Wanting others to appreciate your work is not a bad thing in and of itself. We were created with a desire to be loved and delighted in, and we were also created for community. It’s only natural that when we have created something wonderful, we want others to see it. Ultimately, we desire to know that what we contribute to the world is valued and that we hold a spot that nobody else can fill. When we are living out our God-given identity, we will find the fulfillment of those desires.
When an artist paints a beautiful landscape, there is nothing better than someone discovering that piece and feeling such a strong connection to it that they simply must have it in his home. The artist has created a beautiful masterpiece that spoke to someone else’s soul. A connection was forged. That piece was valued and cherished by somebody else. The artist’s feeling of fulfillment in this situation is healthy and God-given.
But what happens when popularity gets added to the mix? If the artist is ranked low amongst his or her peers, his self worth will go down. The artist now feels a need to prove himself and to elevate his ranking. Rather than making art for the purest reasons, he is now competing with others, comparing himself, and trying to create something that is better than everyone else’s art instead of remaining true to his identity.
Perhaps that artist is actually very popular. Maybe he has millions of Instagram followers, his paintings sell for thousands, and he is renown for his work. His opinion of himself is greatly inflated by this success. This makes him just as much of a slave to the system as the artist whose work has less of a following. His self-worth is no longer based on his identity, but based on the opinions of others. To maintain his sense of security, he will need to garner the approval and admiration of others to prevent his self-worth from deflating.
We’ve all found ourselves trapped in this system on various levels. Here are a few things to remind yourself when you find that you are losing the real purpose behind what you are doing.
Forget about followers and focus on genuine connection.
Whether you are a celebrity with millions of followers or the cool girl at your church, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers. When you find yourself focusing on this, combat it by seeking to engage like-minded people in conversations about the things you care about. I find that doing this is a great reminder of what’s really fulfilling.
Instead of thinking about how your work will be received externally, think about how it makes you feel internally.
To this day, the most popular blog post I’ve written was titled, “Waiting for the One: What It Really Means to Wait on the Lord.” It has more views than anything else that I’ve written and I received a ton of emails and feedback on this post (no lie, I was recruited to audition for a reality show where I would have been filmed going on “Christian dates”…I passed on that opportunity).
I almost didn’t post that article because to be completely honest, I wasn’t in love with that post when I was writing it. While I don’t regret posting it, I really don’t like writing about dating. I didn’t have a sense of pride about it when I shared it. I’ve written other posts that were far less popular but made me feel more internally satisfied because they were true to what I care about. I could probably have played out that Christian dating theme since it was working so well for me – and I could probably have taken that audition process further to find out what might have happened. But that path wasn’t for me.
I would’ve had more external success, but internally I would not have been satisfied.
Before I share anything with the world, I take a look at it and think, “If nobody ever read this, looked at this, or heard this, do I still feel proud internally that I created something good?” If the answer is no, then I’m probably straying a bit from my true purpose.
Remember that your purpose is to meet the world’s needs.
One of my favorite writers, Jeff Goins, once said that your purpose is the place where the world’s need and your passion intersects. I always remember this when I think about “building my audience.”As a writer who has surrendered her gift to God’s purpose, my job is not to gain popularity, but to meet a need by bringing spiritual food to people who need it.
I spent about ten years as a waitress, and let me tell you: that is a humbling job. You are a servant to somebody else, delivering something that is meant to bring enjoyment and sustenance. You can’t be a good waitress when you are focused on yourself. The only way to deliver an excellent experience to your customer is to put your own needs aside and make someone else’s needs your priority.
Whatever gift you have in your hand, God gave it to you so that you could serve others. It is not given to draw attention to you or your amazing abilities. It is meant to deliver something spiritual and sustaining to the people in your spheres of influence. It doesn’t matter how extensive that sphere of influence is. Every individual with whom God has entrusted you should be seen as a gift and treated with utmost humility and honor.
If you are a Christian with 8 million followers on Instagram, then you should not consider yourself a celebrity – you should consider yourself a servant to 8 million people.
“The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11-12
Our society tells us that we need to carve out our own path and build our own audience, and so often this mindset infiltrates my thinking. I start to get frustrated and wish that I had more influence, more readers, more Instagram followers – all of the above. God’s path to exaltation is the opposite of what the world tells us. He wants us to remain lowly in spirit without trying to gain any more influence than we have right now. Then at the right time, he will lift us up.
The Bible says that Christ made himself lowly, taking on the very nature of a servant. Because of this he was exalted to the highest place. When anybody is living out their purpose and has submitted themselves fully to the character of Christ, Jesus himself is living in them and is performing his work through them. If any part of our own character remains, we cannot be exalted because we are not righteous enough. We must die to ourselves so that Christ can operate fully in us, and then we will be raised up with him because of his righteousness that is credited to us. This truth is so precious, and it is so much better than pursuing the fame and influence that the world can give. I pray that my generation is one who places a high value on God’s approval and that we pursue this with everything we have.