When’s the last time you told someone how much they mean to you? Whether it’s your mailman or your mom, Shannon McFayden–RV’s chief diversity officer–is here to explain why hearing that you’re important is more important now than ever.
I have two daughters, 28 and 25. When they were much younger, probably 4 and 7, I was working a very demanding job that kept me away from them more often than I would have preferred. And more times than I’d like to count, when I did get home I was distracted or short-tempered. I was wracked with guilt – the kind of guilt that I suspect all of you working parents have felt at one time or another or are maybe even feeling right now. I was worried that they might mistake my lack of time with a lack of importance to me, so I made a conscious choice to add a new ritual to their bedtime routines. As I tucked them into bed I would simply say, “Don’t EVER forget how IMPORTANT you are.” It served as a reminder to them and, if I’m honest, it served as a reminder to me about what –and who – really matters.
I was reminded of this concept of importance a couple of years ago, when I got a call that my mother had been rushed to the hospital. I dropped everything to fly down to Florida – and ended up staying with her for a full 3 months before her 92-year-old body finally gave out on her. There were so many times when I would be sitting with her, in the hospital or the rehab center or finally the Hospice care, and she would say, “You need to get home. Your family and your job are so important to you and they need you.” My answer was always the same. “Yes, Mom, they are very important. And SO ARE YOU.” She would look at me with her tired but still beautiful eyes, smile softly, and say “Thank you.” It almost became a daily ritual. And it’s my mom’s face at those moments that I still see most clearly when I think of her.
And now here we are, in the most uncertain and frankly the most frightening time in my memory, and I am thinking of the many people, who are SO important, who might need to be reminded of that. For me, it’s my doctor and nurses who still make time to have a conversation with me about something that must seem so minor in the grand scheme of things; it’s the pharmacist and cashier at my local store, who mask up and show up every day so I can stay healthy; it’s my mail carrier, the UPS driver and the grocery-delivery driver who bring me what I need so I can stay socially distanced; it’s the sanitation workers who pick up my garbage and recycling; it’s the tree removal service that recently showed up at 7:30 AM after a bad storm caused a big tree to fall and puncture my roof; it’s my colleagues and confidants, who care so much about our company and our communities and step up every single day to do the hard work.
We feel important when we feel seen and heard. We feel important when our individuality is valued. We feel important when our contributions are acknowledged. We feel important when we see how our work ties to the greater good. We feel important when we get constructive feedback, because even though it may sometimes be discouraging to hear about things that we need to work on, it tells us that the person giving it cares enough (aka thinks we are important enough) to help us get better.
Whether we’re at work or at home, feeling important matters. I’d argue it’s at the very core of our needs as human beings.
This week, I urge you to consider letting the important people in your lives know just how important they are. Show them that you see them, that you appreciate them, and that they matter. Smile with your eyes when you have your mask on. Share helpful and constructive feedback with your colleagues. Tell those who matter to you most how important they are.
And a special note to parents of younger kids who are faced with the impossible decisions that come with school starting up during a pandemic. I do not envy you, and I suspect you are going to be faced with guilt no matter what you choose. If I may offer some advice from the other side of this mountain called child-rearing, it is this: your decisions right now seem monumental (and they are), but what is more monumental to your children in the long run is knowing that they are important. Tell them you are struggling with this decision BECAUSE they are so important. As long as they know that and feel that, they will be okay, no matter what you decide.
And if we all hear it, and know it, we’ll be okay, too.