The Power of Value

I know the exact moment that led to me quitting my job.

I didn’t recognize it for what it was at the time. But looking back, it’s astonishingly clear.

I was talking on the phone with a high level manager in my organization. We were talking about the position I was in with the training unit. It’s a little complicated to explain, but I was in something called a rotation, where I was technically still in my previous job, but was being “loaned out” to do the work of another position.

And I loved being in this rotation. I loved working in the training unit. And she was calling me to let me know she was going to be pulling me back into my former role. Now that alone was upsetting, but it wasn’t the triggering incident. What did change everything was that when I asked her why, she lied to me.

It wasn’t even a good lie, which somehow made it worse. I’ll never know if she thought I was naive enough to believe it, or whether she knew that someone in my position didn’t have the authority to question her. But it worked in the end. I got the message. I just didn’t matter.

When I decided I was going to quit my job effective the end date of my rotation, something highly unexpected happened to me. I hadn’t discussed my decision with anyone yet, hadn’t told my manager or any of my co-workers.

But within days of deciding I was done, my self-confidence suddenly shot through the roof.

For so long, I had been viewing myself through the eyes of my organization, through the eyes of management. Sitting at my desk, wondering what I was doing wrong, how I was wrong. My co-workers would give me wonderful compliments, my students gave me high ratings, and yet I still felt hollow. If my work was so good, why did I feel so awful?  I had lost all faith in my own value.

The day I decided I was done, that perspective flipped completely. Suddenly, I was sure I had value. I knew I was good at my job. This organization was going to have a major loss when I left, whether they were able to see it or not.

Because suddenly, I wasn’t looking through their eyes anymore.

Feeling like we have value is such a fundamental human need. Anyone who’s ever been overlooked or dismissed in any aspect of life knows perfectly well that sinking feeling of not being seen, not being appreciated.

Sure, logically we know that we should look internally, not externally, for our validation. And it’s so important to work on that dimension of ourselves.

But in reality? We still take in that feedback from others, especially from those in authority.

Paying attention to people’s value is one of those things that tends to fade fast in the reality of the workplace. We get caught up in the immediate crises of budgets, resources, and staffing. Whether people feel valued is easy to ignore. But when it comes due, the cost is high.

I was not the first to leave my unit feeling undervalued, and I wasn’t the last.

Here’s what I’ve taken from my experience:

  • You have to show that you value others. Again, show, don’t tell. People can tell when you genuinely mean it, and they can tell when you’re using it for your own agenda.
  • Know enough about people to show genuine and specific appreciation. If you’re giving vague platitudes, people know it’s because you don’t really know what they do.
  • Don’t lie. I hate that I even have to say this one, but I do. Because people do lie. And I don’t care if you think of it as spinning the situation or trying to put it in a more palatable frame. It’s still a lie. Don’t do it.
  • And most importantly, value yourself first. We like to believe that someday, they’ll see. But the truth is, that day may never come. I deserved better, and in leaving, I chose better. Do whatever you need to do to choose better for yourself too.

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