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Identifying your meaning 

by Tyvon Foster

Life has many meanings to many different people. Usually, these meanings can range from a more nihilistic or cynical perspective to a more optimistic approach. But in my experience as a practicing therapist, I have noticed that many people struggle with identifying meaning in their own lives. To be completely honest, many people have never been told or exposed to the idea that they have inherent value and meaning.

Some people may find the concept a bit…… cliched. I have had some clients during session note that the expression of “developing meaning” isn’t truly helpful or even genuine for that matter. However, allow me to offer some insight on how identifying your meaning in life is fundamental to reaching your highest potential, and, by extension, create fulfillment.

My personal and professional experience has allowed me to view what tends to matter most to people. An example would be family, however in the context of this piece, it is utility. We have a fundamental need to feel that we are valued and accepted members in our families and communities. We tend to “feel good” about ourselves when we are resourceful for others. One of the common emotional experiences of people who deal with depression are feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, self loathing, etc. What I have found, is that when people (and their cohorts) are unaware of their utility, skill set, and capabilities, it leads to nihilism, resentment, and bitterness. Why? Because essentially the underlining belief or message is that they do not have worth or value.

So what is the remedy? Although there are multiple methods to arrive to a similar conclusion, what I encourage is not to explore what brings you joy, but to explore how you can be of great utility to the lives and well being of others. Why should this approach be worth the effort? An example can be drawn from my clinical experience (as well as personal). I have found that when someone adopts this approach, takes responsibility, and be of great utility to theirselves and others, their negative moods and cognitions subside. There’s an almost instantaneous shift in paradigms which influences positive behavior changes. It is in this approach that you are seeing first hand what you’re capable of and how the work you have provided is a necessity in improving the lives of others. To put it in another way, you will see why you have inherent worth and value because you will see a direct connection between your work (utility) and your work’s influence. In turn, the natural progression would lead to higher self esteem and motivation, to name a few.

Being suggested to be of great utility to achieve meaning is easier said than done (another cliche). However below, I provided examples of how to, at the very least, get started:

1) Inquire what your natural proclivities are and why they are meaningful to you.

2) Explore how those proclivities can be manifested into something that will be of great benefit, or how those natural leanings can be utilized to improve quality of life (for yourself and others).

3) Identify and pursue a long term objective that is measurable.

4) Identify any aspects of your personality and/or personal relationships that you deem faulty and ask yourself what can you do to improve the quality.

5) Clean your closet before telling the world why it is imperfect.

6) Be patient with yourself and your growth

7) Inquire what do you care about so much, you would you dedicate your life to and how to transform that into a career.