You Matter

On June 26, 2011, Angela Maiers gave a 20-minute presentation at a TEDx event in Des Moines, Iowa. Her compassion-filled message, and the passion with which she delivers it, has touched hearts and minds around the world. This web site was created to support this remarkable woman who is on a mission to change the world...

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Presented by Angela Maiers at the TEDx De Moines Conference on 26 June 2011 :: Des Moines, Iowa :: United States
You Matter! These two words can change your mood; they can change your mind; they can your heart. I am going to make the case today that these two words can change lives and change the world if we understand them and we leverage them in the right way. This is not an ego thing, this is a DNA thing. We were created for significance and one of the most dangerous things that can happen to us as individuals, as organizations and as communities – is to get the feeling that we don’t matter.

On Tuesday of this week I was, for fourteen hours, with these significant people. I was stranded at the airport in Milwaukee and we were not feeling very significant that day. The looks on our faces were just craziness because we had spent fourteen hours not knowing if we were going to get home. There was a huge storm, there were no cars, and there were no hotel rooms. There was something, this World-Series kind of thing, going on in the world – and we were desperate. Not simply desperate to get home, which we were, but desperate for a human being to look us in the eyes and say to us, “you matter.” I see you as a human being. Think about the last time you heard those words as a human being. You matter. You were indispensable. You were a genius. I could not have done it without you. I could not have made it without you. I will do whatever it takes because you are that important. Those are life changing words and, for us, those were the words we were hanging on. We were desperate. It was nearly midnight and we were going to have to sleep on the floor of the airport until we met Annie. Annie finally looked us in the eyes and she saw a mom with two kids. She saw a family of five with a baby that had not eaten for hours. She saw two college students and a honeymoon couple. And she saw me, desperate to get home to get here – and she said, “I see you and I will do whatever it takes.”
Now, she could not work miracles, she could not stop the rain from coming. She could not make a hotel room appear but she noticed us and said, “We are going to help you.” After she got everyone settled, I found Annie, just before she was going to leave. I grabbed her said, “Annie, thank you so much for making us feel significant.” Notice that we were in the Recombobulation1 Area of the airport. I do not know what that is but it is not a good place to be. It is not where significant cargo goes. Annie started crying – and we were all crying because we had not slept or eaten. I said to her, “I want to call your supervisor. I want to write and tell them what you did today, it really mattered to us.” She said, “It’s not going to matter, I am the supervisor. Nobody cares what I do.” “In fact,” she said, “I don’t know the last time I heard someone say they cared about what I did.” She said, “I actually want to thank you.”
I walked away and got home and I got settled in and could not get Annie out of my mind. I cannot show her picture because, apparently, that is against TSA2 regulations. I tried to and she said “No, no I will get fired.” So, just imagine Annie because she is every single person in this room. Annie is the person at your work. Annie is the person in your neighborhood. Annie could be you, sitting there wondering, working and living in a place where they do not feel significant – where they feel like, no matter what I do; no matter how hard I work; no matter what I accomplish – is there anybody in the world who is going to notice me and is going to care that I got up and showed up today?
That is a tragedy because we, as human beings, have the power to change that. It is an incredible, significant power that we choose not to act upon
in the business of our lives. We forget these two simple words and omit them from our conversation and from our priority. I want us to change that because people know that they matter when they are noticed, when they are valued and when they are depended on. Those are three lessons that
have been the foundation of my work as an educator for 22 years. No student would ever leave my classroom – I would not be doing my job if they did not know they were noticed, if they did not understand why they were of such value to my classroom and to other students – and that I could trust and depend on them.
These are not lessons that are simply reserved for the classroom. These are lessons that every single one of us must take – we have the opportunity and the obligation to take – into our classrooms, our boardrooms, our communities, our neighborhoods. I am going to show you what those look like and sound like as you navigate through the world.

