesis in the book is the reason that these screenwriters and these storytellers keep choosing these four characters to write about is not because there are victims in the world and there are villains in the world, and there are heroes in the world, and there are guides in the world.
It's literally because they're all inside of us, all in stories. They're not in stories. They're separated into different characters, but that's not the way it works in life. They're in us, and so when we hear that, that voice that says, look, I'm doomed. I'm not gonna be able to make it out. Woe is me.
Terrible stuff like this always happens. That's the victim. And the victim in a story plays a bit part. The victim in a story exists to make the hero look good. Because the hero rescues them and the villain looked bad because the villain tortures them. That's the only purpose of the, of the victim. They do not transform.
They do not get a reward at the end of the story. They do not. Nothing happens to them except that they play off the hero and the villain. I. If we do identify too strongly with the victim inside of us, that is exactly what happens to you. I mean, the story of your life literally plays out that way. You don't transform, you don't get what you want.
You don't become a better version of yourself. You don't get rewarded. You don't get respected. People basically feel sorry for you. That gives you some resources, some change that's thrown at you, but that's it. And some people get hooked on that change and just think, they think that's the only way that they can survive.
It serves us in some way. Victim mentality is a coping mechanism and sometimes, let me just say, it's actually an effective coping mechanism. It's helpful for a couple days. It's not purely evil, it's not purely bad. You know, I finished the book, AMLI was born. It was in a really good space, and before the book came out, about two weeks before the book came out, I had to make an extremely difficult family decision.
And the family decision was to let go of my chocolate lab. Lucy, the average age lifespan of a chocolate lab is 10 to 12 years. She's 14 and a half, and she had a big tumor, a lot of arthritis, but she was cognizant. The doctor was saying, look, you know, anything passed today and you're just making her suffer so that you don't have to feel guilty.
And you know, I thought about it. I thought, okay, we gotta do this. You know, I let her go. It was a beautiful time, a family time together and let her go. Put her in the car, holla the next day. I'm in a fetal position in my bed weeping. Mean this is, you know, she's my best friend and my wife calls her my first wife.
You know, so, and uh, I'm saying, I'm saying to myself, I'm releasing a book in two weeks, defending the idea that life has meaning and it's all a lie. It's just a complete lie. There is no meaning because we can't keep our dogs. A couple days later, of course, I'm saying, how beautiful is it that she was with me that long and she got to meet the, my daughter and she got to move into this house a year and a half ago.
That's called Goose Hill. It's literally named after her, Lucy Goose. And she taught me about friendship. She taught me about devotion. She got me to Betsy. She taught me to be responsible in relationships. It took a couple days for me to, to convert and to transform from a victim mentality, which is okay.
It's okay, but we, we can't stay there. We, we become victims temporarily in life so that we can turn around and metabolize the pain and turn it into strength and optimism and hope and skill, by the way. And empathy, beautiful things come from pain. That's the benefit of, of having understood what I wrote about in the book is you can sort of be self-aware and gently and with great grace, guide yourself toward a more optimistic identity.
So, That's the victim and the danger of being a victim. The villain is very similar. The victim experiences pain, so does the villain. The villain though, rises up in strength rather than stays the victim, but they rise up in strength, not to help others, but to seek vengeance on a world that's hurt them. So the and the hero also experiences pain, the hero experiences pain and rises up and says, I'm gonna become strong.
So that nobody else has to experience the pain I did, I'm gonna defend them and defend the world against these injustices where the villain says, I'm gonna get people, I'm gonna get back at people. And the general rule about a villain in a story is that they make others small. And so when there's this, there's that spirit in us.
I've got it in me. I don't know about you. But the, the spirit to gossip, the spirit, to demean others to the spirit, to think that others are lesser than you is a villain characteristic. And if we let that, Take too much ownership of our life. If we over identify with that, what happens to a villain in a story?
Well, they are killed. They are killed, or they are thrown in jail. They're taken care of. The idea is if we can get ourselves to just function more as a hero than anything else, the story's gonna go well. Now what does a hero do? A hero rises up against what they are challenged with. Transforms into a better version of themselves so that they can overcome the challenge.
