Six Years Later, It’s Clearer Than Ever: We Need to Know We Matter

“I left for the conference feeling pretty burned out and dissatisfied with my work. The night before you spoke, I had decided that I wasn’t going to attend the opening keynote. I had a feeling that your message would hit home, that I would burst into tears in front of everyone. I wasn’t willing to be that vulnerable.

I woke up at the crack of dawn.  I saw this as a sign to get my sulking butt to your keynote. I did cry in front of everyone, but that didn’t matter. Your message inspired me not only to facilitate a groundbreaking activity with my colleagues, to coach and lead differently, but it compelled me to have a look deeper inside and to see my value to the world, to see how much I matter. Essentially, your message made me a stronger, better person, so thank you.”

I delivered "You Matter" at TEDxDesMoines six years ago this week. Ever since, my many inboxes have been inundated with messages such as the one above.

  • Countless notes have come from educators who remembered why they entered this profession.
  • A heartening number of times, it’s a student who found a life purpose, and is studying the ivory trade in Africa, or working to pass a law to set financial literacy education standards in Rhode Island, or sending bags full of “You Matter” notes from former students to every single teacher on the first day of school.
  • A heartbreaking number of times, it’s a teenager who said hearing the You Matter message empowered them to consider alternatives to suicide.
  • Recently, it was from a young woman we met three years ago, when she wasn’t sure she wanted to go to college. We sparked something in her that led to her undertaking a dizzying number of actions to empower and support young women in her school, community and around the world. Her note said that she had been named a US Presidential Scholar and invited on a Student Leader Exchange to China, and will begin studying Human Rights and Social Justice at an Ivy League school this fall.
  • Lately, the messages have been about whole communities that have made Choose2Matter a permanent part of the social fabric of the community.

Appropriately, I am writing this note at 3 am – six years to the moment that I began to write the You Matter presentation, hours before I was to deliver my first TED Talk at the State of Iowa Historical Building in Des Moines. I had prepared another presentation, but as I cycled through it in my brain, I realized that I was holding back; I was playing it safe.

Ironically, I was much like the educator at the beginning of this post; I wanted to hide behind the presentation on my computer; thoroughly proofed, rehearsed to the second, fairly interesting, but ultimately, not transformative. I didn’t want to be vulnerable and talk for 17 minutes, claiming that I had identified the most all-encompassing challenge facing our world today: the pervasive feeling that we get, as individuals, as organizations, and as a society, don’t matter.

But I did. I felt relieved that I “got this out of the way.” I expected to return to meatier issues like teaching digital literacy. But the world had other ideas for me, and sent me those ideas on a daily basis. The reaction was breathtaking, and led me to launch a universal movement called Choose2Matter.

Six years later, it is more clear than ever to me: we don’t have an engagement problem, a bullying problem, a substance abuse problem, or a suicide issue. We have a mattering problem. We were created for significance. It’s in our DNA – we need air, we need water, we need food, and we need to know that we matter – that someone, somewhere in the world, needs exactly what only we can give.

When we know that we matter and our actions count, lives and learning change, and our world changes. Mattering matters!

Thank you for everything you’ve done in the past six years to let me, and everyone else in your life, know we matter. I’m so blessed to have you on this journey with me.

You matter.