Today, I noticed two things: why making meaning is so empowering and why it’s so tough to do at work.
Why is making meaning so powerful?
Maisel invites us to shift from seeking meaning to making meaning. As I put this idea to a test, I have noticed that it is tremendously empowering. I think I might have stumbled on the reason while reading an article by Dacher Keltner in Greater Good Magazine on power:
In psychological science, power is defined as one’s capacity to alter another person’s condition or state of mind by providing or withholding resources – such as food, money, knowledge, and affection – or administering punishments, such as physical harm, job termination, or social ostracism.
If I am seeking meaning, I am looking for someone or something with the power to give me meaning. Deciding to make meaning myself – as Maisel argues, the only way to get meaning – takes that power back, thus empowering me in the meaning arena!
But then why is it so tough at work?
The overriding question of my meaning testing is: Can I find meaning at an essentially meaningless job? Currently, for a variety of reasons, I feel that I cannot leave my job, which is meaningless to me. I don’t enjoy most of the day-to-day work and the questions I attempt to answer don’t interest me a bit (mind you: I still answer them as best as I can!). So, while I am stuck in this job, I figure I have the perfect opportunity to put meaning theories to the ultimate test. If they really work, they should help me redefine my job. So far, it’s not working, including using Maisel’s meaning making idea. How can I possibly make meaning at a place that is such a meaning drain that I can’t make meaning fast enough!?! It’s exhausting! I realized, I needed another way. This morning, a shift occured: I can just accept it the way it is! This job is meaningless to me. I think it’s impossible to try to change this. As I suspected earlier, Maisel is not taking into account that there are some situations where it is simply too exhausting and counter-productive to make meaning, especially when we’re up against the system side. In this case, the system has reduced work to such small pieces that each piece is so small, it’s impossible to see the larger picture.
Ironically, the decision to simply accept this meaninglessness (is that a word?), helped me regain a sense of balance: maybe the meaning in this job lays in its meaninglessness. Maybe sometimes meaning making consists of accepting reality rather than forcing meaning onto something that cannot give us meaning no matter how we look at it. We will see how this idea will carry me through the week and how it continues to hold up to my testing.