the gap and the allure of arriving



~4 min read


763 words

Note on the video1

In an interview with Current TV, Ira Glass discusses storytelling. In part three of the interview, he expounds on the difficulties of getting into creative work. Specifically, he refers to something he terms “The Gap.” The gap exists between taste, which is what’s motivating people to do the work in the first place, and the product they’re able to produce when they start.

That gap haunts me. I feel it often and Ira seems so certain that there’s a solution to it. That’s one reason why I’ve returned time and again to this video over the years.

Just do work. A lot of work. Doing that, Ira argues, will produce a volume of that is the only way that the fruits of one’s labor can catch up to the quality of one’s ambitions.

Most people can’t do that. Most people quit.

If I watch this video and successfully convince myself that I’m in the gap, I’m motivated to continue on; to keep working. Ira seems to promise that is all that’s required. If I can just not quit, if I can keep going long enough, I’ll close that gap.

Convincing myself that I’m in the gap can work for a while, but at some point it stops. At some point, I become disillusioned, fretful. I fear that I’ll never close the gap. Not completely. So, I come back to the video and re-up on positive vibes for another go at it.

For years, I was always only looking ahead - measuring the distance between where I am and where I wanted to be. It was devastating. There was only one possible outcome when comparing myself to the gap: coming up short.

There’s an “easy” fix though. “Easy” because it’s not actually easy. It requires a complete shift in perspective. I can continue to be dissatisfied with where I am today, but instead of dwelling on it, I can look at how far I’ve come.

Rather than compare myself to a future version I wish to be, look at the past version I was. Notice the lessons I’ve learned, the little and big ways that I’ve grown.

This works because there is real progress. I don’t always notice it in the moment, but I see it when I take the time to look.

It also addresses the biggest problem with only looking ahead (and the part that I don’t know if Ira’s “just keep working” answer solves): a growing ambition.

I don’t think there’s an “ideal” I’m shooting for. To use Ira’s language: my taste gets better as I learn more. Sometimes, it gets a lot better.

I think it’s a common experience to look at past work and cringe. “How tacky! How juvenile! How could I have thought that?” It might be because the work was objectively always bad and cringe worthy. Further evidence of the gap between what I was capable of producing and my desired outcome (i.e. a quality product). I suspect, however, there’s also a degree of shifting standards. My taste is simply not what it once was. It’s evolved in the time since I produced the cringe worthy work. I now demand more of myself.

This entire piece may feel like quibbling over semantics. In a sense it is. After all, I wholeheartedly agree with Ira’s premise: the only way to truly become great at something is to dedicate yourself to it and constantly push through the challenges and the doubt.

It’s just the emphasis on the gap that I want to back peddle. The gap is there. It’s good to be aware of it, but instead of focusing on it, spend time looking backwards. Reflection is an antidote for the dark days, the days where doubt creeps in and takes hold, because by reflecting it’s possible to see progress and know you’re on the right path.

There’s still a gap - a big one - between where I am and where I want to be. I certainly haven’t arrived. I don’t know if I ever will. That’s okay, because while it’s alluring to think that I might one day produce work I’ll be proud of a year later, it’s not the only way to feel satisfied. I can always look back and be amazed at how far I’ve come.


Hi there and thanks for reading! My name's Stephen. I live in Chicago with my wife, Kate, and dog, Finn. Want more? See about and get in touch!