Introducing Meaning Mondays

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

-Annie Dillard

Happy New Year!

My holiday was refreshing, but it’s also nice to be back in my cozy blogging cockpit. My engines are revved up and I feel ready to fly into 2010.

So. We made it. Another year. Another decade. For me it’s a particularly interesting time.

Not just another year, but the beginning of my second year writing this blog. Not just another decade, but the beginning of my second decade in business as a counselor and coach.

I had no special plan when I started blogging a year ago. Looking back, I didn’t even expect many readers. At first I just put my head down and concentrated on the words, and after about nine months discovered I’d captured that elusive writing practice I’d been hunting for so long.

Right about then I decided to stretch my legs and venture out into the blogosphere. What a surprise that was! It just knocked my socks off to discover such heartfelt, funny, wise, beautiful, soulful, ardent, and wistful writings at every turn. Needless to say, it was a tremendous learning experience.

I guess I’ve always had this tendency to start things with a bit of knowledge and a vague road map.

Sometimes forging ahead. Other times falling flat on my face. But I’ve been lucky, because the path eventually leads to those who inspire me. And that’s certainly been the case with blogging.

It was a lot like that when I opened my doors to my first clients 10 years ago too. Of course, I knew a few things about human development, personal growth, self-identity, life transition, creativity, and counseling.

And even though I was pretty wet behind the ears, I was certain there was a movement simmering, a collective yearning for meaning ready to burst into a rocking and rolling boil at any moment.

In fact, early in the decade I wrote an article for the Sacramento Bee, after the dot-com bubble burst but before 9/11 hit. Here’s what I said about meaning back then:

Meaning is a word that makes everyone’s heart beat a little faster these days. Whatever else the 21st century may bring, so far it appears to be a time in which people are seeking more meaning. And in spite of challenging times, they seem more willing to follow their hearts to find a story that fits.

So the first part, I got that right. It played out in hundreds of conversations with clients about what they needed more of in their lives. And throughout the past 10 years, as these courageous souls sorted through their values to determine what truly mattered, one word came up again and again, more than any other:


Yes, the yearning was most decidedly there. It was alive, sitting across from me with a beating heart and a buttoned up roar.

But the second part, the part about being willing to follow the call of meaning and live its story? Well, that’s the part I needed to learn about. Because in those early days I naively supposed that if a person could identify it and name it, then the rest would be simple.

I thank my clients for setting me straight on that. For teaching me that we human beings are beautifully flawed. That life does not come together like the recipe for a favorite cookie. And that any time we embark on a serious transition, we’ll undoubtedly be greeted by some old friends:

Resistance. Fear. Doubt. Worry. Comparing. Shoulds. Societal and Cultural Expectations. And my new favorite, IF ONLY.

Lately I’ve been thinking that in spite of our yearning for meaning, we sometimes use IF ONLY to unconsciously defer it in our lives. I’ve even got a theory percolating about this: When we focus too much on the big vision meaning making (BVMM for short), we in turn bypass the small vision meaning making available to us right now (SVMM for short).

And since the BVMM takes more time and effort, we end up feeling baffled and confused, unable to get much traction in our lives. It goes something like this:

  • If only I could do work I love (BVMM), then I would have energy to volunteer at the local food bank (SVMM)
  • If only I had a life partner (BVMM), then I would be able to take weekend trips (SVMM)
  • If only I had an organized life (BVMM), then I would be able to take my kids to the park (SVMM)
  • If only I had a thriving relationship (BVMM), then I would feel motivated to start painting again (SVMM)
  • If only I could lose weight (BVMM), then I would sign up for karate lessons (SVMM)

But again, I find inspiration here from my wise clients. Because over the years I’ve noticed that those who get good at lavishing time and attention on the small vision meaning making actually have far greater success birthing the big visions into the real world.

I’m not sure why. Maybe it minimizes the influence of those old friends I mentioned earlier. Very likely it increases optimism and a sense of possibility. And most certainly, it brings momentum and a feeling of life well lived.

Whatever the case, I am inspired to experiment with this new theory as I head into a second year of blogging. Although I’ve written at length about meaning making, now I want to actually do something with it.

Because as much as I care about meaning, I sometimes struggle to sustain it in my own life. And I know I’m not alone.

So starting next week, I’ll share a personal meaning making story with you every Monday.


Each week I’ll focus on a small activity, ritual, adventure, or experience that will enhance the meaning in my own life. And if you feel inspired to do the same, so much the better.