Heroes are not people who are capable of over overcoming challenge. They're not, they're people who are capable of changing into the person who, who can overcome the challenge. So to to stay in a heroic mindset doesn't mean I'm awesome, I'm great. It means I can become the kind of person who can deal with this.
And, you know, from starting a company, if you did not have the skill sets, To start a company and run a successful company, when you started, you had to beat yourself, uh, beat your head against the wall many times until you became the person. And it's by accepting these challenges that we transform. And then once we do transform and we become very competent, what we find is that winning.
Only for ourselves is really empty. It leaves us kind of feeling lonely. And so we want to turn around and help others and, and, and indeed holla your entire company. That's what you do. And so that characteristic is called the Guide. And the guide is Gandalf and Mary Poppins, and on and on and on in these stories.
Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid. You know, these characters that show up to help the hero win the day. And so as we get older and more experienced, certainly as we become parents, The guide characteristics come alive in us and and I argue in the book that that is actually the most fulfilling role to play.
You can't play the guide until you've been the hero for some time. But slowly the guide begins to manifest itself, and that's indeed where we find a deep sense of meaning in our lives. I went and interviewed Pete Carroll, who is the coach of the Seattle Seahawks many years ago, and I asked him, when did you first realize that you wanted to be a coach?
And he said, you know, I had the luxury of winning as an athlete really early in life, and I, I, I called it a luxury, he said, because it helped me discover that actually wasn't very fulfilling. But when I turned around and helped other people win, I. It was very meaningful to me. It was an enjoyable, pleasurable life experience, and so that led me into a career of coaching.
Well, what he said there was, I enjoyed playing the hero. It was really nice. But when I've started helping other people win and help other heroes win, I felt a deep calling in my life. And it's true that, that the objectives that we determined for our lives, if they are mutually beneficial, that is if they benefit others and they benefit ourselves.
They align much more closely with a deep experience of meaning.
[00:14:00] Hala Taha: So I wanna talk about, uh, the hero a little bit more because it turns out that every inspirational story basically has the same plot. And a lot of people think of heroes as these like big, strong people that always, you know, do great, but really you say that it's a victim who's transforming and that's really all a hero is.
So talk to us more about that. What is the typical inspirational story that we all know?
[00:14:24] Donald Miller: Well, yeah. So when I say, when I say play the hero, most people go, I'm not a hero. You know, I'm not strong. I'm not this, I'm, well, pause your favorite movie and ask yourself if the hero likes being in this particular situation.
I don't care where you pause it in the movie, pauses the movie, and ask yourself, is the hero enjoying this? And the answer is no. They're, they're not. They're clinging to the side of a building. Their girlfriend just left them. They, uh, are having to give a speech and they're not ready. It doesn't matter.
They're the whole movie. They're in a place they don't wanna be having to do a thing. They don't want to have to do, engaging a challenge that they don't feel like they're, they're, they measure up to, that's the whole movie. And they're ill-equipped. They're afraid they don't want to do it. They in desperate need of help.
That's a hero. And so if that feels like you, then well congratulations. You're in the right place, and that story is transforming you. So what we see is in the last nine minutes or so of the film, if we're talking about film in the last nine minutes, the hero has in fact transformed and is a much better version of themselves.
We tend to think of heroes and define them by the last nine minutes instead of the previous 90. So the idea is if you want to be a hero on a mission set an objective in your life that is difficult. That's going to require some commitment and some transformation on your part and step into it and try to make it happen, and that is what will transform you.
So heroes and victims are very similar except heroes. Uh, are not looking for a rescuer. They're getting up and trying to get. Now, they may, they may look for help. They may look for a guide, but they're not looking for somebody to take the responsibility away from them. That's what a victim is doing. If you are trusting an external source to guide the story of your life and make it work out, I personally do not think it's going to work out very well.
I think what the external source wants you to do is be empowered and stand up and take responsibility for your life. And I think, uh, narrative structure in the universe itself probably rewards that and it's so much more fulfilling, right? It's just, it's so much more fulfilling to do so. So psychologists have this term, Called internal locus of control versus external locus of control.
And if you believe that my life is terrible because my parents and because the year I was born and because, uh, the way I look and because, uh, then what you're saying is my life, the quality of my life is determined by outside sources. Things out of my control. Psychologists have a have a term for that, and it's called an external locus of control, that my locus of control is actually external.
