I was a sophomore in college when I realized that I wasn’t invisible, even though I’d felt like it most of the previous year. When I realized I had a voice, a purpose, and an ability to contribute to the world around me. When I realized that I mattered.
This realization happened after I facilitated my first presentation as a peer leader for S.T.A.R.T., which stands for Students Talking About Real Topics. I’d felt really comfortable in front of the group of first-year students and pretty excited that they’d seemed interested in the topic. When I walked to the back of the room, where Molly, S.T.A.R.T.’s advisor, had been observing me, she grabbed both of my hands, looked straight into my eyes, and asked me what I was planning to do with this talent of mine. In a few seconds, and with a few words, my life was changed. The way I spent the rest of my college career and the way in which I lead my life today is a direct result of that moment. Was I the best presenter Molly had even seen? Doubtful. But I’m certain she wasn’t patronizing me. She was simply—and powerfully—acknowledging my presence and my contribution. She was acknowledging my mattering to the world.
I believe that everyone matters, and that it’s my responsibility to make sure that each person I encounter knows that he or she matters. The beauty, as well as the challenge, is that this belief can be applied to anyone, anywhere. I’m conveying a sense of mattering when I’m giving a standing ovation to Broadway performers, looking into a stranger’s eyes and saying hello as I pass her on the street, and listening to my husband’s stories over dinner. This is easy to do when I’m living in the present and enjoying all that’s around me. It’s an almost unbearable obligation when I’m wrapped up in my own thoughts, feeling afraid or hurt or angry, or dealing with someone I don’t particularly like. It’s never-ending work—exhausting at times for an introvert like me—and I fail at it every single day. But it’s far too important to give up, and each interaction provides a new opportunity to succeed.
I also devote lots of personal time and energy to reminding myself that I matter. I do this by trying to live with “zoom and boom” (a favorite phrase from Rob Brezny) and by celebrating my alive-ness every day. I’m dedicated to building a self that provides good company to those around me, and good company to me when I’m alone. I pay attention to my dreams and follow through with them as much as I can … for, as Terri Trespicio wrote, “What would our lives look like without our dreams? Predictable, plain, joyless? Our aspirations—the things we hope for, work toward, imagine—give color and context, shape and vision to our days.” Recently, I decided to fulfill a lifelong desire to learn how to surf, despite the fact that I live in landlocked Ohio. I didn’t do this to be practical, I did it to feel alive. And guess what? It worked! It mattered!
My belief inspires and guides my professional life as well. It’s no coincidence that I chose to spend my time as a full-time academic advisor and a part-time yoga instructor. Whether I’m listening to a student who’s struggling to identify her path in life or I’m helping a student discover the power of connecting his breath and movement on the yoga mat, my overarching goal is to support them in their realization of how and why they matter. Because they do. And you do. We all do.