In fact, what if we could create a community of small vision meaning makers? Wouldn’t that be something?

What do you think?


33 thoughts on “Introducing Meaning Mondays

  1. You make a great point in this post about how we put arbitrary conditions on things that will make us happy or help us grow as people. Most of the time, these conditions don’t even make sense if we stop to think about them; we just use them as excuses not to make a commitment to action.

    2010 for me is a year of action, of making many little meanings in pursuit of some very big goals. Looking forward to hearing about your experiences!

    • Hey Jeffrey – Nice to see you over here! You’re right, those conditions don’t make much sense and are pretty arbitrary, but I’m not so sure we consciously use them as excuses. I think they operate at a deeper unconscious level, part of a repeating archetypal story. Because, let’s face it, we’ve all been there. But it sounds like you’re surging past them right now, so I’m excited to hear about your little/big meaning making as the year unfolds.

  2. Great to be reading your inspiring words again, Patty. I have a friend who I have an if-only running joke with. She and I are both in the fund raising world and we joke that if only we were independently wealthy, we wouldn’t have to work so hard raising it. So yes, I’m very familiar with it as well as the other old friends you mention.

    Meaning is such a rich subject and I’m thrilled that you’re officially taking it on! I’ve learned (and very often forget and re-learn again) that the opportunity for meaning making is everywhere, everyday. It’s in the beginning, the process, the distractions, the unplanned events, and even in the mundane things. The question for me is whether or not I’m paying attention.

    I’m loving the idea of creating an SVMM community!

    • Thanks, Belinda, so nice to be back in the saddle and hearing from my blogging buddies. Good story about your personal “if only!” And I love what you say about forgetting and relearning. That’s so true. I’m convinced it’s a life long journey for me. I’ll probably never arrive. But that’s okay. Because maybe it’ll be easier to pay attention, as you say, if we’re all in this together!

  3. Hi Patty, what a great, well-thought out article! I really enjoyed reading this. Meaning in a great topic to discuss, and I look forward to your future posts on this topic.

    I think you make an excellent distinction about big vision and the small vision meaning making. The big vision appears to be when you have “it”, whatever “it” is, and the small vision is actually creating meaning, daily, and LIVING it. While having a big vision that drives us can be a very motivating thing, it appears we miss some of the best life has to offer by neglecting the small vision meaning. Also, I think that when people really think about it, often their “big vision” is really just a symbol for things that they can have in their lives in the present, rather than in some far off future. You know what I mean?

    I wrote a post in that line of thinking a while back, called “Put Your Dreams into Your Routines (Simply).” Basically, it’s about really looking at those “Big Vision” things, (and undoing the “if-then” and “only if” thinking), breaking those big visions apart and seeing what they contain or represent, and consciously creating those things in your life, now.

    Miche 🙂

    • Hi Miche – Welcome! I’m so glad you stopped by, and thanks much for your wonderful comment. I do know exactly what you mean, and I’m ecstatic that you’ve pointed this out about BIG VISIONS. You bet they often represent something we need and can have right now, but since the vision comes from a deeper place within us, it can be confusing to try to translate it. Often we don’t even get around to doing that, because our ego wants to concretize things. It does that well and I respect that. (I don’t believe ego is bad, but sometimes too much in control). So, for instance, if I have a vision to live by the ocean, my ego encourages me to run off and do it, when really I need it to step aside for a moment so I can work with that imagery: the deeper waters, the infiniteness of the sea. All point to me wanting to have a deeper relationship with life itself, with my soul, if you will. Living by the ocean is nice, but not a necessity in this case.

      Thank you for reminding me of this. For years I’ve been doing an activity with clients where we look underneath the dream, so I’m really looking forward to reading the post you mention. Cheers right back to you, Miche!

  4. Patty,

    This is a great post to kick off a new year. I enjoyed it. Also, I am ever so pleased that you “had this tendency to start things with a bit of knowledge and a vague road map.” I would call that following your intuition:~)

    It will fun to see how Meaning Mondays will unfold. You are so right about how the big vision can block our view of the small visions we can do right now. I’ll have to give some thought about this and see which of my BVMMs are keeping me from my SVMMs. Thanks:~)

  5. Oh, that’s great, Sara, that you’re going to look at your own BVMM vs. SVMM equation. You know I’m operating on an untested theory here, so the more help I can get illuminating it, the better! And thank you so much for your comment and your reframe of my somewhat haphazard game plans into intuition. I love that!

