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The importance of feeling valued

Valued. We all want to feel it. We all need to feel it. Feeling valued means we feel seen. It means that we feel safe. It means that instead of focusing on how we can survive, we can focus externally on how we can thrive. And when we don’t feel valued in a particular environment, whether that’s in our family, our relationships, sports teams, or work environments, we’ll either seek that feeling elsewhere or we’ll internalise and focus purely on our survival.

And that’s counterintuitive. We as humans want to help others. We want to grow and develop. But when we can’t, that invariably means there is something in our environment that is prohibiting that development. But that thought? That there’s something wrong with the environment and not the individual? That’s confronting. Because we’ve been so conditioned into believing that it’s the individual, not the environment, with the problem.

I’ve spent my entire life feeling like this on my soccer teams – that I was the one with the problem. I spent four years in America trying to change the culture. I invested my heart and soul into that program and it almost destroyed me. I changed my approach every year – I tried to be the vocal, outspoken, realistic leader and I was coined “negative nancy”. So the following year, I took a positive, encouraging approach. But I was shut down any time I tried to stand up. So then I backed off, I sought out other leaders to be vocal and then I was told I didn’t care about the team. It seemed that no matter what I tried, it was never going to be right. So it made me question, can you be a leader when you have no followers? Isn’t the whole purpose of being a leader to lead others?

So then I moved back to Australia and I signed with a team who seemed very adamant on having me. The coach immediately asked me to be part of the leadership group because she saw that I was a leader. Finally, I thought. Someone who values me. But I was wrong. I wasn’t valued, on or off the field. Can you be a leader if you’re not given an opportunity to lead? It’s one thing to give someone the title, but are you allowing them to have any input?

And so continued the feeling that I didn’t belong. And that there was something wrong with me. Because how couldn’t there be? Of all the teams I’ve played for, I was still the one who felt like I didn’t belong, no one else felt like that. Until about three weeks ago when I signed with my current team. I chose this team purely for the coach because she saw me. She understood me. But most importantly, she valued me. And not just with her words.

At trainings and in games, she’s given me what no other coach has felt secure enough to do; freedom. She wants me to share ideas, to coach the other girls, and to offer feedback. In regards to playing, she wants me getting forward because she sees I have certain strengths that add value to a team. Every other coach I’ve had has been very explicit about me not getting forward, or dribbling with the ball. I was a defender tied to the defence. And that strike I have? Who cares – that’s an attribute confined to trainings.

Not only has the coach fully embraced me for all that I am, but so too have the players. I immediately feel like I have something I’ve fought so hard to possess over the years: respect. And trust. As liberating as this has been, to finally be in an environment in which I feel I can prosper, there’s a touch of bitterness and resentment associated with it. Bitterness because for years, I’ve been made to believe, from coach’s decisions or lack of, that I wasn’t good enough. That I was the one with the problem. That I needed to change. I’ve considered quitting so many times because I’ve been overlooked more times than I can count. And I’m angry about that; angry that I’ve been made to feel like I wasn’t good enough. That there was something wrong with me. Because now I realise, perhaps it wasn’t me. Perhaps I’ve just never been in an environment in which I’ve been truly valued for all that I am.

I look around me and I see this all too often, the fundamental attribution error; the tendency to underestimate environmental influences and overestimate dispositional influences on individual's behaviour (Myers, 2011). If a person isn’t succeeding, maybe it actually has nothing to do with them and everything to do with their environment. Do they feel safe? Do they feel valued? Why are these questions never asked? Because it means people have to look in the mirror before they can look elsewhere. And it’s easier to blame, than it is to be held accountable. For coaches and people, in general, that are insecure? That’s as realistic as trying to baptise a cat. It won’t happen. So what you’re left with is a dysfunctional team where members don’t feel a part of anything. Where they feel like there’s something wrong with them. Where, instead of focusing on their team and helping them succeed, they’re focused on themselves and how they can survive.

In another area of my life, I’ve been reminded of just how painful it is to be misunderstood. To be judged based on nothing other than another’s perception of you. We all hear the same advice, “Who cares what others think of you? Just do you and forget the rest.” Reality is, we all care what others think of us. Especially when others’ judgements start to affect those relationships closest to us. I would love to say I’ve been surrounded by people who stand up for me when rumours arise, but the majority of people thrive on the drama. So instead of checking the source, they spread the gossip. Until it ends up destroying relationships.

What if, instead of discussing people, people discussed ideas? What if, instead of judging someone for their actions, you questioned them with an open curiosity to better understand their intentions? I find openness so attractive, because it’s malleable. And it’s safe. There’s no judgement in openness, because there’s no attachment to ones’ beliefs. Perhaps my way of thinking isn’t the best, perhaps you do actually know better. I’ve been questioning a lot recently and I’m finding that my questioning is being misinterpreted. Sometimes I forget that people will always perceive what they want to perceive, no matter how clearly you communicate; “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I suppose what’s important then, is to find those people who don’t judge. Who do have that openness. And who do value you, for all your little nuances.

I’m beyond grateful, and excited, to finally feel valued on this team. And I have my coach to thank for that. She saw in me what no other coach has, but which has been within me all along. So if you ever feel like there’s something wrong with you, perhaps it isn’t you at all and just the environment that you’re in. We’ve been taught to “stick things out” when they’re not going well, but I think that’s shit advice. If it’s not working, there’s obviously a reason for that. And perhaps it’s as simple as you’re not compatible with the environment because your needs of feeling valued and of being seen, aren’t being met. So I encourage you to find that environment. But better yet, I encourage you to be that environment. Value someone? Tell them. Someone’s impacted you? Tell them. Someone’s made your day just a little brighter? Tell them. We crave feeling valued, but too often our value goes unspoken. I have no idea who reads these posts, except for the people who actively like and comment on them. And although I don’t write for validation or reassurance, those things help with conviction that you are on the right path. But most importantly, those things help with fulfilling a basic human need: feeling valued.

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