Is Meaning Getting in the Way?

Posted by on Feb 14, 2014 | 6 Comments

bigstock-Moral-Compass-43526410Have you ever thought about what determines the way you define yourself and the choices you make?

I remember when I was in college studying theatre, the only career option that was discussed was becoming a professional actor.  Yes, I get that we were studying theatre, but in a profession in which only 2% of people graduating with a theatre degree are able to make a living wage working their craft, you would think someone would be talking about back-up-plans that could leverage the skills we were learning and how to make  a viable living beyond waiting tables and temping.  But no.  Nobody talked about it.  Ever.  It was as if simply having the discussion was taboo.

About 7 years ago, before the birth of OnStage Leadership, I had actually put together a session around the “Transferability of Theatre Off Stage”, recognizing that the skills I learned in the theatre were the most valuable skills I used.  I was accepted to speak on the topic at International Theatre Conference in Bovec, Slovenia, to a group of theatre students and theatre educators from around the world.  During the session they were all very nice and participatory as they looked at me like I had three horns on my head.  A very nice German theatre professor said to me, following the session, “It was interesting, Kimberly.  But actors don’t want to think about doing anything but theatre.”  Several months later I took the same session to the largest Theatre Educator’s Conference in the US.  I spent hundreds of dollars on handouts and travel expenses.  My PowerPoint slides were flawless.  I was ready!  Nobody showed up to the session.  Not one person.  They simply didn’t want to have the conversation.

As I stewed on “What happened?  Why did nobody come?” I realized that I was up against something far bigger than theatre people simply not wanting to discuss the value of their skills.  I was challenging deeply held beliefs that rocked the core of how they defined themselves in the world.  In the theatre, there is no choosing to leave.  You either make it or you don’t.  You’re either a success or a failure.  Special or not special.  It’s very black and white.  In a world of such fierce competition – that requires extraordinary devotion and commitment in the face of overwhelming rejection – to even engage in the conversation about stopping means that you’ve failed.  Means that you are a failure.  To stop isn’t an option because of what it means about you.

Some of the most brilliant, gifted, collaborative, insightful, creative, intuitive men and women often stay with a theatre career long past loving it.  They’ll minimize their abilities and earning potential, taking low-wage jobs to survive.  Losing their confidence in themselves, struggling with depression and emotional paralysis, not allowing themselves to choose anything differently (or  beating themselves up if they venture to think about anything other than theatre) because of what it would mean about them.

Standing on the other side of it, having left the theatre world and found my way to what, for me personally, is even more fulfilling, I can see that this belief is completely flawed.  That there were always more options that just “all in” or “failure” – that one could actually choose to do something else and it didn’t mean anything about you other than you simply made a different choice.

I think we all do this from time to time and it keeps us from being as powerful as we can be.  We hold on to our beliefs of where we have to be, or what we have to do, or what we can’t do because of what it would mean about us.  It would mean we “don’t have what it takes”.  It would mean we’re “not a good person”.  It would mean we’re “a quitter”.  It would mean we’re “not successful”.  It would mean we “don’t care”.  It would mean we’re “not good enough”.

What if it doesn’t mean anything at all?

I found myself bumping into this whole “what would in mean” thing this week, realizing that it was getting in the way of me being my most powerful self.  On Thursday, after our vacation plans blew up due to the winter storm, I found myself hyper-focused on putting all the pieces of my dream-trip back together and it was 9pm before I realized that I hadn’t written a blog.  What did that mean about me?  Was I not as committed as I should be?  Was I a “bad-blogger”?

And on Sunday (knock on wood) we will finally be getting on our re-re-scheduled flight to Costa Rica.  Costa Rica!  This is a bucket-list-trip that I’ve been waiting to take forever.  And again the the whole blogging-issue was causing distress.  I am committed to blogging.  I blogged on our vacation to Maine.  I’ve blogged when my family visited.  I blogged over the holidays.  For the most part, true to Jerry Seinfeld’s string-of -X’s-theory, I’ve stayed the course.  I’ve been a woman on a mission.  I want to help people stay connected to their best selves and do what I can to make that happen.  I don’t want to let people down.  I don’t want to let myself down.

