What if you didn’t Work in the Nonprofit Field Anymore?

Have you ever wondered what your life would be like if you didn’t work in the nonprofit sector?

Are you worried that your life wouldn’t have meaning if you left the sector?

Are you in a corporate job, looking for meaning in your life right now?

How do you even FIND the meaning of life?

What does it mean, when you’ve gone from the corporate world, despairing of finding meaning there, only to find that in the nonprofit world you’re still not happy?

What is really going to give you meaning?

What will really make you happy, if not this?

Check out was Nassim Nicolas Taleb, Victor Frankl and Eric Hoffer have to say.  The quotes and aphorisms below come from The Bed of Procrustes by Nassim Nicolas Taleb, Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, and an unpublished notebook by Eric Hoffer.

On Happiness

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.” -Victor Frankl

“I went to a happiness conference. Researchers looked very unhappy.” -Taleb

Nassim Taleb writes, “Happiness, we don’t know what it means, how to measure it or how to reach it, but we know extremely well how to avoid unhappiness.”

Is happiness about avoiding tension? According to Frankl, “Only a brain that is functioning pathologically is characterized by the attempt to avoid tension unconditionally.”

“The will to meaning is a reliable criterion of mental health.” -Frankl

Do not think that going to therapy for 10 years is enough. Frankl claims, “Patients are suffering a lack of life content- rather than clinical symptomatology -and this may well account for interminable analyses- because in such cases the psychoanalytic treatment becomes the only life content available to the patient.”

Victor Frankl Quote

Look at the mass neurotic triad in Frankl’s logotherapy- Depression, Addiction, and Aggression.

In one study of alcoholics, 18 out of 20 looked upon their existence as meaningless. People are more likely to feel aggressive when they feel life is empty and meaningless.

“Criminality and purpose in life are inversely related.

Motivation by the pleasure principle and the will to power are substitutes for a frustrated will to meaning.

Normally man does not seek pleasure or happiness, it is a side effect of living out your purpose and the self transcendence of existence.

Lack of meaning and purpose is indicative of emotional maladjustment.”  -Frankl

Imagine if, if your nonprofit helps people with addictions, if your nonprofit was dedicated to helping addicts find meaning in their lives as they did their detox? What would that look like?

On Despair

Despair is suffering without meaning.

The apparent meaninglessness of life is a human achievement. No animal cares whether its life has meaning. The courage to question whether life has meaning should be matched by patience-wait until meaning dawns on you.

The existential vacuum derives from:

  • Not knowing through instincts what to do
  • Not knowing by traditions and values what to do
  • A person doesn’t know what they must or should do, so they don’t even know what they basically WISH to do.
  • Instead, they wish to do what other people do, which is conformism, or they do what other people wish them to do, which is totalitarianism.

Playing Games

“Motivation by the pleasure principle and the will to power are substitutes for a frustrated will to meaning.” -Victor Frankl

Nassim Nicolas Taleb writes, “Games were created to give nonheroes the illusion of winning. In real life, you don’t know who really won or lost (except too late), but you can tell who is heroic and who is not.”

Nassim Nicolas Taleb quote

So how do you find meaning?

Meaning must be found, it cannot be given. In other words, you must discover meaning, you cannot be taught or instructed in it. Meaning is not merely what is, but in what can be. It is the free contemplation of the possible.

“Mental clarity is the child of courage, not the other way around. The biggest error since Socrates has been to believe that lack of clarity is the source of all our ills, not the result of them.” -Taleb

If I take man as he is, I make him worse. If I take him as he ought to be, I make him become what he can be. -Goethe

A. Maslow says “the business of self actualization can best be carried out via a commitment to an important job.”

Our doubts about ourselves cannot be banished except by working at that which is the one and only thing we know we ought to do. Other people’s assertions cannot silence the howling dirge within us. It is our talents rusting unused within us that secrete the poison of self-doubt into our bloodstream.”  -Eric Hoffer, 1955 (Unpublished notebook)

Self actualization can be obtained only through a detour, through the fulfilment of meaning, so identity is available only through responsibility, through being responsible for the fulfilment of meaning.

Are your goals mere means, or meanings?

When a friend of yours says “Screw this, I’m gonna go make MONEY!” you know they are on the way towards unhappiness. Doing something just to make money isn’t going to make them happy. Their goals are means, not meanings. That doesn’t mean making money is bad. That doesn’t mean having the goal of making money is bad. But making money can also be the side effect of doing what brings you meaning.
According to Frankl, meaning may be found in:

  • Creating a work
  • Doing a deed
  • Encountering someone
  • Experiencing something but also
  • The way in which you stand up to suffering.

“The measure of a man is the way in which he bears up under misfortune” – Plutarch

Plutarch quote

Frankl posits that there are 3 Facts of Human Existence:

  1. A Will to Meaning
  2. A Meaning in Suffering
  3. A Freedom of Will

Ontologized morals in logotherapy equal-

-what is good- that which fosters a more meaningful life
-what is bad-that which hinders a more meaningful life


Social Justice Warriors – Can work for you.

If you get frustrated looking at how many people online are getting caught up in drama over a relatively small moral problem, you may want to look at it as anti-testing instead of protesting.

Protesting is struggling FOR something. Anti-testing is against something. As Frankl characterized the protests of the 60s, he wrote, “Caught in an existential vacuum, they did not know of anything worth fighting for, and there were so many things to be against!”“Perhaps people throw themselves into heated polemics to give content to their lives, to warm their hearts. What Luther said of hatred is true of all quarrelling. There is nothing like a feud to make life seem full and interesting.” -Eric Hoffer 1950

How can you take this negative outpouring of energy and turn it around to support for your nonprofit?

You can look for people fighting in the comment sections of online articles, or facebook posts, or having twitter fights, and you can redirect their energy by suggesting that they look at the solutions that your nonprofit works for instead of heaping invectives on their chosen enemy that day. They can spread your message, they can volunteer for you, and they can donate instead of dissipating their energies with the “outrage du jour.”

What do YOU think of this philosophy?

Want more articles on philosophy and fundraising? Go to with a will!

Can I tell you a story? (with Rumi)
How your donors view money
What rich people want
Why do people at work treat me this way?

Having trouble connecting with high-net worth donors?

Posted in