The Unanswerable Question, And Why You Should Stop Asking It

Jun 21, 2012

Am I wasting my time?

When mentoring writers and speakers, this is the question I’m asked. It’s the same question I’ve asked myself at times.

Behind this question sit several others. What if I can’t find a publisher who wants my book? What if no one reads my posts? What if my speaking platform never takes off, and I can’t make a living? I don’t want to waste all this for nothing.

 So. Tell me. Am I wasting my time?

It’s a valid question. But one that can’t be answered. No one knows the end result. No mathematical formula or manual or expert can predict, with absolute guarantee, whether or not your love of and execution of your craft will produce desired results. It’s entirely unanswerable.

The chief problem with this question isn’t the fact we ask it, but the faulty assumptions that fuel it.

Faulty Assumption #1: Value is determined by number.
When we ask, “Am I wasting my time?” we assume the value of our work is determined by the number of people who read, listen or view it. If it reaches only three bloggers or twelve readers, we assume the hours of effort were squandered, like flushing cash down the can.

If we believe our message, it makes sense to share it with as many people as possible. But what if … the one person who read your post decides to forgive a two-year grudge because of what you wrote? What if that presentation you did for a group of ten resulted in radical change for four marriages? What if your book made two people feel less alone? Is it worth it for them?

Faulty Assumption #2: Significance is measured by popularity.
Quantity is no longer enough. Now we measure the significance of our art by the stature of our patrons. Am I wasting my time? Not if a large-stage organization with an audience of thousands asks me to speak. Not if a major publisher wants to print my book. Not if my website comments and coaching clientele include recognizable names and impressive reputations.

Your work—your art—is significant because of Who called you to it. Not those who recognize it. It is significant the moment you decide to be faithful and do the work, because it is at that moment you participate in something greater than yourself. Publishing doesn’t make a book inspired. Applause doesn’t make a message transformational. No reputation or influence, regardless of how big the name or wide the influence, can add to or take away from the worth of your calling. Except The Name.

Faulty Assumption #3: Validity is decided by visible benefits
We wield the word “success” only after seeing empty bookshelves and full auditorium seats. We want thousands of followers and generous endorsements. Statistics and visible results are good; they indicate whether or not we’re connecting with and impacting those we want to reach. But some benefits cannot be seen.

Take the silent reader who never comments. Or the man sitting in the back of the room who prayed quietly after hearing your message. Or take you, the one who persevered and wrestled and ended up with more strength and character than you would’ve if the process had been easy.

Are you wasting your time?

Perhaps. If you measure success only via numbers, fame, and visibility.

But if you believe in the workings of an Invisible God who can do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, then I don’t think you’re wasting your time at all.

Do you ever wonder if you’re wasting your time?  What keeps you going?

29 Comments

  1. Danica

    Great post! I’ve been working on the Battlefield of the Mind bible study, and I think that the message of wasting our time is just one more lie the enemy wants us to believe.

    Reply
    • Michele

      The mind IS a battlefield, especially mine! I agree, Danica. I think it’s one of his chief distractions. Great insight.

      Reply
  2. Leeann

    Thanks Michele for writing this. I just started my own blog and I am trying to get everything set up “just right.” I have only written a couple posts and I already feel that way. It can feel intimidating, especially when this is something I haven’t done before, but I feel that I should tell my story. I hope that it can impact someone in a positive way, just like you said. Thank you for your honesty and encouragement.
    Be Blessed,
    Leeann 🙂

    Reply
    • Michele

      Leeann, first of all, GOOD FOR YOU! Way to dive in, put yourself out there and write. Savor your accomplishment! Second, yes, it’s incredibly intimidating, especially in the beginning, when you aren’t sure if anyone is reading or if your efforts are making any kind of difference. My best encouragement? Stay the course, stay the course, stay the course. In the next couple weeks I’m writing a post called “Why Your Story Matters.” Come back and read that one too–It might reassure you you’re on the right track. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Mark Randall

    I’ve new to this writing thing and I’ve never asked that question out loud, but now that you say it, I’ve felt that question. Thanks for help! Mark

    Reply
    • Michele

      You make a great point, Mark. I think it’s a question that hovers in the background and impacts what we write and believe more often than we realize. (P.S. Welcome to the writing world!)

      Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, Jill. (P.S. When are you coming back to CO?!?!)

      Reply
  4. RosalieG

    Very encouraging. It’s what I call doing Kingdom work–that which may not be acknowledged in this world but that which God has called one to complete.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Michele

      We put so much stake in the visible, don’t we? Rather, imagine, what could happen if we “…fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:18

      Reply
  5. Andrea Sharp

    Thank you so much Michele for sharing this!! It’s sometimes hard not to get caught up in what the world sees as success. I’ve printed your blog and will keep it handy so I can always be readily reminded of what success truly is!

    Blessings to you!

    Reply
    • Michele

      I’m so glad it was encouraging, Andrea. Now, when I forget and need the reminder, you’re in charge of sending me back here, okay? 😉

      Reply
  6. Heidi R. Foran

    Thanks Michelle!
    I made the decision about a year ago to take the plunge; leave teaching (as a substitute), start my own blog, write my story, and become a youth speaker…and I ask myself that question every day! Am I wasting my time, with all the research, learning the craft of writing and speaking, building the website, ordering business cards, going to networking get-togethers…and I have yet to have a real gig. I’m nervous!
    So, thank you for your indirect encouragement and your direct reminders 🙂

    Reply
    • Michele

      A dash of “nervous” isn’t all bad. 🙂 It keeps us focused and somewhat driven to keep moving forward. HOWEVER … (don’t you love that word?), the key is to keep “nervous” from becoming panic or control. God’s got your back, sister. If you are following him with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, He’s got the rest covered. You are brave and courageous! I’m proud of you!

      Reply
  7. John Tracy Wilson

    Hey Michele,

    This is such a timely post and one I really needed to hear. I am a musicianary and just self-published my first book earlier this year. I’ve also started a blog based on what I talk about in the book. And I have to say, my wife and I have asked this question out loud many times. But we both know, this is the journey we are called to by the only One who counts. And I have made these faulty assumptions countless times only to realize that these are not the true measure of success. Obedience and faith in the One who can and will provide all of my needs must be my standard. I look forward to your next posts!

    John Tracy Wilson

    Thanks for writing just what we needed to hear today!
    John Tracy Wilson

    Reply
    • Michele

      John, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated reading your comment. You said it well: “This is the journey we are called to by the only One who counts.” Yes. Exactly. Makes me think of Gideon with his small group of warriors, Esther with one shot to save her neck and an entire race, and Jesus, with nothing but 12 awkward men to deliver the Best News the world had ever heard. Sometimes our callings appear both insane and impossible. But those are the kind of odds God loves most! Press on.

      Reply
  8. Tracee

    I need to soak your wisdom in. We live in a culture of tangible success. We say you matter because of numbers. We measure the quality of the heart by quantity. I hate that. We all have something to offer. No matter what.

    Reply
    • Michele

      You’re right, Tracee. Our culture expects tangible (and immediate!) success. It’s so important to fight this slide, both in how we view ourselves AND others.

      Reply
  9. Diane Wagner

    Dear Michele
    I do not know you. but I tellyou something. you are totally right.
    I am from Austria and I love to write, as well. To be honest, I use to write for only one reason.
    I want my soul to breathe on a daily basis. MyEnglish is bad I know. But I just wanted to affirm that you are totally right. Who cares how many people read or even like your productions? If there is only one soul among them who gets touched or whose life gets inflicted by your thoughts, it is worth the trial.
    Oh myGod, I love English from the bottom of my heart, so I pick any chance to train it.
    God bless you!
    Diane

    Reply
    • Michele

      Diane, thank you for practicing your English here! 🙂 It’s so nice to meet you. I love that write to allow your soul to breathe. Beautiful.