Now, those who identify with an external locus of control have higher rates of depression, worse relationships, less earning power, higher rates of anxiety and frustration in life. Now, if you say, Well, no, my life is miserable right now because of the decisions that I've made, and I willingly did some stuff I shouldn't do, and I mismanaged some money and I wasted my time.
And even though you're, it sounds like you're saying, you know, my life is terrible. I. That person who says, well, it's terrible, but it's also pretty much my fault, has much less rates of depression, better relationships, higher earning power, less anxiety. They do better in life because they actually believe they are in control of their lives.
I. They can learn from their mistakes and they can move on. So the good thing about external internal locus of control is you're not one or the other person. Uh, you are actually fluid. In other words, if you have an external locus of control, it can change to an internal locus of control. So heroes in stories have high internal locus of controls.
Victims in stories have high external locus of controls. So once again, whether we have an external or internal locus control, whether we think of ourselves as a victim. Or a hero determines the quality of the story that we will end up living.
[00:18:29] Hala Taha: Oh my gosh, I love that. So let's say that somebody listening is, you know, there's a lot of people in their mid twenties that are listening in right now that might feel like, man, I, I feel like I was like Donald when he was in his mid twenties, and I feel like.
I approach life with an external locus of control, and I'm a victim and I approach life as a victim. What prevents them from transforming? Like what are the big things that prevent people from taking that step to become the hero of their own lives?
[00:18:57] Donald Miller: Well, I, before I even say that, I wanna say that judging yourself, Shaming yourself being upset because you just realized you've had a victim mentality is entirely and completely unhelpful.
Uh, when we, when we say to ourselves, you're such a little victim and you've wasted the last 10 years, and you know, if you weren't such a victim, people would like you freeze that voice for a second. Listen to it. Who is that talking? You know who that is talking. It's the villain. So now you're in a, in a worthless conversation between the villain inside you and the victim inside you.
Two roles that will completely ruin your life. So we've got to ignore those voices and we can't give them the microphone. What we have to do is say, have some grace. You have seen yourself as the victim because, and I'll tell you why. Even if you had a wonderful, healthy childhood and there's no trauma, you see yourself as the victim because your parents did so much for you because they're loving and good, and now you are out on your own.
You've been out on your own for a minute, and life is in fact very hard. And you are learning, and it takes a while to get your sea legs under you. And rather than face the challenges, sometimes you've given into a bit of a victim mentality as a coping mechanism to just to deal with the pain. And I would say, well, that's completely understandable.
And not only is it completely understandable, it's kind of funny. It's kind of charming, right? And that's the sort of attitude that we wanna have. And now we wanna say, however, Mr. Miller, if you want to be a writer, We're gonna have to get up in the morning, and we're gonna have to work from seven to 9:00 AM on the manuscript every day with some discipline.
And we're gonna have to accept this heroic journey and transform. And, uh, that is the attitude that a hero has. And so, what, what would my advice be? One is don't kick yourself around for being a victim. It's wasted energy. The second is a hero has an objective, so we need to define what it is that you want.
Do you want be a writer? Do you wanna start a company? Do you wanna. Be an influencer. Do you want to get married and do you wanna start a family? Do you want, you know, what do we want? And we need to write those things down. And I recommend in the book writing them down from a very interesting perspective.
And that is the perspective of the end of your life. So I and and I give the assignment in the book to write your eulogy, to actually write your eulogy. As though people were reading it after you died and talk about the things that you have accomplished. And what that does is it, it opens a story loop in our brains.
Will you get these things done every morning, including today, about about four to five mornings a week. I read my eulogy, how I start my morning and my eulogy talks about the fact that Donald Miller has lived three significant stories. One is. He started a company we called Business Made Simple, which became basically a college at a major university for entrepreneurs.
I. So I have a meeting with the president of a major university here in a couple weeks to pitch all these frameworks to be housed inside their university. Well, why do I have that meeting? I have that meeting. 'cause every morning I get up and I read that story. So every day I'm putting something on the plot.
If this president says, Dom, we're not gonna do this. I'm gonna get a meeting with another university, but this college is gonna exist. I didn't manifest it. I decided, I pointed there and I went there. There's nothing magical about, you know, saying, I'm gonna eat an Oreo cookie, and then you eat it. You know, that's, that's just what you do.
