Great expectations

I’m not happy with this article, and I haven’t even written it yet.

I know this because I can picture how I want it to turn out. I can see it right now - paragraphs flowing effortlessly from one idea to the next. Handpicked quotes, carefully curated and thoughtfully placed to deliver just the right punch. A conclusion so tight it rivals Joan Rivers’ face. An article that can stand tall and proudly proclaim "I AM HERE, HEED MY WORDS."

Before I even begin, though, I know it won’t turn out that way. I can tell before I put pixels to paper (pen to pixels?) that this article will end up a mere shadow of what I want it to be. The best writing I can possibly summon won’t even come close to that vision in my head, that article that I truly want to write.

But that’s OK.

If you’re someone that makes things - whether it’s design, writing, software, photography, music, flower arranging, etc. - you’ll usually have some sort of ideal vision in your head for how you want your work to look, or feel, or sound.

Sometimes it’s crystal clear, and we can picture every little detail of the finished product. Other times, it floats around the edges of our mind, almost teasing us with the possibilities. But it’s always there - and we’re always pushing ourselves, and our work, to be as close to that vision as possible.

We also have a finite limit on what we’re capable of creating - kind of a talent ceiling, if you will. Whether you’re writing a book, or designing a user interface, or developing a product, right at this moment, there’s a hard limit on what you’re able to accomplish.

Depending on our skills and experience, this ceiling can vary by quite a bit. It could be pretty high, if you’ve been practicing for a long time, or fairly low, for those of us that are just starting out. It isn’t fixed, either - we can push it higher as we practice our craft and collect feedback along the way. We can take classes and learn new skills. We can say "fuck it" and bash our heads against the wall until we figure things out on our own.

Here’s where things start to suck. Our vision and desire to create amazing work usually exceeds our current abilities - sometimes by a lot. We have a clear idea of the level of work we want to achieve - but what we’re actually capable of creating falls far short. Especially when we’re just starting out, we simply don’t have the experience, or the knowledge, or the skills we need to meet our goals.

It’s frustrating, because we know our work could be better, and we know how it should look in the end - but we’re incapable of getting there. And I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but there’s no magical switch we can flip that will suddenly turn us all into awesome creators. It takes persistence, and time, and practice, and hard fucking work.

Can I be honest, though?

Our vision and desire to create awesome work should always exceed what we’re capable of.

It has to - even though it’s frustrating as hell. That gap is proof that we can go farther, and do more, than we think we’re capable of. It forces us to think around problems, and find our own path to a solution. It’s the thing that pushes us to learn new skills, try new things, and test our own limits. It’s the guiding light that keeps us moving forward.

The key to pushing through that frustration we feel when confronted with our own limitations is simple.

Just keep pushing.

Think of it like the pain after a good workout. Sure, it hurts, but it’s proof that we’re making progress. You won’t get any stronger by lifting the same weight every day. You need to be persistent, adding a little bit more each time - and eventually those incremental changes will add up to big progress.

If you’re lucky enough to have found the work that you love doing, you’ll stay in that state forever. Your vision and desire to create amazing work will expand alongside your ability to produce it. Both of these can, and will, grow indefinitely, as long as you give them the time. But if one day you happen to wake up and find yourself with more skill than passion, you’re likely burned out.

The key is to keep putting yourself out there, and keep shipping your work - even if it doesn’t meet your own high expectations. If you don’t show your work, you can’t learn what works and what doesn’t - and you won’t break through your talent ceiling unless you’re learning. Working in silence toward an ideal vision will, counterintuitively, take far longer to actually reach it.

So this article exists. Even though I’m still not happy with it.

It’s here, in front of you, instead of still being stuck inside my head. Maybe I’m a little bit better at writing now - I’ll let you be the judge of that. Maybe one day I’ll be able to write that perfect article in my head - maybe I won’t.

But I’ll never stop trying.

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