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Weaving Positive Meaning

Many of us tend to be meaning-seekers, wanting to be a positive influence in our world. Meaning is the fuel that keeps us going, what gives our life flavor, richness and purpose—what makes ourlife worth living.

What we pursue, how we invest our waking hours, what fills our dreams, even whether we have dreams at all, makes a critical difference in our quality of life and even our health.

And for many, many reasons (I am sure you can name a few!), corrections is the type of work that challenges staff deep and hard regarding the creation and maintenance of positive meaning. In the field of corrections, positive meaning does not grow freely on trees all on its own while you are sleeping. Rather, it requires persistent breaking of fallow ground, digging rocks out of the soil, fertilizing and watering, and pulling stubborn weeds that make a comeback seemingly overnight.  It also requires coming back and doing this again and again after periods of drought, heat waves, storms and freezing cold.

Creating positive meaning in corrections, and hanging on to it day after day and year after year, is nothing less than heroic. It requires learning to see courageously with new eyes. It requires to relentlessly keep sifting, looking for grains of gold in the mud of a river bed. For they are there, waiting to be found.

For many years now I have seen that staff flourish when they learn to infuse even routine or menial work with positive significance. These workers learn to not take themselves too seriously, to not fall in love with their image or power or what others think of them, and to do their job to the best of their ability on any given day.

The ones I’ve seen doing gloriously are those who have learned to find goodness and beauty, and to be thankful (and even grateful) for little things and big things and everything in between — even for things that do not look good and that are hard to be thankful for at first.  These are the ones who have also learned to forgive and to keep going after hard times.

So, how do you go about creating positive meaning for yourself?

Here are some suggestions.

  • Look for the beauty in the gift of every moment.
  • Tap into what inspires you to be the best you can be.
  • Remember the ones you are providing for by doing this work.
  • Actively contribute to the welfare of others and the common good.
  • Remember that you are afforded the opportunity to influence people’s lives, communities, and even generations to come through your work, choices and actions.
  • Relish the pursuit of acts of courage, civility and integrity.
  • Celebrate every shred of progress in yourself and others. (Ban Perfectionism!)
  • Aim to influence coworkers and offenders positively through your professionalism, integrity and ethics.
  • Model behaviors you want to see in others.
  • Seek input from others who have what you want.
  • Seek honest feedback from colleagues with whom you interact frequently.
  • Highlight success stories and share with others.
  • Point out to others the skillfulness required of corrections professionals of all disciplines. During the workday you and your colleagues may employ skills related to psychology, social work, public health, education, cheer-leading, motivational interviewing, mentoring, law enforcement and warfare.
  • Whenever you get discouraged at work, think of how far you’ve come in terms of your skill development regarding managing yourself and managing others.
  • Whenever you face your fears and stand your ground and do the right thing, give yourself credit for being courageous.
  • Whenever you persevere in the pursuit of your goals in spite of disappointments, you demonstrate your courage, grit and gumption.
  • Whenever you assist offenders within policy, you impact them positively.
  • Whenever you exercise self-control in the face of provocation, you are commendable, acting truly as a mature, wise adult.
  • Whenever you choose to see the silver lining in the cloud, you are winning the battle of the mind, remaining optimistic and in control of your attitude.
  • Whenever you support colleagues and help them do a better job, you offer them gifts of teamwork and caring, and you reinforce why you are an asset to your profession.
  • Whenever you choose to inspire, mentor, or otherwise encourage your colleagues, you contribute to the creation of a positive workplace climate, and you inject positive meaning in others’ lives.
  • Whenever you choose to take the high road after you encounter injustice—choosing to not return evil for evil, but to do the right thing —you win what may be the most important battle of all, the spiritual one.

So ask yourself:

  1. What do I want to accomplish through my life and influence, including my family life and my corrections employment?
  2. What do I want to be my predominant mood and attitude, the mood and attitude I am best known by?
  3. How can I impact people positively in my family and at my workplace on a daily basis?
  4. How can I create positive ripple effects in my community through my day-to-day actions?
  5. How might my work and my actions have a positive impact for generations to come?
  6. How can I best respond when I accomplish something that to me is significant and noteworthy, yet nobody commends me for it or nobody even notices?
  7. How do I “bounce back” from disappointment and bitterness when confronted with what, to me, seems to be injustice towards me or others?
  8. How can I “refuel”—go from becoming discouraged to being encouraged again (in-courage)? What can I tell myself to accomplish that? What actions can I take?
  9. How do I move past and even grow from my failures, my poor judgment and my mistakes, so that I can continue living out my most precious convictions, principles and values?
  10. What kind of life do I need to be pursuing intentionally today to feel like I am fully alive?
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