I just got back from something called the “May Meaning Meeting”. Held near Houston, Texas this year, this annual gathering started in 2003. It grew up organically around a group of organizational scholars anxious to keep real meaning in their work—and in their lives—in the face of what can often be a “publish or perish” grind in the academic world.
It’s not an accident that this is the first professional group I chose to reconnect with after my stroke. My ongoing speech challenges from aphasia are what keep me from returning to my full-time role as a professor. My communication disability often makes it incredibly frustrating to be with my old colleagues. I can’t contribute like I used to. Sometimes I can’t even keep up with the conversations.
This group of colleagues has committed to “step off the treadmill” once a year to create time and space to talk about creating meaning in one’s work—and one’s life. Not surprisingly, the people who choose to attend are particularly good at giving me the time and space I need to find words to express my thoughts. What better place to share—and get feedback on—my journey to create meaning in my post-stroke life.
Four years ago at this gathering, in Minnesota, I talked “publicly” (other than with my family and closest friends) about my budding idea to write a book—about my struggles with identity and finding meaning in my life in the face of sudden and significant disabilities. They urged me to do so, and really pushed my thinking on what the book could be. I owe a lot to this group, as four years later Identity Theft is really taking shape.
Last week I shared my progress at this year’s gathering. As is now my life—I got help from Steve to prepare some slides and draft my comments. I practiced for many hours. Clearly a more painful process than it would have been before my stroke. But the work and frustration was rewarded with the fantastic conversation that followed my comments—20 minutes of input that, like four years ago, has already helped to push my thinking and will help shape the book still further.
As I finish this post, Steve and I are flying to LA to celebrate my mom’s 85th birthday. I’ve learned to live life celebrating the time I have with my mom. After the untimely and then devastating premature loss of my dad more than 20 years ago, I am trying to live life focused on the capabilities and opportunities I still have, not those I have lost. It’s still hard to do that. I regularly slip into frustration, even anger. But I also have many ways to enjoy life, and for me the writing of Identity Theft—which I hope will help many survivors and their families create better lives after stroke—is helping me find meaning.