Susan Steen

Susan Steen

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.” – Marie Curie

When the call came for “the man of the house,” I could have said many things, but I found myself pleading with the person on the other end of the line to acknowledge that I am also on the account, that I pay their bill each month, and, heck, that I have value as the spouse. 

Marie Curie’s words remind me of how important it is that we stop serving our words like watered down coffee (looks better than it tastes), allowing others to speak of us, and even speaking of ourselves, as if we have little value.  Life isn’t easy, especially when the world seems a little upside down, but you and I must have confidence in ourselves, believing that we are gifted for something that must be attained.

Do you believe you have value? Do you believe you are gifted for something? If you don’t, you should. I know how easy it is to sell ourselves short when we see how much value someone else appears to have.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value of things as I’ve been “cleaning house,” so to speak. More than that, though, I’ve been thinking about the value of people, including myself. I believe many people are undervalued — the garbage man who has shown up every week, our amazing mail carrier, Deborah, who has shown up every day, and my dog, who shows up every time I have a bout of anxiety. Do you know your value? I want to ask. I hope they do.

There are words that strengthen us and words that weaken us, and one of the worst of the four-letter words is just. You’re just a kid. I’m just the wife. He’s just the garbage man. I was just a stay-at-home mom. 

I’ve spent much of my life apologizing for being who I am, as if who I am is insufficient. I own that mistake, and I am working hard to change my vocabulary every day. It’s never too late to treat yourself and others better. Your choice of words makes a difference. I believe we can express how much value a person has through our actions, but sometimes more meaningfully through our words. Unfortunately, many of us use words to devalue others and ourselves.

For instance, I know several people who are physician’s assistants, and none of them is just a PA. But isn’t that what we do — we don’t want to see the PA because they’re just a PA and not the doctor, we don’t want to talk to so and so because they are just the clerk, not the manager. We had to settle for having just the lunch portion because the dinner size wasn’t available. And my friend said she is just the teaching assistant, not the teacher. 

Maybe the lunch portion was all you needed. Maybe the PA listens to you more than the doctor. Maybe the teaching assistant is more in tune to the needs of the students because he or she doesn’t have the load of paperwork the teacher does. These people aren’t just anything. Every role is important and valuable — and should be valued.

Some of the statements most of us have made, along with the message actually sent:

  • ïIt’s just an old suit. (It isn’t anything special.)
  • ïIf you could just help me on this project. (It won’t be that hard for you since you are good at this kind of thing. Three hours later, they are probably not feeling great about how you minimized the help you needed)
  • ïI just need a minute to review. (I’m going to apologize now for taking any of your valuable time so I can quickly read through this very important document that should have received my full attention before I reached you.)
  • ïJust a quick question. (I don’t really want to bother or inconvenience you, so I’ll kind of ask permission before I ask the question.)

Think of the message you send when you preface anything with just. In all fairness, there are times just is a great word, as in, “they’ll get their just deserts” (yes, that’s actually spelled correctly), but for the most part it is a word that minimizes the value of someone or something. Why do people minimize others, and why do people minimize themselves? Insecurity. Knowing the “why” can often help us figure out how to recognize and change when we see it happening.

When we are insecure, it’s not a matter of lacking self-esteem (some of the most insecure people I’ve met have plenty of that). It’s a matter of lacking self-value.

There’s a big difference between self-esteem and self-value, and if you look at yourself long enough in the mirror, you should be able to see that you are a person who has great value.

Imagine Marie Curie. In the eyes of the adults, she was just a girl and couldn’t attend the university because it was only for boys. She had to find an underground route to attend school and attain her degree. She saw value in herself, believing she was gifted for something. She persevered because she had confidence in herself, and thank goodness she did. 

She was not just a woman — she was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the first person to win a second Nobel Prize. Radiology and cancer research can both thank Marie Curie, and we can use her as an example of why it is important that we value ourselves.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. 

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