Authoring Reality: Writing Your Life with Meaning (Episode 276)
As we asked listeners and readers to share what they are tolerating in their homes, we've heard a common theme. Parents are tired of feeling unheard, oppressed, unworthy, and worn down.
Well we can talk about an "attitude of gratitude" and changing our minds to positivity, yet it's not that simple. I know "toxic positivity" is showing up more and more, where positivity gets a bad reputation as the "blocker" for all other emotions.
It's not enough to just "be happy". It's not rejecting negative feelings, or avoiding the hard stuff in life.
So much is a mindset that embodies a different perspective and approach on how we find our meaning in life.
What Keeps You Going?
Most of you listening to the podcast and reading this blog are parents. You're here already because of your love for your family, and your desire to create a home life where everyone is heard, loved, and appreciated.
And this right here is some powerful meaning and significance to keep moving you forward. (Even if you're not a parent, and your family looks a little different, as long as you are in relationships with loved ones, you have a family makeup where this can apply).
While the desire for a life you thrive in is there, oftentimes we feel held back or stifled by the circumstances which surround us. And so often, it's not the circumstances that truly give us the fuel to keep going, but our own will and desire.
This morning, I finished Viktor Frankl's monumental book, Man's Search For Meaning. With my father being the avid reader he is, this book has been an underlying current in my life since I was a child. I've known the content of the book forever, yet hadn't actually read it cover to cover since high school.
It's no surprise that this book has sold over 12 million copies in over 24 different languages. It's a universal truth for all of humanity: it's hard to live a life without meaning. And the more you take personal responsibility for the meaning of your own life in this bigger universe, the more fuel you have to survive...and thrive.
The Peter Principle
Sometimes we don't realize what has happened until we're in the thick of it. Just like a lobster being thrown into a pot and slowly heating up, you may not realize you're cooking until it seems too late to get out.
There is a concept called the "Peter Principle" that really highlights this:
"The Peter principle is a concept in management developed by Laurence J. Peter, which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to "a level of respective incompetence": employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.
The concept was explained in the 1969 book The Peter Principle (William Morrow and Company) by Laurence Peter and Raymond Hull. (Hull wrote the text, based on Peter's research.) Peter and Hull intended the book to be satire, but it became popular as it was seen to make a serious point about the shortcomings of how people are promoted within hierarchical organizations. The Peter Principle has since been the subject of much commentary and research." (Wikipedia)
Just because we are competent in one area doesn't mean we can cover it all. I think about how often this happens - not just in rising up in management in a company, but even at home.
- It's the father who was confident in home repairs now stuck being on-call as the neighborhood handyman.
- It's the mother who was proud of her organization skills and helped all her friends...until she had baby #3, and struggled to keep her own house afloat.
- It's the person who threw great parties, and now it's assumed they'll be the MC for every event.
- It's the volunteer who has moved from being of service to being so fried by the workload they quit.
Sometimes when we're good at something, it's assumed we can take on more and more until we hit that breaking point of burnout. Oh, the classic way of the USA - keep dumping it on - more, more, more. Productivity can be a relentless and demanding beast.
Do you know well enough what you're good at that you can STAY in the sweet spot of what works?
Treating The Symptom
So often life piles more and more on us and we don't realize we're sitting in a boiling pot until we really get hit with the heat.
And what do we do then? We rush to treat the symptom. We want to stop the pain and bleeding, and our minds aren't even focused on the cause - just stopping the present issue.
Well sometimes we need triage. Yet simply treating symptoms does not create healing. I just read an article today about how mindfulness worked as well as drugs in an anxiety study.
I firmly believe true healing has got to encompass looking beyond the body to the mental and emotional aspect of life, and what we're thinking and feeling. Bringing awareness to who we are as a whole being - mind, body and soul - is key in curing anything that ails you.
Are you continuing to just mash down those things that fester? The resentment, guilt, anger, frustration, sadness...are you feeling, releasing, and letting go? Or are you denying or suppressing it?
We talk about finding the light in life and going toward what you want. That doesn't mean denial or repression of what you don't want.
