One of the greatest needs we have as humans is to be affirmed and validated.
This is especially true for us artists. We often use our popularity as a gauge for our self-worth.
Here’s what I find interesting: most popular musical artists are known for only a handful of hits. One of my favorite bands is Toto, the group behind the smash hit “Africa” from the early 1980's.
Here’s a screenshot of Toto’s most popular songs on Spotify.
Photo by Author
“Africa” has almost 650 million plays. Their second most popular song is “Hold the Line,” which has less than one-third as many plays.
Their ninth most popular song is “Pamela,” which in my opinion is much more musically interesting than “Africa.” However, it has less than 2% of the plays that “Africa” does.
Toto is one of the most talented and well-known bands in the world. However, most of their success came from just a handful of smash hits. In fact, the average music fan can probably name less than five of their songs.
Toto did not focus on being “popular.” Instead, they focused on the one thing they COULD control: making great music. If you listen to their back catalog, you can clearly see they accomplished this goal!
In our age of social media and endless hype, it’s easy to focus on creating work that will give us instant attention or an immediate result. But the truth is that we cannot control our popularity. We don’t control the reviews, outcomes, or end results of our creative work.
So what CAN we control?
- We can control the work we put into our craft each day.
- We can control what type of mindset and attitude we bring to our work.
- We can control how we serve and give.
- We can control the level of excellence we bring to everything we do.
- We control how we approach the work and how we talk about it
In the end, it’s all practice. Every blog post, every podcast episode, every painting, every song, every book, every speech, every sermon or lesson, whatever you are creating … they are all practice. Each one teaches us something about creativity, about ourselves, and hopefully about our audience. Each one prepares us for the next thing we create.
Every time you create, you are adding another brick to the structure that eventually becomes your body of work. You don’t get to decide what others think about the structure, or how popular any specific brick will be. Your job is to show up every day, create the brick, and add it to the structure.
Your job is to show up every day, create the brick, and add it to the structure.
A Personal Sidenote
Want to hear something interesting? A good chunk of my own blog traffic is due to two posts that I wrote several years ago. Most of my podcast downloads comes from a handful of episodes.
In both cases, I was surprised at which posts and episodes were most popular. Those are not the ones I worked on the hardest. They were also not the ones I thought were the “best.” But they were the most popular ones, for whatever reason.
The only way I could get to the “most popular” ones and discover what was resonating with my audience was to create a bunch of other stuff that was not as popular.
You can’t control what is popular. But you CAN control your daily creative practice — the sacred act of showing up and doing the work.
It’s time to get to work.