      Reply
  10. Denise

    Michele,
    Your question today really hit home. I just had this discussion with a friend yesterday. My blog is new and I am already feeling discouraged.

    I feel led to share about the world of trauma and abuse -it’s a tough subject many don’t want to know about or think about. Therefore….I do wonder about the numbers and if what I say matters. My friend reminded me that if God has called me to do it, someone out there is waiting for it.

    Thank you for your perfect timing on another validation. Blessings to you and your writing.
    ~Denise

    Reply
    • Michele

      Those early days (or months!) of a new blog are so difficult, Denise. It’s easy to get discouraged. Know that you are not alone in that! Keep writing, keep telling your story and keep picturing the face of the one person who needs to know she is not alone.

      Reply
  11. Teresa

    Thanks for this post. A friend read my manuscript and just sent it back with comments. It’s been sitting on my printer for two weeks unopened. I loved the writing but am totally overwhelmed at this point and ready to push it into the back corner of my hard drive and forget about it. But it’s one of those things where God always provided me time to write and I know He has a plan for it even though I don’t. I’ll wait.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Teresa, I always have to inhale a lung-full of courage before reading feedback on something I wrote. Not easy! It helps to know He DOES have a plan and purpose.

      Reply
      • Teresa

        Thanks. It’s not actually the feedback that concerns me — she already e-mailed me positive comments and I’ve had feedback from other friends who read it. I finished this book three years ago and have been in a holding pattern of “I just need to find one more person to read it before…” What makes it feel like a waste of time is that I don’t want to figure out the next step because it involves horrible-sounding words like “proposal letter.” I’m getting more pressure from the people around me to DO something with it now and find myself resisting…

        Reply
  12. JoJo Tabares

    It’s a questions all writers ask themselves many times during their writing career. I’ve been writing since I was nine years old, to make a living for the last ten. I find myself doubting if I’m having an impact every day and with ever article, every book, every time I speak, every interview.

    The success part of any career is usually based on impact, either financial or personal. Ten years ago, I was fairly successful on both counts, but in the last three to four years as incomes decreased and people have been so busy trying to make ends meet, I find myself with less income and less feedback.

    The Lord clearly tells me that the world needs to learn to communicate effectively and so few truly understand the power of the tongue that my message is needed. However, since writing is no longer generating enough income to pay my bills, I often question why God has me doing it. It feels even stronger when people don’t take the time to comment on or thank me for all the free information I offer.

    I’ve struggled with this question more in the last three years than ever before, but the Lord keeps telling me to be faithful. He’s given me new ways to reinvent my business and prepared me for something, but I don’t know when it’s coming or in what form it will arrive.

    If you are writing for pleasure, for extra income or as a ministry, you can justify that lack of financial success. However, when you write in order to pay your bills, that measure changes and you do wonder whether or not you are waisting at least some of your time. If God calls you to do it, however, how can you not obey?

    Reply
    • Michele

      You make a great point, JoJo. There is the business side to what we do as writers and speakers. A time may come when we need to abandon a form of it because it doesn’t make sense financially. For example, I a realize I might need to one day find another full time job, and writing/speaking may become something I only do on weekends or evenings. God knows. So, for now, we live it one day at a time, knowing even the uncertainty of today is strengthening, stretching, readying us for whatever comes tomorrow. And certainly not a waste of time.

      Reply
  13. Skip Prichard

    Michele, I love the wisdom here. I started my Leadership Insights blog at the end of December. I never look at the stats. Never. I have had someone else tell me about the visits, etc but I prefer not to focus on them. The numbers don’t matter to me as much as the message. And, you’re right. If it makes a difference to just one person, then it’s all worth it.

    Reply
    • Michele

      I’m glad to hear you say that, Skip. I just added Google Analytics back to my blog a little over a month ago, after two (glorious!) years without any sort of tracking. I need to include the info in a couple current book proposals. However, I plan on staying removed from it in the day-to-day. There was a time when the numbers clouded my the love of the art itself–and the individuals it can impact.

      Reply

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