When we pile it on - holding on to the negative emotions - they take on other forms. And yes, it can manifest in your physical body. I can attest to this, as my self-induced stress and obligation resulted in me getting shingles as a young mama.
So much of our physical health and well being is a direct reflection of our mental and emotional health and well being.
The concentration camps of the Holocaust Frankl talked about in Man's Search For Meaning was an equalizer for suffering - there was no rank for a doctor vs. a janitor in the camps. As their identities were taken away and they became merely numbers, the ones who didn't make it weren't dependent on status or anything else. When you lose all hope, your body starts to shut down.
When we get into survival mode, or we give up on higher meaning and hope, we literally shut portions of function down. When we are in fight/flight/freeze/fawn mode, our brains can literally only support actions/thoughts that keep us from being killed/rejected. We're not sitting around philosophizing on the meaning of life.
In Dr. Bernie Siegel's book, Peace, Love and Healing, there is story after story of these "medical miracles" where there is no medical explanation for their cancer going into remission, a tumor going away, etc other than their hope and will to live. To take it a step further, not just a fight against what is, but a desire to work with what is for the fullest life you can.
What brings you hope? what brings you joy? What are you doing to bring this into your life?
Yes, trials and tribulations may still find you. And in them, powerful lessons and ways to grow. I can't unpack in one blog post the complexity of illness and mindset. Yet I believe in the power of mind/body/soul to be our most powerful healer - the more we align the three, the more they all work together for our good.
How Do You Narrate Your Story?
What is the narration you hear about your life? I can narrate my story and share both the ups and downs, trials and triumphs. I can share it in a way that shows the lessons learned along the way.
However, I can also keep an underlying narration of my worth. Am I worthy enough? Pretty enough? Smart enough? Good enough?
Does my narration affirm that no one hears me, that I'm worthless, or that I'm a nag? Do I paint my picture of myself as a victim of circumstances around me? Do I get caught in "woe is me" more than what could be possible?
As you narrate your life, what message is your body receiving? Is it that you're done with your life? That it's not worth trying? Your body is taking notes and will respond accordingly.
Where your mind is, your body will follow.
So What Is The Meaning of Life?
I love Frankl's analogy to chess. He explains that, "the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day, and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not he meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment." (Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor E. Frankl)
As he dives into an analogy of chess, it's like asking a chess Master what the best move in the world is. You simply can't state it. It has everything to do with the specific game and opponent.
The perfect move has a direct correlation with the situation in which it presents itself. You can't have a cookie cutter approach to the intricacies of human nature and assume one size fits all.
As you'll hear in the podcast above, I read a longer excerpt from this book that digs into how, ultimately, it's not about man seeking the meaning of life, but life seeking the meaning of man - what do you have to offer?
What can you bring into life that makes it more rich because of your presence in it?
Love and Be Love
You can have an idea of what your purpose will be like...and, life will ultimately drum it out of you. The hardships you experience in your life gives you the wisdom and knowledge to pivot into a life you may not recognize as even possible.
You hear this every time someone tells the story of their adversity being their greatest teacher. Look at how many people have found purpose and meaning even in those negatives none of us are inviting into our lives - like health issues, financial struggles, and broken relationships.
What is manifesting in your life that may not be desired, yet can hold an opportunity for growth and a new insight in your life?
If you don't know yet where to go with this, start simply with love. Love what is, and what it may present for you. Even if it sucks in the moment. Love that you are present enough to be open to anything you can learn.
Love yourself, so your body is supported. It's hard for a body to run when a brain questions why it's necessary. Know your worth. You are irreplaceable. There is no other just like you.
Love others. Frankl says the meaning of his life is helping others find meaning in theirs. Who do you love that doesn't recognize their own worth? What have you done to show them how much you value them in your life?
Seasons Come and Go
We go through seasons. Maybe this moment finds you stressed out and frustrated. Maybe this morning you burst out laughing at a silly thing your child said.
I take my joy and happiness when it comes. I know what pain and sadness are. I've felt them, too. And when I do, I'm willing to feel and let go, knowing that with them, I can better appreciate and value the joy and happiness.
Our thoughts and feelings are fleeting - yet we sometimes hold onto them like it's concrete. Just like nature has seasons in order to fully flourish, so do we. Like Helen Keller said, "life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood."