But it did, you know, it gave me that. The, the second is, that is my family story. My, my wife and I and our daughter and malign live on 15 acres in Nashville, Tennessee. We have an event space. We're building a guest house. It's a beautiful sort of mini retreat center. And the vision several years ago that I wrote in my eulogy.
Was that we would live in a house that serves the world, that that thinkers come here, writers come here, entrepreneurs come here. You can't pay. It's all free. And a couple weeks from now, Evan McMullen is coming. He's running for senate in Utah. He's gonna speak to a group of influencers here. A former representative from the Red campaign is coming to meet with country music singers and the, the, the governor's office to talk about criminal justice reform.
All of that was just a, an idea. But what it was, was a story that my wife and my six month old daughter could live into. And what I was trying to do was say, okay, we're gonna, we're gonna start a family. What would be the coolest place you could possibly grow up in to realize that you can change the world?
I. We dreamed up this house and an event space in the backyard and a guest house where writers come. Right now, a couple writers are upstairs. One of 'em wrote a book about the lead up to the Iraq War, and we had a great dinner last night. Talk about it with some people. It's just a place where wonderful conversation happens.
Well, you say, Don, that sounds so special and so magic. It was just an idea, right? And then you start doing things toward it. Another one is, uh, something called Build the Middle Class that will exist by the end of the year. And basically it's a petition that people can sign. It says, we are asking Republicans and Democrats to come together and pass eight pieces of legislation on tax reform, education reform, immigration reform, and so on and so on.
Immigration reform launched yesterday, and then that's it. I, I don't have any time. I've got 30 years left in my life and then I'm dead and I will never come back to this planet. So I have 30 years left, and if somebody comes and says, Dom, we'd love for you to do a TV show. I look at my eulogy and I say, there's no TV show on here.
I'm sorry, I can't do it. I've got three stories and I'm gonna live these three and I don't have time to switch gears right now. So that's the, the thing that if you're in your twenties, it's not too late. In fact, you, you're in a perfect time to say, well, look, you know what three stories do I wanna live?
And the great thing about being in your twenties is you can actually live one of them. File it away and start another one. You've got so much time left. But a hero is always inside of a story, and one of the most dangerous things you can do is live your life and not know what story you're inside of.
Because if you don't know what story you're inside of, one of two things is happening. One is somebody else is dictating the elements of your story. Probably a corporation. Or a government or a spouse or somebody else you're pawn in their story. But you don't have a story or you just don't have a story.
And so you're a character walking around on a movie set and nobody's given you a script and nobody's given you a part to play, and you literally feel just as uncomfortable in your own skin as you would. As that character with no part in the story, and yet he's walking around on set and that's a restless feeling that a lot of people identify with.
[00:25:51] Hala Taha: Totally. I mean, I think this is such an interesting concept. I had Matt Higgins on the show. He was on Shark Tank. He's a big TV personality, big VC investor, and he also swears by writing a eulogy and then he reads it every day as well. I had Robert Green on the show, huge successful author. He talks about the Law of death denial, and it's very.
Similar, that if you avoid the thought of death, you lack urgency, you lack motivation. And this sounds very similar. So why does writing a eulogy work, like, why do you think that that actually helps you get closer to your goals?
[00:26:25] Donald Miller: Processing your own death does a few really wonderful things for you. And what I mean by processing mean is realizing that you're not here forever and that your story is in fact very, very short one.
As you mentioned. It creates a sense of urgency. I don't have time to sit around. I don't have time to take that frivolous meeting. I don't have time. To, you know, whatever. I don't have time because, uh, I, I, I only have a certain number of days left. The other thing is it, you know, not only a sense of urgency, a sense of focus, right?
These are the three stories I've got left. I've got time for nothing else. And everything else is a no. And that's 90% of the stuff that comes my way is a no, because when time is being taken away from you, you get really, really focused right away. So the, the, the processing and thinking about our own death is the, I think is just the basis of wisdom.
