It is often only when a person dies that we see the significance of the role they played while alive; the impact they had on the lives of all they touched. This doesn’t apply to famous or influential people only; it is true of every single person. We all impact on people—whether we know it or not—in some way. Even the apparently insignificant, the apparently powerless, those deemed to be disposable, all have lives that are important. When we choose to live our life to the best of our ability we acknowledge its importance and become more compassionate human beings.

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

William James

Every person is important. Each one of us makes a difference in our lives and we all impact in some way on the world during our time in it. It is not necessarily the person who is making the most noise or the most money or surrounded by most people, who is making the most profound impact. We all leave our footprint on the Earth. It is not enough, however, for us to accept the fact that our existence matters; we need to have it recognised. In short, we need to feel that we are important—to those closest to us, to our community and within our workplace. When we feel important, our self-belief increases, as does our ability to believe in others and in our collective potential.

Why do we want to feel important to other people?
Why do we need regular confirmation of our worth from others?

Life would be so much easier if we didn’t need to be acknowledged by others but it is a basic human need to feel important, to have our presence and our contribution marked by others. We often feel guilty about this need to have our importance recognised and some of us go to great lengths to deny this basic desire. We can become so self-effacing that, ironically, those around us are at pains to make us feel important.

It is much healthier and less time-consuming if we just acknowledge our need to feel important, which is consistent with our need to be wanted and needed. This need comes from our very core as human beings. We tell young children they are most important people in the world. Someone probably said this to most of us when we were very young and it gave us a sense of being wanted, being honoured and being important; in short, of mattering. As we grow into adulthood, it is assumed—and we also assume—that we no longer need these assurances. But we do, whether we like it or not.

Contribution is appreciated

Strange as it may seem, it is often very small things that make us feel like we matter and that our contribution is appreciated. A factory manager needed to get reports on a monthly basis from workers coming off the night shift. The workers were tired, resistant and non-compliant when it came to giving the necessary details after their night’s work. The new manager recognised how they were feeling and arranged to have good quality refreshments given to them when they came off their shift. The workers reacted positively and were happy to give all details to the manager. What had changed? The new manager had recognised the workers’ importance. She had acknowledged how they were feeling after a long night’s shift. She recognised them and the role they were playing within the organisation. And all it took was some hot tea and decent biscuits, but the gesture was sincerely meant.

When we feel unimportant, our self-belief and our confidence in our own ability are undermined. We can feel that what we are doing is undervalued or even without value. When we take others for granted, we diminish their sense of the value of their contribution, and the same happens us when our contribution goes unappreciated. People talk of becoming invisible, especially as they grow older in a world that idolises youth. This ‘invisibility’ comes from a sense of no longer mattering in the world; what we say or do seems of no consequence. This treatment of each other is damaging, not only to those whom we think no longer matter or have little left to contribute but also to ourselves because, unless we stop, it is us that will be in that position when we become ‘invisible’.

When elderly people do wild things, the world sits up and takes notice.

Why? Because they are doing the unexpected; they are saying, ‘I am important. I still matter. I am still alive’. We like it because we hope they shine a light on our future that shows we are important no matter what age we are. Accepting that we are important, that everyone else is important, that we all make a contribution that has value, and that we need to get and give recognition for those contributions is a simple, yet vital, lesson in gaining a healthy mindset for our life journey. Once learned, it engenders respect and gratitude for ourselves and for others.

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