Here is the full transcript of Choose2Matter founder, Angela Maiers’ TEDx Talk titled “You Matter” at TEDxDesMoines.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Angela Maiers Presents You Matter at TEDxDesMoines
Two words. These two words can change your mood, they can change your mind, they can change your heart.
I’m 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, as a community, is the feeling that we don’t matter.
On Tuesday of this week, I was 14 hours with these significant people. I was stranded at the airport in Milwaukee, and we weren’t feeling very significant that day. The looks on our face were just craziness, because we had spent 14 hours, not knowing if we were going to get home, there was a huge storm, there were no cars, there were no hotel rooms, there was something that this world series kind of thing going on in the world, something unimportant and insignificant and we were desperate.
Not simply desperate to get home, which we were, but desperate for a human being to look us in the eye, 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 couldn’t have done it without you.”
“I couldn’t have made it without you.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes, because you are that important.”
Those are life changing words, and for us, those were the words that we were hanging on.
We were desperate. It was nearly midnight. We were going to have to sleep on the floor of the airport, until we met Annie.
And Annie finally looked us in the eye and saw a single mom with two kids. And she saw a family of five with a baby that hadn’t eaten for hours. And she saw two college students, and a honeymoon couple and she saw me, desperate to get to home, to get here.
And she said, “I see you. I’ll do whatever it takes.” Now, she couldn’t work the world, she couldn’t stop the rain from coming, and she couldn’t make a hotel room appear. But she noticed us and she said we are going to help you.
And after she got everyone settled, I found Annie right before she was going to leave, and I grabbed her and I said, “Annie, thank you so much for making us feel significant. You noticed we were in the incumbent area of the airport, I don’t know what that is, but it’s not a good place to be. It’s not where significant cargo goes.”
And she started crying, and I’m like we are all crying because we hadn’t slept or eaten – And I said, “I want to call your supervisor. I want to write in and I want to do something, I want to tell them what you did today really mattered to us.”
And 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 that I’ve heard someone say they cared about what I did.”
She said, “I actually want to thank you.”
And I walked away and I got home and I got settled in and I couldn’t get Annie out of my mind. I can’t put her picture in because apparently that’s against TSA regulations, I tried to. She’s like, “No, no , I’ll get fired.”
So just imagine Annie, because Annie 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 and learning in a place where they do not feel significant, where they do not feel like “No matter what I do, no matter how hard I work, no matter what I accomplish, is there anybody in the world that is going to notice me and is going to care that I got up and I 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 busy-ness 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 that matter know that when they are noticed, when they are valued, and they are depended on.
Those are three lessons that have been the foundation of my work as an educator for 22 years. No student ever would leave my classroom, I would not be doing my job, if they didn’t know they were noticed. If they didn’t understand why they were such a value to my classroom and to other students and that I could trust and depend on them. These are not lessons that are just simply reserved for the classroom. These are lessons that every single one of us must take and have the opportunity and obligation to take into your classroom, your boardroom or your community, your neighborhood.
I’m going to show you what those look like and sound like as you navigate through the world. As a writer, noticing is a big part of my job, so I never go anywhere without my writer’s notebook. I’m constantly writing. I spend a lot of time in weird places, like airports, and I’m writing all the stories, the people I meet, the incredible lessons that I get just by waking up in the morning. I keep track of them and I fill notebook after notebook after notebook.
I got the chance to be in a school, it was an outside school from kindergarten through eighth grade. And of course, I had my notebook and it didn’t take the students very long to notice after every classroom that I was walking through, they were like coming up to me. “What did you write in notebook today?” What did you write in notebook today?
I said, “Oh, I witnessed a genius. I absolutely witnessed something indispensable to your learning. So I would write it down.”
And they are like “Really?”, and then I put names in it.
“Oh my gosh, I know that person.”
And then the next day, I got to be there for two weeks, so the next day they come up and they start handing me post-it notes. “Here, while I was out, I noticed you might want to put this in your notebook.”
And I thought “Wow” and after a couple of days I thought, “Well, this is silly, I’ve got this gold in my notebook.”
I asked the superintendent if I could spend the first two minutes going into every grade level, in every classroom just for two minutes today. Just give me two minutes a day. And all I’m going to do is go and read my notebook with the 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 dada dada da — Oh my gosh, you guys, you would not believe this. I noticed a third grader doing this yesterday –“
And I might be saying that to a seventh grade classroom. 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 get on the plane, again in the airport, to leave, and a fourth grade class, had an emergency message over the intercom, they are like, “Mrs Maiers, Mrs Maiers, I need you to come down to the fourth grade classroom.”
I’m like, “What did I forget in there.” They sat me down in a chair, very serious looking. And they are like, “You have a problem.”
I’m like “I know this.”
“You have a problem.”
They are like, “Your notebook is almost full and you are losing stuff all over, you are a mess.”
So they went together and they bought me this. A new journal. And what is powerful about this is that they gave me every 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 and they send me and there’s a little “Ask Angela” button on my blog and they blogged me “This is what I noticed.” And they are my noticing ambassadors.
So, “Here’s my mom’s number.”
“Here’s my cellphone number.”
“Here’s my emergency phone number.”
“Just in case you see something or we see something while we are out and about. It has to go into your notebook.”
Because they know I’m 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 noticed. How indispensable it was. How genius it was. How significant it was. It changes people. And what I found at the school, it changes a culture, by just simply noticing, 30 seconds a day.
Kids aren’t the only ones who struggle and who strive to be noticed. Big people, 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, and the significance of our life is dependent on how other people see us.
