Making Things That Matter

Work is art, and art is work. For both, the only thing that matters is making things that matter. This is embarrassingly obvious and, therefore, easier said than done. When it comes to deciding what’s important, our intuition will often lead us astray — if we are allowing it to lead us at all.

It’s easy to think that posting every day matters, because if you do, every day, you can watch your followers, likes, income, or whatever your metric of choice go up. That metric is easy to justify in front of your boss, the committee, and even the mirror. “Look! I’m doing the thing that makes sense!” But does it also make meaning? Connection? Impact?

Feeding the market with more of the same merely adds breadth where, actually, depth might be required. You can post the same staged photo in 200 different locations, but each time, the people who saw the one before, or the one before, or even all 199 of them will care a little less. Will feel a little less. Because so do you.

You’re not here to recapture the spirit of the first one. You’re here to milk it. For the 200th time. But what do the people who loved the first one really need? What’s next? Where should your foot have fallen to leave another print in their lives, not just a shadow? It’s not too late to turn on the light. To drive out the shadow, and forge a path that leads forward instead of sideways.

When children tell us about some minor fantasy, like a fox coming out of the bushes on a hiking trip or a helicopter made out of clay, and ask, “Wouldn’t that be cool?!” we pretend to nod enthusiastically. In our heads, meanwhile, we go, “No, that would not be cool at all. You know what would be cool? A cool beer. That’s actually cool.”

While our ability to enjoy activities for their own sake has degraded with growing up, children still possess this important skill — because, in reality, most of the things that do end up being important are things that start with, “Wouldn’t that be cool?!”

Usually, the things that matter will initially only do so to us. It’s the idea for a wooden statue you had when you were nine years old, the feeling of not wanting to be ridiculed every time you buy a certain kind of scarf, or, sometimes, the rebellious drive to, heck, just make a video for the fun of it! Doing great work, making meaningful art — they depend on your ability to tune in, listen to, and act on your curious gut.

That gut will likely need rekindling. Chances are, it’s been put to sleep by the school system, the media, and maybe even your parents. But it doesn’t take much for it to wake up. A good book. An awe-inspiring movie. A day out in the wild. Curiosity is as natural as breathing. No pile of metaphorical, man-made rubbish can drown that completely.

And then? When your inner compass is realigned? Well, then all you’ll need is a heap of courage, enough earned creative freedom, and a big heaping of tenacity to see the work through. Yes, all roads that lead to meaningful things are long and arduous, but truly, finding that spark again is the first step. The match that lights the fuse. The push that almost — just almost — makes the rest of the journey feel like you’re rolling downhill.

Take a moment. Take a day. Take a week if you must, procure that spark, and, maybe for the first time in a long, long time, you’ll be well on your way to doing the only thing that matters: making things that matter.