And if you do, if you sit down, that's morbid. I don't think we should think about our own death. That's sad. I wanna be really clear what you're saying. I, I, I, you have the right to say that. Certainly you do. What you're actually saying is, I don't want to think about the truth. Just let that sit. I don't want to think about the truth.
I want to live in denial. And, you know, death denial, as you mentioned earlier, is, is uh, something that does not in fact serve your life. Hey, you know, if you're in your twenties, you're listening. Yeah, but I don't get those opportunities. Listen to me. You're about eight years from getting those opportunities, right?
The, the older people die off and you take over and those are the opportunities that are gonna be handed to you. And if you're not grounded before you get them, you're gonna take some opportunities that you don't need to take. And that's why you wanna be grounded in the story that you are deciding to live.
Internal locus of control. You direct your story, not opportunities and. All that kind of stuff. You direct your story so that you decide which opportunities you take and which opportunities you reject.
[00:28:29] Hala Taha: I love that. I think all of this material is excellent. We're gonna link it in our show notes. So last time you came on the show, I always ask this question at the end of my show, what is your secret to profiting in life?
And you mentioned Viktor Frankl, which after reading your book, I learned he was your favorite philosopher and he really changed your life. And I think his story really helps. Tie all of this together. So tell us in more detail about Viktor Frankl and his story and how he transformed from victim to hero, and then we can kind of take a look at his framework too.
[00:29:02] Donald Miller: Well, Viktor Frankl was a psychologist in Vienna in the 1920s and thirties, and he developed a theory. Alongside, theoretically, at least Alfred Adler, certainly there was some Jungian instincts in there. Sigmund Freud was alive at the time. Something was going on in the water in Vienna because those guy, a lot of smart folks came outta there and he basically said, man's.
Dominant desire is a desire for a deep sense of meaning, which feels like purpose in their life. And he developed a something called logotherapy, a therapy of meaning in which he prescribed a certain way of living to people, which gave them a deep sense of meaning and helped them overcome depression, anxiety, and a bunch of other stuff.
And he applied it inside the. Viennese hospital system specifically for suicidal high school patients. They had a serious suicide problem around the time grades were released. He, when he applied logotherapy, when he basically taught them to live as heroes on a mission, suicide rate dropped to zero and.
He was writing a book on his theories when World War II broke out and the Nazis began to collect Jews and put them in concentration camps. Uh, being a Jewish man, Viktor Frankl was taken with his wife who was pregnant. His wife Tilly, was pregnant with their first child. She was murdered. His parents were murdered, the manuscript in which the thesis was confiscated and taken from him, and he spent years, I believe, in four different concentration camps and survived.
And after he survived, instead of being despondent, certainly he was in incredible pain, but he rose out of that victim mentality and began delivering lectures around the world on how life, in fact does have meaning and is in fact beautiful. And of course, who's gonna argue with him, right? I mean, I'm sorry.
Your sugar cravings don't measure up to what this guy has been through.
[00:31:03] Hala Taha: Yeah. If if he's not a victim, then nobody has the excuse.
[00:31:06] Donald Miller: That's right. And so he was incredibly, uh, influential on this book and influential on me. You know, personally, I'd say he saved my life and maybe saved the quality of my life, but just a wonderful, wonderful person who has proven that life, in fact, has been, what's really interesting about Viktor Frankl is he didn't actually tell us what the meaning of life was.
He told us how to feel it. And he, he doesn't answer the question, what is the meaning of life? Or why does life have meaning? He just says, Here's how you experience it. And so what it does is it makes the, the stuff I talk about in the book and that, that's what the book is, it's a prescription for logotherapy and, uh, it makes the, the work theologically agnostic, philosophically agnostic.
You know, I was, I was meeting with a friend, having coffee, an acquaintance, I should say, back in Portland many, many years ago. And they were, it was very obvious they were nihilist. And they said to me at one point, well, you know, life is meaningless. And, um, that could be the state motto of Portland, Oregon, right?
I mean, it's, it's just, uh, it's, it's that kind of place. And I, I said something a bit offensive to them. I wrote about it in the book, but I said, what if life is not meaningless? What if just your life is meaningless? And of course, they didn't think that was very funny. But what I meant by that was what if the stuff that you were doing inside of your story, Is giving you a bad experience?
