What am I making this mean?

A few weeks ago on a Friday night in lockdown, my flatmates and I sat down to watch a webinar by Carolyn Elliot, all about embracing our shadow sides.

In it she introduced the term ‘Hermeneutics’ — the study of how we make meaning out of things. Anything that happens to us can be interpreted in a myriad of ways, and it’s up to us to decide what the story is.

I noticed how often my default setting is to choose a meaning that is unsupportive and disempowering to me.

For example, when I receive unsolicited advice about my business.

For as long as I can remember when people have offered up their ideas it’s made me feel really shit.

eg. You should launch this course. You should make that into a book. You should hire someone to do that for you. You should get a part time job to help your finances.

Of course, it’s natural that when we’re given advice out of turn it can be a little annoying, but I would feel totally exasperated, filled with hopelessness and rage.

What was I making it mean when someone made a suggestion?

I am not working hard or fast enough and should be much further along by now.

I am not reaching my potential and this person thinks I’m a failure.

I must be terrible at running a business, or they wouldn’t have to intervene.

This person knows more than me and therefore I must not trust myself and trust them instead.

Of course these interpretations were going to feel rubbish, and what usually followed was taking action to put their suggestions in place, rather than actually check whether their advice resonated.

Recently I challenged myself to see what else I could make it mean when someone gives advice. What about:

This person sees potential in me and wants me to do well.

This person feels inspired by what I’m doing and it’s stimulating them to think of new ideas.

This person cares about me and wants to help me.

I’m surrounded by mentors and coaches who really know their stuff.

And what if it also meant… nothing about me at all? Perhaps their advice was about what they’d want for them in my position, rather than what’s right for me.

So you see, there are SO many interpretations of every event. For now I’m choosing to see people giving me advice as them being excited by my work - and that feels supportive and calm. I don’t have to feel pressure to follow the advice, I can feel encouraged by their engagement in what I’m working on.

Another one for me as a freelancer is what I make it mean when I earn less money one month.

In the past I have made it mean:

‘I am a failure.’

‘I’m not working hard enough.’

‘No-one wants to work with me.’

‘I’m rubbish with money.’

But I could make it mean that I’m working in an industry that has been decimated by a global pandemic and the fact I’ve earned anything that month is flipping amazing.

Or, the fact that I even know how much I’ve earned could mean that I am doing really well with my finances. There were early years of my career where I never even opened my bank account, let alone knew how much was in there. The fact that I know the figure means a) I’m on top of my money b) I can take steps to change it.

So a lower income month can mean failure, celebration, a reminder to be compassionate, or to take action — or all or none of the above.
And we get to choose.

In every moment we can choose again.

This is not to say that sometimes things don’t have more sinister undertones that need to be looked at. Of course. But day-to-day when we find ourselves defaulting to an unhelpful belief, we can pause and open up to something else being true this time, and watch how everything around shifts to support THAT belief instead.

What situations have you experienced this week, which you attributed unsupportive meaning to? What else could you make it mean?

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Sarah Weiler

I’m a multi-passionate TEDx speaker, writer, coach, framework-fanatic, quitting researcher & ukulelista/composer. www.sarahweiler.com // tinyletter.com/Carousel