Is being relevant a good measure of success?

Maybe focusing on what is important and meaningful for you is a better idea?

I don’t know about you, but for me — trying to stay relevant gets old. Fast. Do you see what I did there? I’m saying that trying to stay relevant is irrelevant. BAM! To be clear, I’m not saying that getting old makes you irrelevant — though that’s a fear that so many of us have. What I’m saying is, trying to be relevant is bullshit. It isn’t a good measure of success, of being a good person, of being happy with yourself and your life.

That’s great news. Because so many of us are stupidly obsessed with — and stifled by — trying to be relevant. Whether it’s in business, making art and music, writing or keeping up with politics, culture and fashion. None of us want to be irrelevant. None of us want to be invisible. None of us want to be left behind. A has-been. It can all seem daunting, when the world moves so fast. Where it’s a full-time job keeping up. There’s a lot of competition. Just because the last thing you did got a good response doesn’t mean the next thing you do will get a good response. Ugh.

Being relevant seems really important. We equate it with being included, valued, connected, important, successful, happy, young and cool. But does being relevant actually equal or give you access to any of those things? Well — not necessarily.

What does being relevant even mean? Just because you’re relevant, or popular doesn’t mean you’re making good work or feel meaningfully connected. Or happy.

A friend who makes alternative indie comics, with a small but loyal readership, recently said that they sometimes feel frustrated that they don’t have a larger audience. That their work isn’t more ‘relevant’ and ‘popular’. They realised though, that this desire is fraught.

To get a larger audience, they’d need to completely change their style, subject matter and approach. Perhaps after jumping through those hoops, and contorting themselves they’d have thousands of fans. Maybe they’d have more opportunities, make more money. But would it be worth compromising the integrity of their creative voice for that? No. They’d be playing a game they don’t even want to play — pretending to be someone and something they’re not.

For them, even though the idea of being more popular sounds good on the surface, focusing on what is personally important and meaningful — even if that means having a smaller audience (who really love their comics) — is a much better and satisfying measure of success.

Of course — If you’re working in advertising or selling products, or want to be a chart topping pop star or influencer, it’s a different situation. You need to target specific market segments and sell to them. In order to sell and get their interest, you need to be relevant to them. You’re literally being paid to be relevant and popular. Do your damn job!

But chasing relevancy and popularity in personal, social and creative realms can feel hollow. Not only that, it can take you away from making, investing in and nurturing the things that are really meaningful and nourishing to you. Being overly focussed on trying to be relevant (rather than just doing your thing) is also exhausting. It means always being vigilant, always watching trends and always considering the opinions, likes and dislikes of others.

Of course while staying true to your voice and vision — you might by chance become ‘popular’ and ‘relevant’. Good for you! But this will come and go. It’s a fickle game.

What is much more stable and satisfying is defining your own measures of success. Placing success and standards of ‘good enough’ and ‘cool enough’ in the hands of others is like chasing a mirage.