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This tweet floated past me earlier today and caused me to pause mid-scroll:

The full quote from actor and comedian Aziz Ansari, which I found when clicking through to FastCompany is, “I just want to produce one movie that makes a mark–like Will Ferrell with Anchorman, or Judd and Steve Carell with the 40-Year-Old Virgin–so no matter what happens, I can say, ‘That really captured my voice. That’s the kind of comedy I was trying to do.”

Word, Aziz. Word. I don’t know if everyone is born with this feeling, or just creators, or just some creators, but I know I was. I think most of us who create things aspire most to exactly that: producing one thing that makes a mark. Something that matters.

What I wonder, as a creator on a far less visible scale than Aziz or Judd Apatow, is how will I know when I’ve done that thing? How will I know I’ve made a mark? The odds that I’ll ever have an Oscar or millions of fans begging for sequel as a barometer are highly unlikely. Like, gravely unlikely. I suppose, for creators whose audiences are something less than The Entire World, we have to rely on smaller benchmarks.

Now, at what (I certainly hope) is just the dawn of my career in creating, I am no expert. But here are a few things, I think, that can help us measure if what we’re doing matters:

      • An email from someone featured in an article, thanking you for sharing their story
      • Finishing something and feeling like it might be the best thing you’ve put into the world
      • A message from a reader saying they just finished your book for the third time
      • Someone reaching out to say they saw themselves in your writing, and don’t feel as alone anymore
      • Getting one right reaction from one right person: a laugh from your husband, a text from your mom, a retweet from your best friend

For those of us who are creating from the trenches, working hard to slowly build an audience, one ear or eyeball at a time, how we know we’ve made or are making a mark depends entirely on who we want our audience to be. Aziz and I have probably different audiences, but we’re both just looking to the same thing: one thing that really matters. But I bet he’s happy when he gets proud texts from his mom too.

How do you know what you’re doing matters?

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