My First Lesson

As a writer, noticing is a big part of my job – so, I never going anywhere without my writer’s notebook. I am constantly writing because I spent a lot of time in weird places like airports. I write all the stories, about the people I meet and the incredible lessons I get just from getting up in the morning. I keep track of them and I fill up notebook after notebook. I got the chance to be in a school. It was an outside school, from kindergarten
through eighth grade. Of course, I had my notebook and it did not take the students very long to notice that. After every classroom that I walked through they came up to me and asked, “What did you write in your notebook today?” I would say, “Oh, I witnessed genius. I absolutely witnessed something indispensable to your learning.” So, I would write it down and they would say, “Really.” I put names in it. “Oh my gosh, I know that person.” Then, the next day, they started handing me Post-It notes saying, “While you were out I noticed this, you might want to put that in your notebook.” After a couple of days, I thought, “This is silly, I have this gold in my notebook.” I asked the superintendent if I could spend the first two minutes of each day going into every classroom and read my notebook with my morning messages. “Today, boys and girls, this is what your assignment is. Oh by the way, I have to tell you what I noticed yesterday. Alicia did something amazing. When I saw her working on her writing. You would not believe this; I noticed a third-grader doing this or that yesterday.” I might be saying that to a seventh grade classroom. Within three days kids were carrying notebooks. They were writing down things. They were meeting me. They were helping each other. I could not believe the power of noticing and sharing what you noticed.
So, I was just about to go to the airport – again – and a fourth grade class had an emergency message over the intercom – “Mrs. Maiers, Mrs. Maiers, we need you to come down to the fourth grade classroom.” I thought to myself, “What did I forget in there?” They sat me down in a chair,
very serious looking and said, “You have a problem.” I said, “I know this.” They said, “Your notebook is almost full and you are losing stuff all over. You are a mess. So, they went in together and bought me this – a new journal. What is powerful about this is that they gave me every phone number imaginable because, in case I needed a break – because noticing is a lot of work – they are going to take over for me and they each have a notebook. There is an “Ask Angela” button on my blog and they send me messages – “This is what I noticed...” They are my Noticing Ambassadors.  “Here is my mother’s phone number, here is my cell phone number, here is my emergency phone number just in case you see something or we see something when we are out and about.” It has to go in your notebook. They know I am going to write about it. They know I am going to talk about it – phenomenal. What if you carried a notebook? What if you made it a point to go back to your place of work or to your neighborhood or at the grocery store today – and you make note of what you notice? How indispensable it was, how genius it was, how significant it was? It changes people. What I found at the school is that it changes a culture. By just simply noticing thirty seconds a day.
Kids are not the only ones who struggle and strive to be noticed. Big people (adults) spend a lot of time trying to get noticed as well. This is a real-time counter on the web – just look at it for five seconds. Five seconds in real-time of the world, right now, here as we speak. What are they trying to do? They are trying to be noticed. The web is not a data stream. The web is a life stream. The significance of our life is dependent on how other people see us. We have a chance to tell people, “I am so glad you got up this morning, I notice you. It changes everything.

My Second Lesson

Noticing something that is significant is important but being able to articulate – and that’s the power of the notebook – to someone exactly what you noticed and why that quality was indispensable, or why that attribute was significant is what really comes down deep. The need to know you are of value is about as deep as they come. So, I thought to myself, “I am going to take this a step further. I am going to see what would happen if
I added a sentence.” Not just, “I noticed you, Mike” but “Mike, I noticed you and here’s what I noticed – every time I see you, you make me smarter because you ask the best questions. You are one of the most curious human beings and I prepare myself with a good question every time I see you.
That is significant in your life but it makes me smarter. If I help them understand that their contribution is what the world needs and what I need at that moment. So, I started using this statement, which I borrowed from Seth Godin, to begin by lessons. This is from his book Linchpin – and I wanted to see what effect it would have. I could see how much just the word “I noticed” meant but what if I started the day, every lesson, every audience, every speech that I give, this is the first slide – “You are a genius and the world needs your contribution – blank.” And I tell them what their contribution is. This is not just a compliment; it is a call to action because I just raised the bar. If Mike comes to me and he does not have some brilliant question in his mind he is going to step it up. It’s a call to action. So, again, I was blown away at the response of something I just wanted to see how important is mattering to individuals, to a culture, to a community – and this is what I found out.

This is a student in a struggling school that has been taken over by the state because they did not even make it to AYP3. The kids in this school spend a lot of their time feeling like Annie – really insignificant. They try and try and try but they just can’t get it. So, they need these words. They
need these words – you matter, you are a genius. So, this was a seventh grade boy and the teacher attended one of my workshops so she went into class each day and started every day like this. On Day 3, she wrote to me – “You would not believe what my students are doing. Now, because they believe that they have to work on their world contribution, they put these Post-it notes on their heads, like “Genius at work” – like on the door at the hotel – “Quiet, sleeping.” “Quiet, genius at work.” And they come to school as if it were that important because the teacher is telling them every day. So, I wrote about this on my blog and about two days later I got a response on my blog from this student’s mom. She said, “I don’t know what happened, I have been struggling to watch every day the soul of my son disappear.” Those were the words she used – the soul of my son disappearing. “I would tell him every day he was significant but he did not know that the world believed that or that the school believed that. Now, every day, he comes home and says to me, “Mom, mom do you know I am a genius? No, seriously, I am not joking, I am a genius for real, we are doing genius work.”

