Are You Making Meaning?

Posted by on Mar 28, 2016 | One Comment

Young woman holding hand on her neck. Neck pain concept

Have 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 who graduate with a theatre degree are able to make a living wage working their craft, you would think someone would be talking about strategies to leverage the skills we were learning, and how to make  a viable living beyond waiting tables and temp’ing.  But no.  Nobody talked about it.  Ever.  It was as if simply having the discussion was taboo.

About 10 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.  Following the session, very nice German theatre professor said to me, “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.  It 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.  They often lose confidence in themselves, struggle with depression and emotional paralysis, because they don’t allow themselves to choose anything differently (or they beat 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 than “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. 

We stay in careers that are no longer a good fit because of what it would mean.

We follow a prescribed career track because of what it would mean.

We hold back our ideas, opinions, and concerns because of what it would mean.

Parents who would like to stay home with their kids, don’t, because of what it would mean.

Mothers who would like to go back to work, don’t, because of what it would mean.

We don’t admit what we don’t know, because of what it would mean.

We don’t set boundaries, because of what it would mean.

We hold on to friendships we’ve outgrown, because of what it would mean.

We do what everyone else is doing – go to the right schools, join the right clubs, buy the right house, take the right job, put our kids in the right activities, rather than crafting our own path in life because of what it would mean.

It might mean we don’t have what it takes.  It might mean we’re not a good person.  It might mean we’re a quitter.  It might mean we’re not successful.  It might mean we don’t care.  It might mean we’re selfish.  It might mean we’re not good enough.

What if it doesn’t mean anything at all?

Consider, if you take the meaning out of it, you can make a powerful choice that will serve you better.


How might meaning be preventing you from making the best choices for yourself, for your organization, and for your family?  It’s worth giving some thought.

Because there is power in choice.


©OnStage Leadership, 2016

If you are interested in attending OnStage Leadership in NYC on May 16, 2016 (half-full), in Dallas (Fall – date tbd – session is already half-full),  or NYC (Fall – date tbd) please notify us of your interest.  Sessions are filled on a first-come basis and limited to 12 participants.

KimberKimberly-Davis-Headshot-20142ly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop.  Click here to read what people are saying!  If you’re interested in more information, or in having Kimberly come speak to your group on topics around Authentic Leadership, Influence, Presence, Engagement, Purpose in the workplace, Presentation Skills, or being BRAVE at work, we’d love to hear from you!

If you haven’t had a chance, check out my recent Tedx talk  or my interview with Alise Cortez on Voice of America’s Working on Purpose Channel:  Bringing Our True and Best Selves to Work:  Cultivating Authentic Leadership with Kimberly Davis.

1 Comment

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