The need to belong is met by having a place where you can be yourself, in all the struggles that entails. A place where you can be accepted as you share and deal with feelings, needs, desire, longings, and hope. You belong when you know that you can be celebrated in joyful times and grieved over in times of loss. Belonging affirms your worth as a person.
The need to matter is met through being appreciated for your own individual giftedness—what is born into us, and is developed. The gifts are an active expression of what you naturally are drawn to and desire to share. We all desire others to notice and appreciate what we are good at doing and enjoy. But the gifts, their development, and performing in your gifts never become your worth.
If the need to belong is not met first, the need to matter can become confusing. The need to matter can become a performance-driven sense of worth. It can become a way to earn belonging through achievement, approval seeking, and people pleasing. In other words, your worth becomes as valuable as your last performance. That mistaken belief can create a roller coaster of desperation.
I heard a wise person say, “Don’t ever let your need to matter turn you into a product. Matter first to the people you belong to. They will help you remember who you are first, and appreciate your gifts second. Your need to matter must not turn you into a product that has worth only through production. If so, you will be thrown away as soon as the bucket is empty. Then, where are you going to go?”
He went on to share how the need to matter doesn’t have to become a trap through the following story:
His son was offered a full scholarship to play a Division-1 college sport. During the coach’s recruitment spiel, he told the son, “The only thing that matters to me is the number on your back and your stats. I’m a fair coach.” After the meeting, the son said, “Not interested. That is not enough.” He went on to take a scholarship at a “lesser” school, one that had a coach that talked about development as a person and then a player. The son knew he could belong in that program, and the performance of his gifts would be an extension of that belonging. He would be a person first, then a producer.
That man’s son went on to play professionally, and attributed much of his success to the coach that loved him first, and then appreciated his stats. Even during an extended period of injury, the son didn’t live in fear of not mattering because he belonged first.
The son was under no illusions about how sports or life work—we have to perform—but the father had raised the son to know the difference. After the son’s career as a player ended, he still had a future to live, not just a past to remember. He has been doing so as a successful coach, teaching personal development first, and then the game. His players still come back to see him, and he knows their names. They matter to him.
Chip Dodd, PhD, is a teacher, trainer, author, and counselor, who has been working in the field of recovery and redemption for over 30 years. With his clinical experience, love of storytelling, and passion for living fully, Chip developed a way of seeing and expressing one’s internal experience called the Spiritual Root System™. To read more from Chip, visit his blog, or check out his books.