In-Between Thoughts 3.11.19: Meaning-making

I did sumo deadlifts today! I am enjoying this lift so far. It really targets the glutes and inner thighs, so it’s slightly different-feeling than my regularly-scheduled deadlifts. I’ve had the same routine for a while now, so even this little modification is a nice, invigorating change. Now onto thinking thoughts of the thinker variety…

There has just been too much of “stuff” and “life” these past two months. My poor brain has been on overdrive in every possible way — professionally, intellectually, emotionally. Yesterday I took that burnout seriously and spent a day doing… nothing. I went for a run. Grocery shopped for the week. Showered and sat my butt on the couch and watched Marvel movies. I tried but found I couldn’t even read! It was a pretty intense exhaustion that only rest seemed to help.

At first I thought, “why don’t I do this more often? Why don’t I make time for rest at least once a month?”

Then the anxiety hit. Doing nothing just allowed all the bad thoughts, bad mental habits, subconscious-but-always-ready-to-burst-forth thoughts to bubble up to the surface and take over my conscious thoughts. And suddenly I remembered why I have such a hard time resting. 

But I don’t think just “avoiding/resisting anxiety” is the total answer as to why I have a hard time resting. I think part of it concerns with what I think makes life, my life, meaningful.

That bout of anxiety and my realization of how I tend to obsessively max out my brain capacity is making me think about how I’m building and framing the meaning-making in my life. I pursue my extracurricular projects (fitness, piano, writing, podcasting, Masters degree) precisely because I want my life to be meaningful. They are not essentially pleasurable. They have pleasant aspects, absolutely, but they are definitely more work than pleasure. Rather, these efforts are essentially meaningful or meaning-making to me. Which makes me think through what I value as meaningful, or what I am pursuing as being meaningful, or as contributing to the meaning I am making in my life. I know how I have articulated the meaning I pursue in the past, but I wonder if that is the REAL answer to the question. What if my past answer is just one I made up because it sounds good? What if the way I answer that question is part of how I “project” myself into exhaustion and a failure to avoid anxiety?

Or — and this is a big possibility — maybe I just don’t know myself all that well.

So here is my attempt to be fully honest about the meaning I am currently trying to build in my life, either driven by conscious values or subconscious insecurities. After thinking through how I spend my free time, what I prioritize, and what gives me all the feels (of the good and bad variety), here is what I think I value (value in the intentionally living out sense) as meaningful:

1. Intellectual growth. If there is anything unique about the human species, it’s our brains. This is where meaning is made, and only in the context of a more evolved brain like ours can meaning even be made. I think there is a wealth of meaning to be made in using our brains to discover new truths, think better, love better, be healthier.

2. Making people’s lives happier. I want to make a happy impact on others, in as many situations as I can. That can be as small as a genuine smile, as relationship-building as a sincere apology or a concentrated listen, or as big as adopting a child in need of a loving home.

3. Being well-thought of. Oof. I wish it weren’t the case, but it matters deeply to me that I am well-thought of. Does this influence the strength of my passion for #2? Probably. Is it a wholly bad thing? No. (It’s natural and biological.) But I do need to make sure it doesn’t dominate my other values, that it doesn’t determine what I see as being meaningful about my life.

4. Being interesting. I always want to be doing something that those around me aren’t. This fuels my project-aholism. I do have a variety of interests, but I don’t want to pursue them for anything else than them as worthwhile, enjoyable, and meaningful in themselves. 

These are all meaningful ends to me because they contribute to my own happiness. I’m not thrilled with all of them, but recognizing all of them is a good starting point. I mean, now comes the hard part. It’s hard to rewire ourselves to be happy with different things. I don’t know that I need to completely rewire myself here, but it’s good to see honestly what I view — rightly and wrongly — as contributing most to my real, deep, authentic, healthy happiness. It’s also interesting to see what’s missing. (I will keep that observation to myself.) Ultimately, I need to continue to evaluate where I am finding my meaning and work on focusing my meaning-making on the places and efforts that truly influence my well-being and the well-being of those closest to me.

This man and our life together is my meaning-making. Sometimes it really is that simple.

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