I’ve always been drawn to Gothic cathedrals. These medieval works of art represent one of the pinnacles of human ingenuity and creativity. Designers, laborers, and craftsmen worked for decades, in some cases centuries, to complete these massive projects.
My personal favorite is Chartres Cathedral in France. Built from 1194-1260, it’s one of the oldest Gothic cathedrals. Chartres is famous for several iconic features, including its beautiful stained-glass windows, a medieval labyrinth, and a purported relic of the Virgin Mary’s tunic.
Consider the mindset of the artists who built Gothic cathedrals. They worked to build something they knew would outlive them—not only by decades but by centuries.
That’s a stark contrast to today’s creative world, where we don’t normally think in centuries or decades, or even years. We think in weeks and days, hours and moments.
Today, most of our creative work is designed for quick consumption. We share social media posts that we hope gets “liked” within 30 minutes. We publish blog posts, podcasts, and videos that we hope go viral within a few days. We release books, movies, and albums and hope they will be seen or downloaded thousands (or millions) of times in a few months.
I’m not saying those things are bad. I engage in all those mediums, and more. But is there a way to balance the need for relevance and timeliness with a more long-term perspective on our creative work?
Maybe a better way to frame the question is: Will your art outlive you?
I’ve come to three conclusions about creating art that outlives us. These are imperatives we must follow if we want to make an impact over the long haul.
1. Take the long view of your art.
It’s easy to get frustrated when something we create isn’t an immediate hit. But what truly counts is not any individual work, but a body of work that is created over a lifetime. Think about artists such as Steven Spielberg, The Beatles, or Stephen King. If they had stopped after one hit, would we remember them?
Perhaps. But they kept going, even through failures, and today they are known as creative giants.
It’s not about one blog post, book, painting, or album. It’s the collective impact that your work makes over the years and decades. That means we can embrace failure as a learning point and decide to improve the next time we launch something.
2. Make something physical.
I know some creatives who work in purely digital formats will disagree with me, and that’s OK. But I would pose a question: How will someone 100 years from now experience your art?
Blogs, podcasts, digital music and photos, and online courses are great … but will your great-grandchildren be able to interact with those? Will they even know your art existed?
No one can predict what the technology of the future will be like. That’s why I believe it’s important to create something physical that can be passed down to future generations.
One of my most treasured possessions is a tattered notebook that my grandmother Louise used to write her poetry. She died when I was three years old, but when I look through the notebook at her poems—many of which are quite good—it’s almost like she’s there with me.
That’s something you can’t get on a computer screen.
3. Focus on being a producer, not a consumer.
This is an area where I struggle quite a bit. I subscribe to too many email lists, buy too many books, and attend too many webinars. It’s easy to spend all your time consuming, and too little time creating.
One of the most helpful things I’ve read recently is a short article by Srinivas Rao, Why I Write 1,000 Words Every Day. He refers to this as a keystone habit that unlocks many other good things. Another recent article that was super helpful is by Mark McGuinness, Forget the Career Ladder: Start Creating Assets. These articles have pushed me to stop consuming so much and start creating more.
The key to long-term success—and the key to leaving something behind for future generations—is producing quality work. But we can’t do that if we’re constantly consuming and never producing.
It’s difficult to focus on the long-term because there are so many distractions in the present. But for the sake of our legacies, and especially for the sake of future generations, we must begin taking a longer view of our lives and creative work.
Originally published at www.kentsanders.net