The Aspiration Gap
NPR radio host Ira Glass once shared insight into the struggle of making great art: “What nobody tells people who are beginners—and I really wish someone had told this to me—is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste… But it’s like there’s a gap. That for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good… It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good.”
However, Glass said that the key to producing work you’re proud of is to follow your creative instincts as you develop your skills. “A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit… Most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years… It is only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions… It’s going to take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through.”
It’s natural to feel disappointed with the work you make. However, you must push through that discomfort and continue to create until your work catches up to your aspirations.
Be a Laser, Not a Lighthouse
Many people—especially leaders—focus on all the things that could go wrong rather than on a compelling vision of what’s possible. They oper- ate like a lighthouse—“Don’t go here. Don’t go there.”—pointing out all the potential problems or danger areas but not really indicating what others should do.
Instead, you must be a laser. A laser is pointed in a clear direction and cuts through the fog. There is no mistaking its direction, and it’s easy to follow. When you communicate about your work, focus on being clear and precise about expectations, direction, strategy, and priorities. When you do this, it provides just the right kind of clarity that will trickle down to the rest of the team.
Consider your current priorities. Is there any place where you are being less than clear in order to avoid potential dangers? Could that be affecting the kinds of risks others take or the ideas they will share?
Focus on being a laser, not a lighthouse. Be clear, precise, and direct in how you communicate with others.
Where are you currently disappointed that your work doesn’t live up to your aspirations? Don’t quit. Keep developing.