How the concept of “Mattering” Matters

Approximately thirty years ago, Dr. Nancy Schlossberg, counselling psychologist at the University of Maryland, wrote a seminal paper outlining the impact of the concepts of “mattering” and “marginalization” on the lives of people during life transitions. Specifically her research looked at the impact of significant life change on students transitioning from high school to college or university and retirees who had left full time work. Dr. Schlossberg developed a theory of transition that suggested the importance of mattering to ourselves and others and illuminated the possible challenges that many of us may face during any life changing experience through marginalization.

Drawing on a concept that was originally developed by sociologist, Dr. Morris Rosenberg, “Mattering” could be described as being dependent on several aspects being in place:

1. Attention – Whether or not we feel that we matter to and are noticed by others;

2. Importance – A belief that one is cared about and that what we are doing is considered to be of some importance to others or ourselves;

3. Dependence – Feeling that we matter if we are needed by others;

4. Ego-Extension – The feeling that if we succeed or if we fail that others will notice and will support us;

5. Appreciation – That we are in fact, appreciated for what we do, whatever that may be.

The concept of “marginalization” results when some of these factors are not met and we may become marginalized when we transition from one stage of our lives to another. Schlossberg’s theory of transition and her research suggested that retirement could be a time when we feel like we continue to matter to others or ourselves or it could be a time when we begin to feel like we are resting on the margins of our lives. Any time we make or experience a significant change in our lives, we often feel somewhat off balance and need to devote time and energy to become grounded again.

Strategies that I have found helpful as I move through this time of transition have been to take advantage of having more time for friends, family, and making new acquaintances. I have been pleasantly surprised by a whole world of people who no longer work full time but take lifelong learning courses, exercise classes, and are available during the daytime. Continuing to work part time allows me to use skills that I have in new ways and with new people and allows me to continue to feel like what I do is important, meaningful, and matters.

Finally, learning what it means to experience being a beginner all over again as I learn new skills and pursue new interests. Being able to appreciate what others have done or are doing has enriched my experience as well. Perhaps most importantly, I have learned to be kind and patient with myself as I work to avoid feeling marginalized while I am building this new stage of my life. How about you? What strategies might you have used when experiencing life changes to continue to feel as if you “matter”??

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