I don’t have a big ego. I’m not like the narcissist at the dinner party who said, “Enough about me, tell me about you. What do you think about me?” Still, like most people, I do want to feel valued. I want to be seen as someone making a contribution, not just taking up space on the planet.
Last night, however, I felt like a nobody and I was shocked at how it hurt.
I was invited to attend an event hosted by an organization doing wonderful work in the inner city. They connect resources to people who need them the most. The organization wants to enlarge their mission and vision and they invited people from every sector of the metro area to brainstorm with them about how to do it.
I’ve attended and facilitated dozens of these kind of sessions with clients and account teams over the years as a PR executive, so I was excited to have an opportunity to make a contribution. There are lots of ways to conduct these kind of creative sessions. The challenge is how to ensure an abundance of fresh thought, without it turning into a group grope that produces a long list of ideas that are not remotely actionable.
At this event an unusually large number of people were participating, seated at tables of six. Each table represented a “team.” It didn’t matter if you were a store clerk or a CEO, a single mother in low-income housing or a politician wielding great power, it was a level playing field. It didn’t matter if you had more experience or better ideas. YOU were not the point.
We brainstormed first as individuals, then as a team, and then the top ideas were shared with the larger group. The facilitators synthesized all the ideas onto whiteboards, which later would be turned into an action plan.
Tablemates knew little or nothing about each other, including any experience or skills we each had that might be useful in completing our assignment. We were also given too little time for each part of our assignment. The creative process is always messy but this was messier than most. I kept thinking, “There are too many people in the room to get this done. The wrong people are around the table. The focus is off. This is going to be a disaster.”
Surprisingly, at the end of the evening, several good ideas and themes emerged out of the chaos, including variations of my own ideas which never made the “cut” at our table but which ended up being suggested by others.
I wasn’t upset because my ideas didn’t make the cut or because I didn’t get credit. The goal was not to take care of my feelings, but rather to help the organization advance! However, I did hope my years of helping other clients go through this same process at least would have earned a hearing for my ideas. It didn’t happen. I went home feeling my presence didn’t matter at all. I was just taking up space.
Be honest. Whatever walk of life you’re in, haven’t you experienced some variation of this? …feeling that you work hard for your family, your employer, your friends, your cause-of-choice and it’s not recognized or appreciated?
As I reflected on what happened, I realized this may just be part of the human experience. But it can complicate our spiritual life. When Christ invites us into a relationship, instinctively, we want him to know we bring something to the table. We go to church. We pay our taxes. We help little old ladies across the street. We want him to be glad he invited us to the party and to know we’ll carry our weight. But that’s not the way he rolls. Everyone is invited to his party, regardless of credentials, and we only get in if we understand we have nothing he wants or needs, except ourselves.
Nothing prepares us for a relationship in which it’s okay to come empty-handed but where we’re so highly valued he knows us by name and has reserved a seat for us. When that truth soaks in, it won’t matter whether others know all that we’ve done. Their words and approval or disapproval will have no power to inflate or diminish us. We’re somebody because he said so and he’s the most important person in the room.