We don't just philosophize ourselves out of agoraphobia, for instance. You have to face the fear and move past it. Our life will give us plenty of opportunities to face our fears, our struggles, and our pain. In order to let it go, we have to be willing to face it through to the other side. That doesn't mean reliving everything awful; it's letting go of the narrative that that is all you are.
You are more than this. You are worthy of joy and happiness, and it's through your pain and struggles you've found even more appreciation for it when it shows up in your life.
Your Words Have Value
We believe what we speak and think of ourselves. It becomes a direct reflection of the energy we give off. Those scripts we think are just in our head - the ones that challenge our value and worth - they manifest in how we show up in the world.
Frankl was the brains behind logotherapy - or, "finding healing through meaning." Finding significance for our journey - seeing where we can move forward beyond reflecting on our past - this is critical in healing. And it's hands-on. It's not just reflecting on it, but actively practicing where you want to go from here. It's facing into the narrative you write for yourself and truly flipping the script.
Take ownership of the words you speak to yourself and to others. Are you supporting the life you want, or what you feel stuck in?
We're beyond just information. We have information overload in our lives these days. What is the significance and purpose behind it?
Are You Open To What Could Be?
This has changed our stress and tension exponentially. Letting go of the outcome of what we think should happen and looking more at what is and what it makes possible has shifted so much.
When we get too set on how things show up in our lives, or how others will respond, we set ourselves up for frustration and disappointment. Yet being open to what is and what could be creates a climate of possibility - and who knows where that may lead you.
What Can You Do?
So what can you do when the narrative in your head is questioning your worth and meaning? There isn't a simple pill to take to give you confidence and ease in your life.
And so often, we feel trapped because of how others are treating us. We see the injustice and incongruence in our desired connection, and how much is outside of our control.
Maybe there is still something in your power. Maybe, just maybe, their reactions are a direct reflection of what we allow, and how we're showing up.
I shared on the podcast about my own personal struggle with not feeling heard (oftentimes quite literally) by my family. I'd try and project my voice louder, but then it would seem I was yelling in anger.
So what could I do? Just check out, give up, or assume this is just who I am and how things are?
I wanted more than that. I wanted connection with my family, and it was worth it to me to show up and try.
I started paying attention to how others acted around me. I noticed that the more I was relaxed and at ease, the more that reflected in the family, and our conversations flowed.
When I would dump my agenda on them or criticize, it so often escalated to that point of affirming my narrative - they don't listen to me.
I started to see a pattern. In my desire to bring out the best in everyone, I was so focused on correcting any behavior that wasn't helpful that I was moving toward a relationship based on criticism vs. love and connection. And that wears on people. You better believe they started tuning out what I was saying as a straight up coping mechanism to find some peace at home!
I started to pull back and listen more. Show up and support more. Ask more questions vs. pushing unsolicited advice. And, crazy enough, there were no hearing issues. They not only heard me, they started modeling what I was doing. We connected more. We enjoyed each other more.
And all of my issues with them started to shift without them even knowing I had issues!
Yes, not everyone is going to show up perfectly for you every time. It's not that you hit a magic point where everyone is at the same level of understanding, respect and connection - with themselves and others. That's not the point.
The point is the power you have over your own actions, thoughts and intentions. Pay attention to the patterns around your frustration - what is a common theme?
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Sometimes in our frustration over how others are showing up in our lives, we forget that we are showing up for them in the exact same way, and it may be time for us to shift our approach.
Our challenge to you this week is to pay attention to the narrative of your life.
What is it saying that is fueling you toward hope, meaning and significance in your life?
What narratives may be holding you back?
Bring awareness to what narratives you're writing, and what patterns may emerge around them.
Is the same old battle with your partner happening on repeat, and now you're noticing it happens consistently when you are tired, no matter if they had a part in it or not? Just notice the pattern.
Are you stuck in a narrative and seeing the same patterns? Dig a little deeper than just what others are doing to you. What are you doing when they are giving that response? What is your role?
Dig deep to why until you get to YOU, not them. And recognize your deeper desire. If you want to be heard, to be loved, and to truly connect, start modeling it first and foremost.