Beyond Significance

When beauty and significance are not enough

It happened again last week. I created a design that I fell in love with. Throughout the next couple days I would pull it up on my computer to bask in its greatness. Then I received the reaction from my client. It’s not what he wanted. How could that be? Why doesn’t he realize how good this is? I asked myself, “Why does it seem the designs I love the most are rejected?”

It’s hard to gauge the quality of my own work in a fair way. I know the story behind the design. I know where it’s been. I know how far it’s come. And I know the effort that’s been invested into getting it where it is. But it can also be like an inside joke that’s meaningful and funny only to those who were there at its inception. Only they know its significance.

Significance—that’s a key word. Once I invest a large number of hours or days into a project, for me that piece has become significant. If I pour my heart into a creation that has very personal meaning to me, it has become significant. It has value—true value. But despite its significance, the reality is that my design may have missed the mark. And when that moment of rejection comes, it’s a surprise and it’s painful.

Does that mean your creation is not good? Possibly—or it may simply not match what its recipient was desiring or expecting. Determining which is true can be difficult.

We see this all the time in the fine art world. Was Van Gogh considered a successful artist in his day? Most would say no. Did his art have significance? Absolutely. It consumed him. And while his paintings didn’t match the expectations or desires of the day, today there are few artists more revered than he.

And with today’s instant feedback via social media, we have to be careful when gauging reactions. It’s easy to respond to criticism by saying “my work is misunderstood.” Don’t use that phrase as a cop out. Don’t fool yourself—the vast majority of your failures are not a result of being too visionary. If it’s misunderstood, it’s likely because it’s not communicating effectively.

That’s not to say the public’s response is always spot on. If you believe in what you’re doing and have critiqued it with a truly unbiased eye, you could be on to something great. Sometimes the general public can take a while to catch on—maybe that only happens after you’re dead.

But hold up. I’m not trying to convince you that you may be the next Van Gogh. What I want to emphasize is that you are the creation of a very particular artist. People are going to look at you and see your faults. They will have certain expectations that you will not meet. The response will at times be harsh, taking away from your feeling of significance.

But they don’t know your story. They don’t know how far you’ve come. Does that mean you ignore all criticism? Absolutely not. Just as I can be too close to my designs to see their faults, I can easily overlook or be blind to my own faults. The applications are almost endless, but let’s go back to my initial question. “Why does it seem the designs I love the most are rejected?”

Creating something beautiful is a worthy and somewhat fulfilling goal. But as a designer who is working for somebody else, if my beautiful creation doesn’t do what I was hired to make it do, it’s a failure—a failure of strategy.

Similarly, as I live my life with the goal of glorifying my Savior, Jesus Christ, I can do that in a very nonchalant way—so nonchalant that I’m totally ineffective. Am I saying that there’s a strategic way to glorify Christ? Look at the life of Paul and you tell me. I’m not saying there isn’t room for spontaneity. I am saying that each of us has been gifted in specific ways and has experiences that have shaped us. Understanding how you’re wired and where you’ve been is key.

Over the past week my wife and I have sat down and discussed these very issues. What are we doing that’s worthwhile? Where are we headed this year? Five years from now? Twenty years from now? You can spend a lot of time doing things that are “good.” They may provide some sense of fulfillment. But at the end of your life, were you doing what you were created to do to the best of your abilities? You are significant. There’s no changing that. God has made that clear in His Word. Christ’s arrival on earth makes that clear. But God has also spelled out our purpose on this earth. We can choose to ignore that and waste our lives away, or we can pursue living a life that strategically pursues our purpose, and is ultimately effective. What can be more fulfilling?

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