(Note: this post was written before a follow-up called Deflating The Balloon: Addressing the fight against numbness and depression, which takes a significantly different approach. Although I think there is definitely some value here in this essay, if I was writing it today, I’m not sure i would approach it in quite the same way. That said, I think it provides an interesting viewpoint and hope it is of value to those folks out there struggling with constant self-doubt.)
Are you sitting down? I have something very important I need you to know.
There are people out there, many of whom you’ve never met and may never meet, who would not be where they are it wasn’t for you. Do you get that? Does that sink in?
Who you are and what you do affects people. You have a place in the world that is uniquely your own, a perfect you-shaped hole that only you can fill.
You are curious and interested. You inspire these things in others. You have passion to share, even if you have no freakin clue what it is yet. It’s there, waiting to explode out into the world. By virtue of you reading this post, I know this much about you.
You have every right to be proud of yourself. You have every right to love who you are. I’m giving you permission. In fact, you have an absolute responsibility to do both of these things.
You know that inner voice? That voice with its arms folded right now, shrugging and saying “Yeah, but so what?” or “This guy doesn’t even know me” or “What is this nutjob on about!” ?
That voice hates you. That voice desperately needs you to think that you don’t matter, that you’re not good enough, that you’re not really a part of the world, that when people say something nice about you they dont really mean it, or they don’t really know the real you, or whatever. That way, that voice wins, and gets to be smug, and be right, and have control.
Here’s the secret. I have a feeling you already know this. That voice is a liar. All that stuff is 100% fiction. Because you matter. You have a place in the world that is uniquely yours. Whether you’re out feeding the homeless or home on the couch watching TV, that you-shaped hole can only be filled by you. And look at you, you’re already doing it!
That very same voice inside my head has controlled me for a long time. I’ve bought into it. I thought “Yeah, I’m smart, so what? I didn’t have anything to do with me being smart, it’s just how I am.” That voice got to win. I don’t blame myself, nor do I think I’m a victim of it, it is simply a statement of fact. But now I’m writing this to you, because I’m geting the sneaking suspicion that what I’m saying in this letter is true. And that I need to tell that voice “Thanks for your input, but you’re wrong, and I don’t have to listen to you anymore.” And that you do, too.
I know it’s easy to discard this letter as saccharine nonsense or empty words. People don’t tell each other that they matter very often. Sure, it’s implied by a smile or a hug or a tweet or an IM or all that stuff that’s easy to file in a place where it doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme. I think this needs to change.
Here’s what I want you to do. This is absolutely essential. Chances are, if I’ve communicated what I want to say effectively, there’s someone in your mind right now who you know that matters to you, and needs to read this. I want you to pick up the phone, write them an email, meet them for dinner, mail them a letter or even send them a tweet and tell them strongly and directly “Hey, I wanted you to know that you matter to me.” Don’t qualify it with a particular reason or accomplishment or what they’ve done for you. Just leave it at that, and mean it. If you’re on Twitter and feel comfortable doing so, consider using hashtag #youmatter.
Okay, so that’s what I wanted to make sure you knew. Letter over.
With all possible love and admiration,
(this letter was inspired by several conversations had at and around Podcamp Boston, and by a few people who matter to me very much.)