Life Lessons from Dr. Neil Koenig
Written by: Marcus Allen
“The question is, ‘How do you go about finding meaning in your life?’ My hunch is, that’s why you’re here. All of us struggle in the search and the journey to find meaning in life.” Dr. Koenig began his presentation to the mentor students with this question to pull at each of our heartstrings.
Neil Koenig is currently a family business consultant and consultant to professional firms in Central California. He specializes in solving people issues, teaching leadership skills, and helping businesses develop and implement succession plans. His skills come from his variety in background. Before becoming a consultant, he had been a clergyman, an instructor of family physicians, and a family psychologist.
After hearing about his background in business and in several different fields, we were excited to hear Dr. Koenig speak on finding meaning in life. He began by discussing Sigmund Freud’s theory where meaning in life comes from two places: work and love. Dr. Koenig then geared his topic towards finding meaning in our work as aspiring entrepreneurs.
He went about the topic in a very unique way. Instead of coming up with a lecture on the meaning of life, he chose to tell stories. He shared stories from his own life, he shared about friends and other people he knew, and he shared about people he didn’t know who had died hundreds of years ago. He began with himself and explained how every job and experience he’s had has rolled into his current career as a consultant, and he enjoys it because he finds meaning in helping solve people problems. At the end of his personal story, he stated, “I have this wonderful opportunity to be a closet clergyman and a closet psychologist in the world of work.”
He then moved on to tell us about several other people and how they did or did not find meaning in their lives. One person he spoke about was his friend Chuck who had a mission in his life to “feed the hungry.” Chuck grew up in a farming family, spent several years in the peace core after college, coordinated farming for Agency for International Development, worked as the ambassador for India in agriculture, organized farms in Eastern Europe for the World Bank, and eventually became a farmer and professor in Washington. Dr. Koenig explained through everything, Chuck found meaning in feeding the hungry. And “if you asked him even today, ‘what’s the meaning in your life, Chuck?’ He would say, ‘I’m still in the business of trying to feed the people of the world.’ He’s got meaning. He’s one of the inspirations of my life.”
Dr. Koenig also talked about Ignaz Semmelweis, who was a Hungarian doctor in the 1800’s. Semmelweis discovered hand washing reduced the mortality rate in clinics. He spoke on how Semmelweis had an idea which saved lives and influenced doctors in the future to save even more lives. However, he was extremely pretentious and antagonized people who didn’t believe his findings. He ended up dying depressed and alone. Dr. Koenig used him as an example to illustrate even if you have an amazing idea, you still need to search for meaning and love in your line of work if you want to be satisfied.
Each of Dr. Koenig’s stories explained how the search for meaning could give you a sense of direction. He stated he never had a vision for the future of his life, but he knew he wanted to help people. And his desire to help people has directed everything he’s done in his career. “All I’ve done is walk through doors that have been opened, but I’ve been prepared to walk through those doors when they open