The True Meaning of Influence, or Why It Would Be Okay If I Only Sold Fifteen Copies of My Book

August 21, 2013


Everyone seems to want it.

Everywhere I look, there are workshops and conferences and books and blogs dedicated to expanding our personal reach.  Growing our platforms.  Becoming better leaders of more people.  Apparently, that’s the goal we should be pursuing, to influence as many people as possible.  We live in a culture of celebrity everything.  Celebrity motivators, celebrity pastors.  Many Christians say the most influential Christian in their life is a celebrity, not a person they personally know.

But what does it even mean to influence people?  To change their opinions?  To motivate them?  To sell them a product?  To win their vote?

It took me a long time to realize that I don’t fit in the mold of the “leader” or “influencer” that everyone seems to say I should be.  My feet don’t fit those shoes.  I can’t be that kind of person who gathers throngs of people willing to follow me.

But I’ve realized something.  That it’s okay to not be an “influencer” in the sense that we’re being sold “influence.”  It’s okay not to be the “leader” that everyone is supposed to be.

I’m kind of ashamed it took me this long to figure it out.

This is what influence looks like to me.

I Want My Fifteen Minutes, and I Want It Nowandy-warhol

Andy Warhol said that in the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes.

He could not have known how true his words would be.

Fifteen minutes of fame is more accessible than ever.  Thanks to social media and reality TV, anyone could become the next overnight meme.  Deep down, I think we all want that.  We want our fifteen minutes.  We know, theoretically, that fifteen minutes is a short amount of time.  But dang it, we want it anyway!  We want validation.  We want to be recognized.  It’s easy to see so many people who get their fifteen minutes and say “Why not me?”

Because we easily mistake those fifteen minutes for influence.  I really think our concept of influence is that fifteen minutes of fame.  We give the world some small slice of ourselves, and for a few brief moments…

people care.

We want people to care just a little bit about that little piece of us we’re giving to them.

What We Have That Everyone Wants

Andy Warhol also self-parodied a lot.  After he made his “fifteen minute” remark, he remixed it a few times, saying that in the future, only fifteen people would be famous.  Or that in the future, everyone would be famous to fifteen people.

I think he stumbled on a bit of genius with that.  Everyone would be famous to fifteen people.

It sounds like an oxymoron.  Fifteen people don’t make you famous.

But all of us have fifteen people, give or take.  Fifteen people to whom we are rock stars.  Fifteen people to whom we are famous.  Fifteen people over whom we have influence.  We can’t win an election or make a million dollars off our fifteen people.  But we have what all the politicians, statisticians and advertisers covet.  We have true influence with those fifteen people.

Fifteen Minutes or Fifteen People?

I have a certain number of students in my art classes.  It’s not that big of a number.  There’s not much I can do to help increase that number.  I can’t pull kids off the streets and get them enrolled in my school.

But is a teacher who has five-hundred students a better teacher than one who has a paltry three-hundred?  Are the Duggars better parents than you because they have twenty or twenty-five or I-can’t-even-keep-track-how-many kids, and you just have the one, two or three?

My influence as a teacher isn’t grown by getting more students.  I can have more students and still be a crappy teacher.  My influence as a teacher doesn’t come from pouring out a tiny bit of my energy over a huge number of kids.  My influence with students comes from pouring my whole self into my students no matter how many or how few they are.

I’m even to the point where it doesn’t matter if Life After Art sells 15,000 copies.  If all of those people buy the book, read it, put it down, and nothing positive changes in their life, then it was all for naught.  My influence is zero.  If fifteen people bought the book, and all of them were inspired, motivated and encouraged, then I have accomplished more.

Influence to me looks like this: taking care of those fifteen people, not wishing for fifteen minutes.  Fifteen minutes is shorter than ever.  But you can keep pouring yourself into fifteen people over and over, and the rewards are so much deeper and satisfying.

I want to hear from you!  Who is the most influential person in your life?  Who are you influencing the most today?


13 responses to The True Meaning of Influence, or Why It Would Be Okay If I Only Sold Fifteen Copies of My Book

  1. “We want people to care just a little bit about that little piece of us we’re giving to them.”

    Excellent! The popular grab for increased influence leads us away from depth, from fully investing with all we have in those we’ve been given. We invest time in becoming marketing specialists rather than developing in our area of giftedness. Don’t get me going. You’ve captured it well and in an inspiring way. Thanks for addressing this!

  2. Matt, I love this post. You commented on something I have been wrestling with for some time. Thank you! I just might be one of your 15!

  3. Great post, Matt! I believe God’s been working on this one with me as well. We may be called to truly impact many or few, but it’s the depth of that influence that truly matters. Additionally, I feel Him telling me that it’s God alone who determines our influence. No great platform will get us there if it’s not willed by God. In fact, God’s in the business of using the most unlikely characters who have little or no influence when He finds them (such as David) to lead His people. Thanks for your insight, Matt!

  4. This is really interesting. I’m working on a book and have fallen into this trap in my mind that I have to make the book speak to EVERYONE, even though it would speak best and most deeply to a specific niche of people. That’s kept me frozen in my writing. It has become a chore to work on the book because of my overwhelming thoughts of trying to influence everyone. Thanks for helping put things into perspective.
    Kate Hall recently posted..Caption That! (Round 47)

  5. I always wanted to be a rock star, or famous artist, or writer, or Christian minister, or inspirational speaker, or Internet mogul or prophet of God. I wanted to have value to man and Maker; I wanted to accomplish something of value. Then I became a parent, and I focused on others succeeding. In the end, focusing on everyone else, I began to find David.

    Today, I hope that my kids will want to be like me in some ways, and I dread that they may follow in my footsteps in others.

    Unfortunately my influence is more in the health and fitness realm online, than it is with people I am close too. I am evaluating that now. How many books do I have to sell to be something? One, I have to believe in what I say.

    The most influential person in my life has been my pastor. For 4 years he has listened to my dreams, and tried to help me achieve them as a man, a father, a husband, a minister, a writer and just as plain old me. You can get them from too many places.

  6. You ask “Who is the most influential person in your life? Who are you influencing the most today?”
    – I would answer “my children” for both. They influence me to be better, more patient and kind, more open to wonder and to look at things differently. Ironically, I am also influencing them the most in this world. Thus a feedback loop.
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    • That’s awesome, Luke! Isn’t it amazing how, of all the sermons we can listen to, the books we can read, it’s the people who are closest to us – our children or our spouses that so often make us want to be better people.

  7. My mom was and still is the person who continues to hold a high level of influence for me. Her actions, her work ethic, her responsibilities still continue to influence my actions, my work ethic, my responsibilities, even after many years removed from my childhood home. Who am I influencing now? My mind goes toward my daughter. Sure I’ve messed up more times to count, and I still make stupid choices when relating to her, but my prayer, my hope is that the true life moments, the really good stuff, albeit few, will prove to have more influence over her than the bad stuff.
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  8. I’ve had other doctors over the years that I would call my main influences, that I’ve tried to emulate in terms of work ethic, bedside manner and professionalism. I fail spectacularly much of the time and I wind up being a pretty poor copy.

    I’ve hoped at times to be able to influence others but have failed spectacularly at that as well, whether it’s been trying to get a patient to do what I tell them or trying to win an argument on the Internet. Nothing I do or say seems to stick with people, from what I can tell.

    The only exception to that has been my son, who I seem to have been a big influence on, for good or ill. Children seem to have a remarkable gift for picking up all your bad habits.

  9. Excellent thoughts. Looking through your blog . . . you’re a strong writer. Keep up the good work.
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