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Going Within to Create Meaning

Self-awareness as the prerequisite to meaning-making

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Source: Kiwihug/Unsplash

Can you easily create meaning from any experience?

We’ve all had experiences that are hard to process in the confines of our human minds – the kind that don’t make sense.

One of the greatest ways we can find our way through and gain resilience to grow beyond those experiences is by creating meaning from them...even when it’s hard. We take what we have been through and use it to serve a cause greater than ourselves.

Meaning-making is “the process wherein one imbues a particular event or phenomenon with a sense of personal significance whereas subjective meaningfulness reflects the experience of feeling as though something matters.”

In my work, I help people creating meaning from even the most adverse experiences by extracting and contributing what they’ve learned and fusing it into their business communication. For some, the process seems fluid and natural; for others, the journey feels strenuous and unnatural. Where some are breaking into gleeful song, others become frustrated and doubtful with the process.

When I began to question the differentiation between the two audience segments, one factor stood out: those who were more self-aware seemed more able to create meaning from past experiences (and thereby form their personal messaging) with greater ease.

While it may seem obvious that clarity of message and meaning would stem from greater clarity of self, it is the proactive and joyful attitude with which the meaning is sought out that is of significance.

In their 2018 study, “Trait self-awareness predicts perceptions of choice meaningfulness in a decision-making task,” Noam Dishon, Julian A. Oldmeadow and Jordy Kaufman investigated whether individual differences in trait self-awareness – the degree to which one possesses knowledge, insight and understanding of their internal self-related experiences – could predict meaning-making with a decision-making context.

What they discovered was that “persons higher in trait self-awareness are more likely to seek out and find meaning compared to those lower in trait self-awareness.”

When placed in a decision-making context, participants higher in trait self-awareness tended to perceive their choices as more subjectively meaningful than those lower in trait self-awareness, irrespective of condition. In addition, that meaningfulness held regardless of external feedback about choice self-relevance.

It is both empowering and healing to be able to create meaning from even our most adverse experiences and use it as a foundation for helping others realize growth in their lives. However, it is arguable that this process cannot be executed to its fullest capacity unless we begin with gaining awareness of self.

When we have taken due time to make ourselves the object of our attention and to assess our character, feelings, desires and drivers, we are better equipped to create meaning from our experiences because we know who we are and what we stand for. We have built a foundation from which we form further conversations, communication and clarity (of meaning).

Self-awareness serves as a decisive filter that allows us to make decisions and create meaning with greater ease and confidence. It allows us to choose and communicate our perceived meaning without excessive concern for external judgement, because we know that if within our personal discovery of meaning we have found undeniable value (something that reaches far beyond our personal needs), it is likely that sharing the discovery will provide value for others. This holds true especially when we frame our meaning with a bigger audience in mind, thereby touching upon something universal – an insight, trait or strategy that speaks to the needs of our global society.

While meaning-making is subjective, it is that very fact that makes it valuable. Two of us can experience the same event and extract wholly different meaning. Both contributions of meaning are important, as our perspective on the event and on life will serve the specific perspective and needs of unique audiences.

Taking the time to extract and share meaning from our experiences truly is what makes like meaningful... though before asking yourself “what can I extract and contribute from my experiences?” begin with the question “who am I and what matters to and motivates me?” When you do, there is far greater opportunity for everything you create to be consistent, clear and communicated with authentic enthusiasm.

When meaning is created in alignment with our character, passion and values, the communication of that meaning becomes amplified for our audience, allowing them to actually feel the potential for significance, resilience and contribution in their own lives... and who doesn’t want to become excited about possibility in life?


Noam Dishon, Julian A. Oldmeadow and Jordy Kaufman, "Trait self-awareness predicts perceptions of choice meaningfulness in a decision-making task" (2018)