Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?
5-8 Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods,
bright with Eden’s dawn light.
You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,
repeated to us your Genesis-charge,
Made us stewards of sheep and cattle,
even animals out in the wild,
Birds flying and fish swimming,
whales singing in the ocean deeps.
Psalm 8:4-8 (The Message)
What thoughts and feelings come to mind if someone were to tell you that you are valuable? Would you accept it as a fact or would you question the statement? Would that resonate with what others have told you or would you struggle to identify another time when such words were applied to you? Many of us were not told, by those who had responsibility for our early care, that we were of value. Many of us were traumatized with devaluation by those who were supposed to convey and communicate God’s overwhelming love for us. It was during a marital therapy session with Shivana that I first understood how devalued she had been as a child. My heart broke into a thousand pieces for that little child and there was born an empathy for her that God has continued to build. I will let Shivana tell her own story and how her experience shaped her development and eventual personal insight.
Growing up in my grandparents’ home, there were times when my grandmother hid food from me, which to this day I could never understand why…There were times she took from the small stash of clothes I had, without telling me, and gave it to her other grandchildren. There were times she made it very clear that I was not wanted. In those early years of my life, the overwhelming message was that I was not valued, I was an unwanted burden and a shameful reminder of my mother’s sins to have a child out of wedlock.
Not being able to make sense of how I was treated, the underlying meaning I made of it all was that I was somehow defective, not valued and not valuable. But I enjoyed learning, and school became my escape. As I pursued learning, the idea of being self-sufficient became my internal motivation. I thought I could somehow protect myself by not relying on anyone and my success at being independent would make me valuable.
My goal birthed some resourceful qualities in me, for which I am grateful. My secondary school principal’s words, to always give my best, connected with my desire to succeed and be valuable. I became focused on being exceptional in my performance. My drive, commitment, reliability, and dedication to high quality output set me apart from team members and put me on the fast track to promotion. With promotion came direct reports…
As an inexperienced manager, I struggled to connect with my direct reports. I heaped the same expectations of drive and excellence on them as I held for myself, without understanding their strengths, their weaknesses, their motivators and their stressors. I cared about them, and I wanted them to succeed, but I was ill-equipped to lead them well. Their places of development needs or weaknesses were met with my frustration, and even anger, rather than curiosity, support, and coaching.
Whenever I reflect on that early experience in my career, the thing that breaks my heart most is that I do not think my team members felt like I really valued them. They did not need to perform to any standard to be valuable; they were innately valuable, by the simple fact that they are human beings. I knew what it felt like to not be valued; but my misdirected efforts to find my own sense of value and worth caused me to act in ways that made others feel unappreciated and less valued. That is one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn so far in my life.
If I could rewind 20 plus years, I would go to that version of myself and deliberately and frequently communicate to each of my team members that he or she is valuable. I may not have changed the high standards I held for the team, but, as I diligently pursued those standards, I would have been as diligent about ensuring that each member felt valued, cared for and supported so they could shine in their strengths and grow in the areas they needed to.
I cannot go back, but I have learnt from that experience. I am also thankful that I had the opportunity to reach out to them and offer my humble amends for not being a better leader. I am grateful for the growth I have had since. A lot of that growth required me to do the personal work around releasing the unhealthy belief that I was not valuable and embracing the truth that even if others do not value me, I am still innately valuable.
I am sorry if someone, through words and actions, made you feel devalued and without worth. If someone is currently doing that, I want you to know that you are valuable by virtue of the fact that you were made by a God who created you thoughtfully and purposefully. You are enough, just because the Creator of the universe says so!