In my twenties I worked at two small marketing agencies in the Chicagoland area. I worked on every kind of project you could imagine; brochures, websites, advertising, packaging, billboards, trade-show displays, in-store packaging, videos, CD-ROMs (remember those?), point of purchase displays, and everything in between. You name it, I made it during this time. And I hated every minute of it.
I don’t know what it was like to work with me then, but I imagine it being kind of a pain. Maybe a good pain, but still kind of a pain. I was in a band at the time and really felt like my band was my “art”, my outlet. I put a lot of work into our music, our album covers and our posters, but “work” was something I did to fund my “art”. Amazingly, I still gained favor at these places. I worked hard, but I was constantly discontent.
Part of it was because I was really discontent with culture as a whole. We go to school, we get a job, we get married and all of a sudden we are in a rat race to…where? I had done all the things culture had told me to do, and I was bored, “This is it?”. I complained all the time to my wife and family about it. “I am not supposed to be sitting on my butt all day!” “This isn’t what we were meant to be doing as humans!” “No one is happy, why do people keep doing it?” I didn’t want to be a part of the machine that everyone else blindly lives in. I was giving 75% of my awake time to something I was not passionate about. I would scream things in my head such as; “This just can’t be right, that can’t be what God had intended. I was meant for something more. The work I am doing doesn’t even matter!”
And that phrase right there is why I hated every minute of it. I didn’t think the work I was doing…mattered. I didn’t think anybody cared whether I put in extra effort or not. Fifteen years later, I still have a lot of issues with culture. We don’t have it right.
Most Americans are blindly going through life and doing what they are told whether they realize it or not. Overweight, in debt, staring blindly at their phones as “life” scrolls by. Basically sleepwalking through life.
I wish someone would have slapped me in the face, grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “What you’re doing DOES matter!!!”
Here is why…
- Your work matters because others are watching you. They are seeing what you make. Seeing if you’ll be the one to step out, to take it to the next level and be the leader. The projects I worked on during those years weren’t in front of millions of people, but they were in front of other designers. They were in front of hundreds and then eventually thousands of customers. It was probably more people than I realized. Maybe these projects were just selling sprinkler systems, and salon products, and sump pumps, and paint primer, and thermostats, and whatever other boring thing you can think of…but lots of people use these things. These things matter to a lot of people.
- Your work matters because God is watching you. I was about six years into my career before I realized this. I wish I had realized it earlier. I remember the project that flipped the switch for me. There was a TV show on TLC called What Not To Wear. It was a makeover show. There was a hairstylist on this show named Nick Arrojo. One of the clients I did work for was the company that was making a custom Nick Arrojo salon chair. I was tasked with making the brochure to launch this chair. I remember getting the newly shot photos of Nick and thinking, “Oh man these are good photos! I’ve gotta make this brochure really good. I have actually heard of this guy!” What if I tried as hard on this brochure as I tried on my bands album covers and our posters? What if I made this brochure amazing? So, I did. I put my all into it and made a brochure by doing what I thought would be cool. I MADE this brochure matter. In the larger scheme of things you might say a salon chair brochure doesn’t matter, but I think God was giving me opportunities to make things matter. Why would he trust me with larger things If I didn’t even take the smaller things seriously? Once I took the projects he was giving me seriously, he gave me more.
- Your work matters because you are part of a larger story. There is a road in my hometown of Rockford, Illinios that is covered in terrible billboards and bad signage. You know the kind of road. All of that signage and those terrible billboards are being made by someone; maybe you have even made one or two that live on that road. I did. Imagine if each of the designers who made those signs thought what they were doing mattered. Imagine if they thought about how their work would affect the way people felt when they drove down that street. Imagine if your work made the entire road better. Now, imagine if every creative in America did that. We could change culture and we could change the larger story.
You have a responsibility to make your work matter.
No matter where you are and no matter what kind of work you are doing. Making your work matter is not about someone handing you a project that matters already. It is about making whatever project you are working on matter. It is up to you to look at your life and your work in that way. Your work matters already because you are a creative. You are made in the image of God to create, and I think HE has given you this exact project today to see what you will do with it. Make this one amazing! Maybe the next one will have slightly more impact, then maybe a slightly bigger one after that. There is no telling where it will go, but it is ultimately up to you.