In-between thoughts: we choose our own meaning

Thoughts in between sets at the gym.

I turned in my papers for my oral exam! Is it weird that I’m getting excited? I get to talk about my ideas for an hour and a half. I tend to do well speaking in front of people, so I even think the high-stress format might play to some of my professional strengths. In other words, I’m feeling good about having everything I need to do well. I’ll be ready to rock.

I’ve dedicated real effort over the past few weeks to reframing this event in my head and I fully believe that is what is helping me diffuse the anxiety that I was feeling pretty intensely a couple weeks ago.

COINCIDENTALLY, reframing came strongly into play in the paper I plan to make the focus of my exam. In that paper, I defend a cognitive understanding of forgiveness as an aspirational activity through which we transform ourselves from victim to forgiver. The way we do that is to revise certain of our beliefs about the harm. Not beliefs about who was responsible or about how serious the harm was (those are set), but about what the harm itself means about the future person of the wrongdoer and the future person of the aspiring forgive herself. I conclude that this makes forgiveness a powerful tool for us to make our lives and relationships what we want them to be, and is part of how we direct the course of our own internal sense of identity.

I think reframing is an incredibly powerful and transformative tool for more than just issues relevant to forgiveness. Reframing an event or situation is the way we choose what it means about us. And no one gets to make that decision for us. We get to decide what something means to us and about who we will be going forward. We get to choose how to use that meaning to influence how we act moving forward, how we will use that meaning to help define our aspirational values. Which is to say, we get to choose who we will be and reframing is part of how we do that.

To the extent we can. (Situationism, determinism, etc.)

ANYWAY, I decided to reframe my oral exam from what I initially was making it. My anxiety was a sign, to me, that I was making the event a referendum on my quality as an intellectual or scholar. I was afraid that not being welcomed into the PhD program, a possibility if I pass my oral with “distinction”, would mean I’m not “good enough” in some existential sense. I was putting far too much total meaning onto the way the professors will respond to me and far too little onto what I get to do in that scant hour and a half.

And the crazy thing is, that was all *me* putting that absurd meaning onto it! I highly doubt the professors are going into this thinking “this will determine everything we think is meaningful about Jana.” That’s ridiculous. I mean, even if they were, that’s a crappy thing to think about another person and that belief would not be worth considering or accepting on my part. It is amazing how much power we have to set and accept what things mean to us and about us.

I decided to make my exam, in my head, an opportunity for me to do what I love – talk in front of people about great ideas. And I decided to choose to keep in mind that I am damn good at that. I come across really, really well in interviews and presentations. So not only will the exam be something I genuinely can and do love to do, it is a chance for me to kick ass in the way I can and tend to do.

Doesn’t that sound so much more fun and fulfilling that thinking of it as an exam to decide my worth as a thinking person? Yeah. It does. I think I’m excited for my oral exam. This surprises and delights no one more than me.

Is my meaning in the corner of the locker room?!

1 Comment

  1. Michael C Miller says:

    On a sartorial note, might I recommend wearing your “I am the Hegel of pullups” shirt to the exam?


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