And what if it's not life itself? In other words, you know what? If you're writing a book and what you're actually saying is this book is not interesting, and the good news is if we can get ourselves to believe it and understand it, is that the book can change. If you know how to live a certain way. The book can get really, really interesting, really fast, and I'm a living testament to that because I really like my life.
It's not always easy. It's not, you know, I cried myself to sleep when I had to put my dog down. There are painful, painful elements to it. There are hard things. Today we took Emmaline to get her last shots at the doctor and hold your crying baby. While she doesn't understand while why somebody's poking her with a needle, they're just tough scenes.
In life, and of course I'm being very, very light and the people listening have some very, very painful scenes. And yet we can choose to do things with our life that give our life a deep charge of meaning and beauty and go to sleep every night. I. Being grateful for the incredible experience that we're having.
[00:33:31] Hala Taha: Yeah. The thing that keeps coming to my mind was this concept of personal agency. As you're talking about the fact that it's not that life is gonna be perfect, there's gonna be ups and downs, but it's how do you treat those ups and downs? How do you have perspective towards them? Can you talk to us about personal agency and what that is?
[00:33:48] Donald Miller: Yeah, personal agency is, is is similar to a lo internal locus of control. It's belief that you have the power and the one thing that you, you have the power over that nobody can take away from you is your perspective on life, including your perspective on very, very difficult things. And so when painful things happen to us, we can either.
Have a victim perspective, which is, woe is me. I'm doomed. Please send a rescuer. Or we can actually say to ourselves, wait, this is painful. And also it somehow benefits me. It's both. And that's the prescription that Viktor Frankl would give to his patients. He would say, when something very painful happens, acknowledge it.
Don't be a delusional optimist. Acknowledge it. Grieve it and also realize it comes with benefits and when the most, in other words, redeem our pain. I met a young man who, his son, he came home from church. His wife had stayed back at the church, came home from church and his three-year-old son, they, they went to take a nap and three year old son woke up, went into the garage, got into, got back into the car, closed the door, and died of heat exhaustion and.
He came to me and he said, Don, I, I wanna write a book about this. I need to process it. And he ended up writing a book and now he travels the country and he helps people understand how to grieve the loss of a child. He did something with it. Now, does that bring back his son? Know, but what? But it, what it does is it redeems the pain and uses it for good.
And that has given his life a deep sense of meaning. So any of us can do this and, and what's the alternative? You know, the alternative is buy a truckload of whiskey, get a divorce, and drink yourself to death. I mean, well, you know, that's the victim life and we're not gonna do that. We're gonna redeem our pain.
[00:35:51] Hala Taha: What is the one actionable thing that our listeners can do today to be more profiting tomorrow?
[00:35:59] Donald Miller: Okay. I love this, and your listeners are gonna hear this several times throughout the year. Just to answer the question, what am I grateful for? I. What am I grateful for? One thing that victims and villains do not have in common or, or do have in common, forgive me, is they're ungrateful.
If you ever find yourself playing the villain or playing the victim, stop and ask yourself, what am I grateful for? And you will immediately exit victim and villain mentality. 'cause you will never, ever hear a villain. A story, say, you know, I'm so grateful for my friends, they will never say it, and no victim will sit there in a dungeon and go, I'm so grateful that there's a shaft of light that I can study the sun.
Well, I mean, they don't do it. 'cause that would transform them into a hero. And so if you wanna go from victim to villain to hero real quick, just ask yourself what you are are grateful for. So that's the the one thing that I would say leave with.
[00:36:51] Hala Taha: I love that. And that reminded me of something that I didn't get to ask you.
Why is the question, who am I becoming a really important question to ask?
[00:36:59] Donald Miller: Because it, it does two things. It defines a direction for your life, for your personal life, for your character. And we all need a direction. We all need someplace that we're going. Otherwise we wander around and we walk in circles.
Right? And it also reminds you that you are not a fixed static creature. You are somebody who changes. And so, yes, you may struggle with that right now, but a year from now you probably won't because you are somebody who changes. And it's very, very dangerous to think of ourselves as a as bad at math.
You're not bad at math. You're somebody who hasn't applied yourself to learn math, but you're not bad at math. It's not your identity, you know? So we want to, we wanna have a growth mindset, as Carol Dweck would say.
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