A Story of Meaning in the Seemingly Meaningless

The Meaningless

At one point in your life, something unexpected and sudden will push you to a course of action that you may or may not have been prepared for. Whether it be to do with school, home-life, social life or work; we all manage disruption and change. In the workplace especially, we dedicate a monumental amount of time and resources into ensuring our security. Whether we realise it or not many of us take on extra hours, emotional labour and even push ourselves in other ways to be the best employees that we can.

My story starts off with this notion in mind. Towards the end of my 1st year of university, I finally obtained a job working at a hotel as a food and beverage attendant. The job scene is extremely competitive for casual work as someone that is trying to also complete their degrees. As many students can sympathise, casual work is also usually all we can afford in terms of the resource of time. Once starting at the job, I did everything I could and strived to be the best employee possible as I understood that my position was extremely expendable. Not only this but furthermore, I figured if I played my cards right there could be opportunities to excel further in the company.

After almost a year working at the hotel, I had been trained in multiple positions, moving throughout the hotel. I asked frequently if there were more skills to learn and whether there was more responsibility to take on. My major disruption started then. At first, our General Hotel Manager resigned, a week later so did my Restaurant Manager and Head Chef, and one more week onwards so did my supervisor. Now I was prepared for the General Manager to leave, all employees were warned about all the changes that would start to happen. However, the other three were sudden and I was quickly thrown into roles I was not comfortable with and had little to no training in. I emotionally and physically exhausted myself trying my best to ensure I was on top of work, university, my social life and family obligations.

I never fully took the time to evaluate why I pushed myself so hard in this situation. By losing my work colleagues and constantly feeling as though I wasn’t achieving enough for the company; it began to have a major impact on my mental and physical health.

The Meaning

Through discovering Australian social worker, Michael White, I decided to dig deeper into my story. Michael White is best known for his practice of Narrative Therapy. His technique used storytelling to assist those of all ages to work through their childhood trauma. In his book Maps of Narrative Practice, he states “Although life is rich in lived experience, we give meaning to very little of this experience.” When I first heard this quote I couldn’t help but backtrack through many of my own stories and times where I never reflected as to why I did things certain ways.

Carr (2000) in his journal article breaks down Whites methodology in re-authoring your narrative. There are multiple steps in achieving this to find the root of your values and behaviours when reflecting on unexpected and challenging situations. Though there are several stages to the therapy practice, it can be broken down into simple steps for self-reflection. By externalising yourself the situation, you are able to view yourself separate from the story. Once you have disconnected yourself, White explains to look for the unique outcomes, a term coined by Goffman. This means finding the small details that stand out and became a small success.

For my story, I was able to pinpoint small successes such as moments of putting my foot down or explicitly explaining to the people around me that I wanted to step up and help, but required support in doing so. From this stage, you can start to thicken the narrative and look at your self motivations, values and intentions during the time of the story.

I was motivated by:

a) being terrified of saying no, in the small chance work would let me go

b) being a bit of a perfectionist and

c) wanting to still learn everything I could for my future

This gave a new outlook on not only the story I have just told you, but being able to attribute these motivations and values to other stories of my life. White explains this stage as Linking the Story to Past and Extending it to the Future. Take being at university for one, it is a large part of wanting to learn all I can for my future. Otherwise, why go to university in the first place?

Though I now recognise I was used as a pawn for blame and desperation on the companies behalf, I can now look back on the story of work and realise why I let the situation carry on for so long. I am determined and want to learn everything I can. Though it was difficult at the time I understand how I can use these motivations in a positive way from now on.

Not only do these small steps have to be done in situations in the workplace, but this exercise can be used on a tiny scale. What was something that frustrated you sometime this week? What was happening around you when you became frustrated? Why did you react the way you did? Is there a value to be found in this? Is there now meaning in the seemingly meaningless?

Narrative, although many people, including myself, immediately think of a childhood writing ability, there is so much more that you can unlock within yourself when taking a new approach. We go through life, skimming the surface of who we are and what we want to be. Maybe narrative can be a step in finding out something new about yourself or even someone else.

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