Are you meaningful enough?
How our self-worth is sabotaged by a skewed sense of what it takes to be‘meaningful’
The ‘meaning of life’ is no longer as clear as it was once supposed to have been. Never have so many humans been uncertain about their larger purpose beyond their daily grind and nightly pleasures. Old assumptions threaten to collapse, leaving one naked. Many people’s assumptions have already collapsed and they are naked. Theodore Zeldin
If you have yet to delve into the delights of ‘The Hidden Pleasures of Life’ by Zeldin — put it on your to-do list.
His perspective on human meaningfulness is enriched by stories from past and present and imagined future.
For now, I want you to consider your meaningfulness.
Have you ever privately or publically expressed these frustrations?
- I’m just a nobody.
- I haven’t got any original ideas.
- Without a decent online presence, I might as well be invisible.
- I haven’t got a bestseller, Ted talk, and I am not a Doctor of anything. I don’t really count.
Easy to read those bullet points rationally, and think - ‘daft’.
I have thought every one of them — more than once.
It has taken conscious effort to listen to my inner-squasher that brain dumps rubbish like — ‘what’s the point’ and ‘I am just a nobody’.
Later in this article I reveal the steps I have taken to clean out the ‘I am meaningless’ rubbish.
I know I am not alone. These inciduous inner-scripts operate in most of us — at a low hum of emotion unchecked by rationality.
We’re not brilliant at pausing to question default thinking.
We easily fall into the ‘should’ traps fueled with fears, assumptions, comparisonitis and all that impostor syndrome stuff!
As Confucius says — ‘Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated’.
When you consider your ‘meaningfulness’ you start from a place of feeling pretty small in the universe — or as Robert Greene puts it in ‘The Laws of Human Nature’ — you feel your ‘puniness’ as an individual ‘in a world with billions of others in a vast universe.”
A perfectly understandable feeling, unless you are full of the self-delusions researched by Dunning and Kruger!
Now consider how the sub-worlds of social media, news and Netflix add to this sense of puniness.
How they zombify you into believing that being ‘meaningful’ requires having thousands of followers, being famous or inventing a new planet.
Get back to the meaningful meaning of meaningful.
Start with you and create a wave of reframing through conversation, curiosity and collaboration.
Let’s start a movement.
The ‘Meaningful Meaning of Meaningful Movement’
I just started it!
Not the catchiest of titles but the observant amongst you will have spotted the 4'M’s.
4 ‘M’s is a business management tool and also used in the sphere of mental health by Dr Sue Varma.
Both have interesting links to my proposed movement — but I will leave you to go down those rabbit holes.
I want to move on with the mission.
The mission is:
Press pause, question and bin the soul-drowning forces of manufactured meaningfulness.
Rediscover your true, social-media-less, self-worth.
Manufactered meaningul is stuffed with prerequisites and quests :-
- Being famous. Going viral.
- Having over 20K followers.
- Being an international keynote speaker.
- Having at least one best selling, much vaunted book — one that that changes the world.
- Being crazily controversial and getting onto panels on TV.
- Surving horrific, internationally known events.
- Losing the weight of a small house and sailing around the world in a tin.
- Being rehabilitated and going on to proffer saintly support to those who used to be like you.
All of which you can find headlined or acted out across social and non-social media (except the tin boat one maybe).
I recommend you read her piece in the Atlantic about Jordan Peterson — it is a case study on the meaninglessness of ‘manufactured meaninfulness’.
Yet the relentless demands of modern celebrity — more content, more access, more authenticity — were already tearing the psychologist’s public persona in two. Helen Lewis
All a bit dark — so let’s turn our attention to something more satisfying and meaningful . Let’s formulate some action points for this new movement.
Take meaningful action — step by meaningful step.
Seven soul-enriching , world healing forces of real meaninfulness.
It starts with you. Write your definition of ‘being meaningful’.
Consider these ‘back to basics’ ingredients of being meaningful:
- Identify things you feel are of value and include them in your life.
- Make copious space for imperfection and exploration.
- Maintain and nurture a growth mindset.
- Attach value to the small stuff — such as the gift of a smile to a passer-by.
- Find the point in a moment in time, rather than searching for it in the entirety of your whole existence — including the unknown future.
- Feel compassion for those who search for their ‘meaningful’ in the ellusive validation of others.
- Don’t be fooled by messages that imply you must be original or unconventional to be meaningful.
..it is important not merely to imitate others or act in a mechanical and alienated way. … The value of what I do is not less if, in acting deliberately and authentically, I am also acting in ways that others commonly choose.
To be meaninful you need to cultivate curiosity.
I believe that curiosity is the core quality of a meaningful existence.
Curiosity leads you down fascinating new roads — roads less taken. If you are enthused by your discoveries by all means share on social media — but do so with an intrinsic motivation rather than the extrinsic one of being loved and followed.
The richest experiences in our lives aren’t when we’re clamoring for validation from others, but when we’re listening to our own voice… Daniel Pink
How I turned down the ‘you are meaningless’ inner script and turned up my self-worth.
A personal story
Memories of self-worth deflating messages received.
As a 12 year old
Puberty is a big deal for all of us — and for a girl it is that first period that hits home in a huge way.
So picture the scene.
I had a bit of blood visible after going to the loo. I am 12 and many of my friends have started the period thing. I feel less meaningful than those who own the ‘oh it’s my period’ line — excusing them from swimming or PE.
I run to my mother to share the news of this spot of blood. Is this the moment? Is this when I become part of the special ones?
My mother, busy peeling potatoes, barely registered my presence. She dismisses me with something like — ‘don’t be silly — it isn’t that.’
She was right.
But… too late. Message received. I am a nobody.
As a 17 year old
I finally get walked home by the boy I have a mad crush on.
We do that messy kissing thing. (This was the 70's)
The next day I get a report back from his best mate.
‘He says you kissed ok, but there wasn’t much else about you.’
Message received. I am a nobody.
As a 20–50 year old
Messages carelessly delivered in passing comments by my parents.
‘Oh — her daughter has just gone to university…’
‘You know Jane you were at school with — apparantly she is working in New York — with a big company…’
‘What are you doing?’ asks my father on his death bed. ‘I’m in a production of My Fair Lady with the operatic society — crowd scenes’ I answer. ‘Oh — is that all’ says my father.
Message received — I am a nobody.
This, dear reader, is what I call ‘baggage’!
I share it purely to assure you that you are not alone! The messages will vary but the feeling will be similar for many.
I share it because I have done the work — and I no longer feel like a nobody. I know how to measure my meaningful.
It took curiosity and a dollop of resilence. It took stepping away from the toxic people and places and finding the supportive ‘be you’ communities and friends.
It took all the actions listed in the mission plan above!
Tried and tested.
I will conclude as I began — with a Zeldin perspective which reminds us to stop, press pause and ramp up our curiosity. Curiosity is meaningul — and having it makes you meaningful.
Nothing limits a person more than these inherited convictions about what is possible and what is not. But history need not be seen as a final judgement on what men and women and children can do. On the contrary, it is a series of unfinished experiments, of missed turnings, of inventions ignored, where trivial accidents often diverted events into directions which have been far from inevitable. Theodore Zeldin
All things human self-belief are explored in ‘The Mystery of the Squashed Self’. Available on Amazon — or order through bookshops.
I work with clients on being visible as them — confidence growing and clarity. Ditching baggage, sharing story and practicing performance. Details at www.trishalewis.com