But I’m also human.  Stuff like snow storms come up.  Does it have to mean something about me if I miss a day?  How might it change my experience if I take the meaning out of it?

And I’m a woman with a family.  A grateful and humble woman who has been given the extraordinary opportunity to explore a magical corner of the world with people I love.  I want to be present for this experience.   What does it mean about me, if I choose to put my blog on “pause” while I’m away?

When the emotional dust of it all settled I realized that…it means nothing.

And in taking the meaning out of it I can make a powerful choice that will serve me better.  Instead of being a stressed out, not-present, not-terribly-effective-blogger, I will be a rested, revitalized woman-on-a-mission with even more to share upon my return.  No regrets.  Choice.

Take a look at the “meanings” you’re making.  How might they be effecting your experience?  Eroding your confidence?   If you take the meaning out of it, how might that change things?

How might meaning be preventing you from making the best choices for yourself, for your organization, and for your family?  Because there is power in choice.

Examining the meaning we’re making is critical if we’re committed to bring our best, most powerful self to our work and our life.  It’s not easy to do – it takes courage to challenge the way we’re looking at the world.  But I suspect as I’m hiking through the jungle looking for two-toed sloths and toucans and howling monkeys with my handsome husband and curious little boy by my side, I’ll be glad that I’m not worried about getting my blog out!

(“See” you when I get back!)

©OnStage Leadership, 2013;  Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop.  If you found this helpful, interesting, thought-provoking, or inspiring please “recommend”, “Like” and share.  It is only through your generosity that we can reach those who may find it valuable too.


  1. Cathy Woodson
    February 14, 2014

    Hi Kimberly, as I was reading this, I was reminded how I felt when I was a caregiver to my “soul” sister, working a full-time job, taking care of a home, husband and family. When I finally figured out that how I was feeling (which was not being good at anything) was a choice I was making, I was able to feel better about myself. Feeling better about myself made me a better wife, mother, caregiver and employee because I chose to feel differently.

    Here are two affirmations I have posted on my refrigerator as a reminder:

    “Caregiving (caregiving can be interchanged with whatever your challenge is) is not easy. It takes courage, strength, and compassion to do what I do. I am not always perfect, but I do a lot and I am trying to be helpful.” And…

    “I am not lazy. Sometimes I don’t do as much as I could, but that doesn’t mean I am lazy. I work hard and do the best I can. Even I need a break sometimes.”

    Thank you, yet again, for your insightful thought provoking writing. I don’t know if you can realize how it touches people and how it applies to our individual worlds.

    I am wishing you the absolute happiest memory filled vacation break!

  2. Laura Jugan
    February 14, 2014

    This post really struck a chord in me. I think a lot of people feel the same about “giving up” on a career or industry that they have worked so long and hard to get into. I know I had a lot of mixed emotions about leaving my job to start down a new path.

    You’re point about the meaning we give to decisions or events in our lives is really insightful. So many times we have an idea about what is “right” or “wrong” that we try to stick to things that maybe don’t make sense anymore in our current situation. Looking at the bigger picture and re-framing the meaning can really make a big difference in the way we feel about something.

    I really enjoy reading your posts and I’m sure that you and your family have an amazing time in Costa Rica!

  3. Kip
    February 14, 2014

    Bravo! And enjoy every moment.

  4. Kimberly
    February 14, 2014

    Cathy, Laura, and Kip – thank you so much for your thoughtful posts. I really appreciate you sharing your experiences, Cathy and Laura. You know this topic has me really re-evaluating how I’m looking at myself in so many areas of my life and your posts have helped me delve even deeper into my thinking. What really stuck with me, from what both of you have shared, is one of the keys is to be compassionate with ourselves through the process. Isn’t it interesting that the “meaning” we make is almost always more critical of ourselves than we need to be?
    I’m grateful to all of you. Thank you for sharing this journey with me.

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