And it was not just seventh graders that were impacted. It was this call to action that got these five-year olds to say, “This is my genius and it is my responsibility to contribute it to the world and this is what I am going to do. I am cute and the world needs cute people. I need the world to be cleaner.” Or, broader goals – to say, “The world is full of hurt and it needs people to understand that it is a responsibility every day. If we are building this character at five, imagine what this doctor or this nurse or this humanitarian is going to be like when they are fifteen or when they are thirty. A simple sentence, but you have to mean it. Mattering is easy but is not simple because you have to believe what you are saying, which leads me to the third lesson…

My Third Lesson

The full depth of your belief comes from your ability to give over your trust to someone else. To depend on another human being is the essence of
who we are as an individual and as a community.
Depending on somebody is hard because you can always to it better yourself. You have to give up control and you have to give up trust. You have to look at somebody else in the eye and, just don’t say to them, “I think you’re important. I think you are pretty cool. I noticed something good about you.” You have to say, “You are ESSENTIAL.” Being important is really nice but being essential is a game-changer. Knowing somebody needs you to accomplish something significant – the root of the word “matter” is substance. So this is not like, “Hey, can you go to the grocery store for me?” It is more like, “Hey I have this really big, important thing and it needs you. And itneeds your genius.” The bigger the thing, the more likely genius is to show up.
I found that out – this was a really big thing to me – on March 9 of this year I was one of twelve ambassadors for World Literacy Day – in our fight for one billion – one billion – people who have never felt the power and privilege of literacy. Sixty-six countries, 88,000 individuals and over 600 classrooms were connected for twenty-four hours and led the power of story as away to connect our humanity. It was phenomenal but the live event was a lot of work and I needed help. I was asking everyone I knew for help – Would you do this? Would you volunteer for this? Yea, yea, I
will get to that but with no money or reward involved, it was really hard, I was desperate. Three days before the live event I was desperate. So, I called my friend who is a fifth-grade teacher and said, “I need kids. I need people to take this seriously so Skype me into your classroom. So, she Skyped me into her classroom and I said, “OK guys, here are the stakes, this is what we are fighting for. There are one billion kids in the world that do not have the privilege – have never seen a book, smelled a book or heard a story, and that is not OK! I need you to help me. This is what I need, no messing around. I need a graphic designer, I need someone to do a press release, I need someone to do video, audio.” I gave them this whole list and said, “I need you to think about this seriously and call me back in an hour.” Fifteen minutes later, my phone rings. They have project managers, they have a team, they have everybody ready to go – blew my mind. The day of the live event, we had a huge blizzard in Iowa. We had local authors set up to do the live streaming but they did not show up. Three of the authors did not show up, so my brilliant team – my co-ambassadors – took over everything. They had books on the web, they had poems on the web and they just told stories. They took their iPad – one was over there, they were the poet – and they signed autographs. So, we had authors over there signing autographs with their books at Barnes & Noble and then we had a fifth-grader over here and a fifth-grader over here. It was phenomenal; they blew me away with their commitment to depend on them. I wish they could drive because I would hire them in a second. When you ask for genius, it usually shows up if you believe it – if you believe it.
People do not walk around with a sign that says, “Do I matter to you?” They do not have a tattoo that says, “Let me know you see me. Let me

know you value my presence. Let me know how I can help you because I want to. I want to give you what I have. I am just dying for you to ask me.” And yet, imagine the world if we did. Imagine the world if every human being wore that sign and every teller and every teacher and every parent and every leader and every pastor and every neighbor wore a sign around their neck that said, “Do I matter to you?” I think we would be more likely to say, “Of course you do” and not forget the power of these two words. To make an effort to say, “Well, in fact, you do and here is how. Here is what I noticed, here is what I appreciate, here is what makes you special, and I am so happy that you got up today and I am so happy to be in this space. You get to have the opportunity to be that kind of teacher. My job is a get to do. I get to help people matter every day. There is nothing that makes you matter more as an individual. There is nothing that gives you more courage. There is nothing that gives you more inspiration and there is nothing that will initiate big, important, audacious stuff than knowing that you can help other people know their significance. You have an opportunity to do that today. When you find their lunch table today, look someone in the eye. We are going to practice because that is what I do. I will model it with you. Let’s try this together, are you ready? Say it with me, “You matter.” You can do better than that, say it with me, are you ready? “You matter.”

Hear those words. Feel those words. Change a heart. Change a mind. Change a mood today. This is your assignment. You do that, I am going to give you all an A. This is what it will take to keep the A. Thank you so much for showing up today. You matter!

1 Recombobulation = something being put back the way it was, or into proper working order; gathering one's thoughts or composure. See also, Recombobulation area at Mitchell International Airport (MKE)

2 TSA = Transportation Security Association

3 AYP = Adequate Yearly Progress is a measurement defined by the United States federal No Child Left Behind Act that allows the U.S. Department of Education to determine how every public school and school district in the country is performing academically according to results on standardized tests.