The Art of Mattering

Many people at Andover are familiar with issues such as anxiety, imposter syndrome, and burnout. It is a phenomenon that is generally unavoidable and in most cases attributed to the stress of school. However, I would argue that these symptoms point to a bigger problem: students don’t feel like they matter. According to Isaac Prilleltensky, professor at the University of Miami and co-author of “How People Matter,” to matter means to feel valued and to feel like you add value. Despite the simplicity of the definition, new research by Gordon Flett and his colleagues at York University shows a close relationship between one’s sense of mattering and the general mental well-being of the person. The researchers state that people who feel like they do not matter are at a higher risk of “self-harm tendencies and inability or unwillingness to engage in self-care,” reported Flett et. al. But how do students regain that sense of “mattering” that we as humans innately crave? It boils down to the act of identifying who you are as a person, outside of simply a number on a transcript.

At Andover, it is no secret that your grades tend to mean a lot to you — it might even seem to define your worth as a person. But in most cases, your grades fluctuate. In fact, it is more common than not that you don’t always get that six you wanted. In tying our identities so closely to our grades, we as students start to evaluate ourselves by how close we are to becoming the perfect student: exceptional grades, consistent work, and diverse extracurriculars. Thus, when we fail to reach these unattainable expectations, we begin to perceive the failure as an evaluation of our general worth. So, to truly establish a sense of “mattering” at this school, the most important step is to identify who you are when you are not a student. You must realize that you are multifaceted and complex, and even if you do not excel in one part of your identity there are so many other aspects that you are succeeding in. By building a holistic identity you are able to develop unwavering self-assurance and confidence in yourself independent from external validation. While the student identity is defined with harsh, rigid boundaries that separate the “succeeding” from the “failing” with clear-cut numbers, your personal identity doesn’t have to be judged so brutally. When you begin to see yourself as a person made up of multiple moving parts, you realize the equal importance of every component of your life. You realize that grades, good or bad, are not indicative of your value as a human being. You are so much more. 

By enhancing your personal identity and identifying your strengths aside from academics, you find unique ways to contribute to the community, adding “value” to the Andover campus. This will not only help validate your sense of worth, but it will also allow you to sustain a healthy method to boost your self-esteem. To identify such strengths, think of moments when you did something you enjoyed and received positive feedback. Was it when you crocheted something for your friend? Or when you planned an awesome party for your friend’s birthday? Whatever it is, once you have identified your personal strengths, work on developing that aspect of yourself. If you want to pursue crocheting as your strength, make a club where fellow crocheters can enjoy a relaxing time doing the craft they love. Or perhaps start a community service where community members can learn how to crochet. Using your strengths to add value to the community that you live in will help you feel confident about your worth and allow you to enjoy your time doing it. Don’t get me wrong, there will definitely be times when you feel unqualified or unworthy. These negative feelings will always find a way to creep into your life. But by having a strong sense of who you are as a person and other ways to affirm your importance, you can push past those hard moments and realize that those are simply a part of your identity, not your defining factor.

There are many societal pressures constantly dictating the standards we should hold ourselves to, but it is important to step back and remind yourself that the only person who can determine your worth is yourself. In other words, you are the only one who is in control of what you believe makes you feel worthy. So I encourage you to take some time to explore what makes you genuinely feel good about yourself and start to build an identity focused more on that pleasure. By solidifying your personal identity, you are able to stand firm within yourself despite the judgment and hardships you may face.