We have a chance to tell people: “I’m so glad you got up this morning. I noticed 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 — Being able to articulate to someone exactly what you noticed and why that quality was indispensable or why that attribute was significant. That’s what really comes down deep. The need to know you are a value, is about as deep as they come.
So, I thought, “Well, I’m going to take this a step further. I’m going to see what would happen if I added a sentence.” Not just “Oh, I noticed you Mike” but “Mike, I noticed and here’s what I noticed. Every time I see you, you make me smarter.” Because I know Mike, so I can say this.
“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 your face. 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 beginning my lessons with this statement that I borrowed from Seth Godin. This is from his book, “Linchpin” and I wanted to see what effect it would have and I could see how much just the words 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. This is a call to action. Because guess what Mike? I just raised the bar, so if Mike comes to me and he doesn’t have some brilliant question on his mind, he’s going to step it up. It’s a call to action.
So, again, I was blown away at the response of something that 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 and he is struggling at school that’s been taken over by the state because they didn’t even make it to AYP. They are like hoping to make it to AYP. And the kids in the school spend a lot of their time, like Annie, feeling really insignificant. They just try and try and 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 took one of my workshops. And so she went into class everyday and she started the day like this. And on day three, she wrote me, she couldn’t believe it. She’s like “You would not believe what my students are doing.”
So now, because they believe they have to work on their world contribution, they put these post-it notes on their heads, like for real, that said, “genius at work.” You know like on the door of the hotel, “quiet, sleeping” — “quiet, genius at work” and they come to work as if it is that important because the teacher’s telling them everyday.
And 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. And she said, “I don’t know what happened, and I’ve been struggling to watch everyday, the soul of my son disappear.” Those were the words she used: “The soul of my son disappearing. Or I would tell him everyday you were significant but he didn’t know that the world believed that or that his school believed that. And he comes home and everyday he says to me, “Mom, mom do you know I’m a genius? No, seriously I’m not just joking, I’m a genius for real. We’re doing genius work.”
And it wasn’t just seventh graders that were impacted. It was this call to action that got these 5-year-olds to say, “This is my genius and it is my responsibility to contribute it to the world, and this is what I’m going to do: I am cute and the world needs cute people”.
Damn it! And I need the world to be cleaner or radicals to say, you know what? The world is full of hurt, and it needs people to understand, it is their responsibility everyday. If we were building this character at 5, imagine what this doctor or what this nurse or what this humanitarian is going to be like when they are 15 and be like when they are 30 by a simple sentence but you got to mean it.
Mattering is easy, but it is not simple because you have to believe what you are saying, which leads me to the 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 do it better yourself. And you have to give up control, and you have to give up trust. And you have to look somebody else in the eye and don’t just say to them, “I think you are important,” “I think you are pretty cool,” “I notice 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, because the root of the word — Mike — the root of the word “matter” is substance. So this isn’t like, “Hey can you go to the grocery store for me?” or “Hey can you do this?”
It’s, “Hey I’ve got this really big important thing and it needs you, and it needs your genius.”
And the bigger the thing, the more likely genius is going to show up. I found that out. This was a big thing to me. This was a really big thing.
On March 9th of this year, I was the ambassador, one of twelve ambassadors, for World Literacy Day. In our fight for a billion people, a billion that have never felt the power and the privilege of literacy, 66 countries, 88,000 individuals, and over 600 classrooms connected for 24 hours and led the power of story as a way to connect our humanity. It was phenomenal, but the live event was a lot of work, and I needed help and I’m looking for help I’m asking everybody I know, “Would you do this? Would you volunteer for this event?”
And “Yeah, yeah I’ll get to that” but with no money and no, you know, reward involved it was really hard. So I was desperate.
Three days before the live event, I’m desperate. So I called my friend who was a fifth grade teacher, I said, “Oh, 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, you guys, here’s the stakes. This is what we are fighting for. There are a billion kids in the world that do not have the privilege, who have never seen a book, smelled a book, or heard a story. And that is not OK. And I need you to help me. This is what I need. No messing around. I need a graphic designer, I need somebody to do a press release, I need somebody to do the video, I need audio –“
I gave them this whole list. I said, “I need you to think about this seriously. I want you to call me back in an hour.”
15 minutes later, my phone rings, they’ve got project managers, they’ve got a team, they’ve got everybody ready to go. Blew my mind.
The day of the live event. We come to the event, and it was a huge blizzard in Iowa and we had local authors set up to do the live streaming. They didn’t show up. Three of the authors didn’t 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. So they took their iPad, and one was over there, they were the poet and they signed the autographs.
So we had authors over there signing autographs with their books at Barnes & Noble and we had a fifth grader over here, and 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 don’t walk around with a sign that says, “Do I matter to you?” They don’t 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’m just dying for you to ask me.”
And yet, imagine the world, if we did. Imagine the world at the airport, 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 says, “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’s how. Here’s what I noticed. Here’s what I appreciate. Here’s 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 a teacher. My job is a “get to do.”
I get to help people matter, everyday. There’s nothing that makes you matter more as an individual, there’s nothing that gives you more courage, there’s nothing that gives you more inspiration, and there’s 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, your lunch table today. Look someone in the eye, I’m going to practice, because that’s what I do. I’ll 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?
Hear those words, feel those words, change a heart, change a mind, change a mood today.
This is your assignment. You do that, I’m going to give you all an “A.” This is what it will take to keep the “A.”
So, thank you so much for showing up today.