  6. Hi, first time reader.

    Liked your distinction between BVMM and SVMM. I reckon We live our lives as stories – but our cultural stories have the pattern of suffering, then reward. We even teach our children this ‘story’ – eat your vegetables, and then you can have ice cream.

    What if our stories were to have the nice bits every day, enjoy them, and then “Oh! Look!” we have actually achieved our big reward by lots of tiny non-suffering steps! Not as easy to comprehend as the suffering/reward cycle, but not as likely to result in unhappiness either.

    • Hi there – Welcome! Love what you say about the suffering/reward story we learn so early in life from society, family, culture. It’s such a deep archetypal story, and I notice we often become so possessed by it that life becomes mostly about suffering and scarcity, with little reward or happiness. Kind of like that saying: “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” But we do have the power to tell a different story, change the plot, reclaim some of that innocence we start off with in the world. Thanks so much for your insightful comment, and so glad to have you visit.

  7. Hi Patty! If you start some SVMM group, let me know! I’m in!

    Great points in this post. I think the people that are able to have their heads/hearts/attitudes in the right place are fabulous SVMM people – and funny thing, as you said, they are also pretty darned good at the big ones! I think we could all be better at the small ones, just like taking one step at a time (baby steps) with enough regularity it becomes a way of life.

    My aunt has a lovely voice mail recording that says “Expect a Miracle Today!” and it makes me smile whenever I hear her say that. She is only lady that really does, and ya know what? She has them!

    • Now that’s a thought, isn’t it? It might be fun to formalize this SVMM experiment. What do you think? And I’m so glad you mentioned baby steps. I’m laughing because I’m remembering one of my favorite movies, “What About Bob?” and his proclamation, “I’m baby stepping!” But it’s so true, isn’t it? And it works. There’s a reason why we resonate with that statement, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” What a great role model your aunt is – expect it and it will happen! Thanks so much for bringing your always wise, always zestful self over my way, SuZen. p.s. I’ll ponder the group idea.

  8. Hey Patty. I enjoyed reading this post. Like you, I did not expect many readers my first few months blogging. In fact, I got my first comment after writing for six months. I like your perseverance through all the tough times and I like your idea of “meaningful Mondays” where you share a part of your personal life experiences with the crowd. Thanks for this; it is a very nice inspiration to start of the new year.

    • Hi Hulbert – Welcome! I’m delighted you stopped by, and it’s nice to know someone else has a similar experience to mine. I was pretty clueless when I started blogging. I didn’t even know until three months ago that there were blogging communities. I just thought it was one big free for all. But it’s been fun to learn more and actually develop a conversation with people like you. So thanks much for your kind words, and I look forward to visiting your blog.

  9. Hi Patty, isn’t it wonderful to return after a break. It is full on summer here so we have all the big wonderful things at once, Crhistmas and our summer holidays.
    What I see is that bigger visions can be so scary and so way out there that they paralyze me and then give me excuses not to do anything as the small things do not count as they will never get me to the big one anyway.
    Oh the mind and its trickery.
    For me it has been important to feel my BVMM as coming from my heart as the ones coming from my mind are normally not worth pursuing anyway.
    So I have learned to feel them rather than to just articulate them.
    And I have to learned that how you spend your day SVMM is how you spend you life and that has been painful and comforting at teh same time.
    Painful when I see my days being wasted and comforting to know that I can see from my daily doing if I am on track.

    • Hi Wilma – Leave it to you to add that important bit of wisdom! You’re so right, there’s a big difference between articulating those visions and actually feeling them. Because life, at its deepest, is certainly a felt experience rather than a thought experience. So I hear you bringing all your heart and soul to your visions. Lovely. And oh yeah, Annie Dillard’s quote is certainly a corker, isn’t it? (See, I’m learning your slang!) It does remind us of both the pang of pain for what has not been and the warmth of comfort when we get to end of the day and can say, “I really lived that one.” Thanks so much, Wilma.

  10. First of all Congratulations on your first year! I feel the same about all the wonderful people we meet. I loved reading about your clients and how you feel about them. I think we learn as much from them as they do from us. Just different stuff.

    I like how Miche says Put your dreams in your routines. I just love the sound of that. So that’s my plan because I get freaked out like Wilma does.

    Happy blog birthday and let’s rock 2010.

    • Hi Tess – Thanks so much! It is amazing how much we learn from one another, isn’t it? I’ve been inspired by others too many times to count. And yep, putting dreams into routines sounds good to me too. So it should be a year full of adventure and meaning. Nice to to know we’re all rocking it together.

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