To embrace the dark side of finding our meaning and being authentic
A client of mine experienced depressive mood and anxiety due to the feeling of being trapped by his current job. He worked in an upper management position in a multinational company and enjoyed high income and social status. However, he found himself having low motivation for work in recent one year after a further promotion. The reason for his lack of motivation was the increasing office politics he needed to face in this higher position. He also needed to cope with the higher level of stress in leading some important projects that he was not interested in. He felt trapped because he needed the income to support his big family. In fact, he gradually kept asking himself what is his meaning in life.
There are many definitions of meaning in life. Some definitions include our capacity to perceive order and coherence in our existence, to achieve a sense of our own worth, to identify things that are important to us, and to direct our energy to our goals based on our values. In the example above, my client’s job did not provide him a sense of coherence in his existence. He knew that he disliked dealing with office politics and managing those projects that he was not interested. He found what he was doing is not matching with his values. Through counselling, his awareness of his motives, desires and values increased. After the enhancement of his awareness, he found his current job involvement in conflict with his authentic self. As a result, he felt depressed and anxious for continuing to work in this job.
When a person realised what one actually aspiring to do, he or she will experience pain and challenges when one’s present engagement does not coherent with one’s values. This is the dark side of finding our meaning and striving for authenticity. Letting go of the lifestyle or job that one finds irrelevant to one’s values is not easy. In fact, in the behavioural aspect, one may need to make drastic change in one’s usual activities in order to be authentic to one’s realised values. For example, when we had grown internally and transformed to a new version of the “self”, we may find the existing social groups we belonged unfulfilling or dissatisfying. We may start to feel the collective values of these social groups were different from our new evolved individual values. However, leaving these social groups requires courage and flexibility in interpersonal skills. We cannot abruptly disconnect ourselves with these social groups, but we need to strive a balance between maintaining connection and developing our individuality. Sometimes, we may face criticism when we act and think differently from the collective values of these social groups. We need to embrace this dark side when we realised our meaning in life.
There is no one correct way of coping with the situation my client was facing. Quitting his current job or continuing to stay is both possible coping. Indeed, the realisation of his meaning generated negative emotions and frustration. He needed to embrace this dark side of his realisation and the associated negative emotions related to this. When he is being able to embrace the dark side of finding his meaning and approach those associated negative feelings without avoidance, he may be able to figure out an adaptive way to cope with his ambivalent situation. One way of coping may be to quit his job and start a business relevant to his calling. This may generate anxiety and uncertainty due to leaving one’s comfort zone. With persistence and grit, he may be able to live a life with authenticity and have a personal transformation. Another way of coping may be to stay in his current job and try to find meaning in other sources, such as relationships, self-transcendence, other achievements, or spirituality, relevant to his values and meaning. At the same time, he may also enhance his resilience in coping with office politics and manage those important projects that he was not interested in.
Our sense of identity and our meaning in life may keep changing and growing throughout our lives. The dark side of this evolution is our emotional reactions in the face of the mismatch of our current lives with our evolved values. By embracing this dark side and the call for a change, we may have great transformation and positive growth.