Zvi Bellin, PhD, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Rotating Header Image

Meaning Blog: Diversify your Meaning Portfolio

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I am currently reading a memoir entitled, Impaired: A Nurse’s Story of Addiction and Recovery, by Patricia HolloranAs the title suggests, the book is about a nurse’s struggle with addiction to a common narcotic given to women in labor. More than this, the book highlights the determination needed for an honest recovery and the rigmarole Patricia had to do in order to keep her nursing license. It is so clear how being a nurse is essential to the meaning framework of the author. She calls it her, “first love,” and the thought of losing this identity seems to be her catalyst to seriously deal with her addiction.

As I read about the great importance that the author places on her career, I wonder about a cultural change in Western society. It used to be that a person could find themselves in a career in their mid- to late twenties and settle into a warm fuzzy feeling of purpose. Perhaps this was not exactly the case, but, growing up it was presented to me as a clear goal for reaching adulthood. Lately, we find that young people do not jump into a clear career path and there are even movements in Vocational Psychology which suggest that we should drop the term “career” from our vocabulary and talk instead about a work path – which pays attention to job changes, home responsibilities, and volunteer work in one’s community. This switch creates the possibility of gleaning a sense of meaning from a wider range of activity. We no longer have to base our sense of meaning around one identifier: the long-term career.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find that adults who were in long-term careers are getting pushed out by a multitude of reasons, only to find that they are not ready for retirement. These individuals are finding that there is still a meaningful life to be had beyond the office walls.

It seems to me that we are learning to diversify our meaning portfolio, so we have a greater chance of experiencing a stable and sustainable sense of meaning throughout the twists and turns of life.

I believe that the fear to embrace this change in reality is what causes many of us to become addicted to our jobs. We easily get caught in the following story: If I do not have this job, than what will I ever do with myself! (This “job” can also be unpaid, such as being a parent or a grandparent.) This story can actually limit a full exploration of one’s deepest potential and desires. I do think that this goes beyond privileged individuals, as people of lesser means, at least in the USA, also live within a story of limitations which is kept in place by fear.

If we can see beyond this fear, that our life story is actually not bound by the single narrative that we exist in, and that a myriad of alternative possibilities are constantly knocking at our door , we can actually embrace the dynamics of Life with excitement. So, a challenge that I invite you to undertake is to consider how you can diversify your meaning portfolio. If you see that you are putting all your eggs in one meaning basket, it might be a good idea to consider and expand upon the more subtle meaning potentials in your life.


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