“Draga Catalina, All that you are matters. Love, R”
This was the most precious gifts I received in the form of a framed poster when I left the place I had worked in for twenty one years. The most precious? Shouldn’t I know I matter already? Why do I constantly need external validation?
I am not going to pretend that I am not needy. But let’s put a pin in that for a second and park it into a corner. I believe that we are truly born with absolutely everything we need well packed inside of ourselves and, at the same time, that the reason it is essential for humans to live in communities is to use each other to discover ourselves. Thus, we will never be able to recognize that we matter unless the ones around do something to trigger this in us, until a message comes from the outside, connects to something inside of us and resonates. This is how we learn, about ourselves and the world around.
I know that there are people in this world who just know they matter. At least they say so and I am going to take their word at face value. And many times I envy them: how could they just know? Could they start a crash course? I for one am always wondering and navigating between “I am therefore I matter” and “I do x, y and z and therefore I matter”. It is exhausting.
One evening, after tears and silent moments (on my part), my life partner, one of the worthiest conversation partners I have ever met, asked me the following: What do you need to understand that you matter? How do you know?
I paused for a minute and thought about it. What I was able to summon in response were seemingly simple things. But when you stop to really think about them, you will see they are oh so rare: I know I matter when I talk and the other looks me in the eye, pays real attention to what I am saying and responds (meaning, they are not looking into their phones or catching up on email); I know I matter when my presence is acknowledged and an authentic connection is established, regardless of how brief; I know I matter when my opinion is considered and decisions are taken not around me but with me; I know I matter when I get feedback (whatever it may be, but always showing that what I did was taken into account). I know I matter when I am truly seen and known.
Being lonely in a professional or personal relationship, hurts so much more than any time that I fell off the bike, bumped my head or even more than my c-section. I could never be in a relationship, in a family, in a job just to tick a box or because it is “just a job” or because “that is how it is done.” Life is too short. So my new compass is precisely this: Do I matter here? How can I tell?