Don’t Mind The Gap

Instead, choose to enjoy living in it

Mind The Gap man
Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

Ira Glass, the American radio host, famously described what he called the taste gap, experienced by anyone who begins to do creative work. When you begin a creative endeavour, the contrast between the level of work you are producing at and the level you’d like to be at can be greatly discouraging.

The gap doesn’t just apply to creative endeavours.

Whether you’re trying to improve your diet, your job performance or your relationship with someone you find difficult, there is almost always a disparity between how you’re behaving and how you’d ideally like to act. The split between these two may cause you frustration and drain much of your mental energy — but it doesn’t have to be this way.

As a math tutor, I feel responsible for heavily promoting a culture in which arriving at an answer is the source of all satisfaction. The truth is, some of the best lessons involve students doing several of these things: turning up grumpy about facing another hour of maths, repeatedly asking ‘Aaargghh, what’s the answer?!”, trying to beat the clock during a timed challenge, second-guessing themselves, laughing at their mistakes and relishing in their micro-successes (those times when they suddenly understand a concept slightly better). By themselves, none of these things appear especially commendable — but in both learning and life, they are how growth happens. Showing up even when you don’t feel like it, stumbling through the difficult bits, building trust in yourself and finding ways to have fun in the midst of struggle — these things don’t simply make eventual success more meaningful. They can and should be a source of fulfillment in themselves.

Think about the last time you tried doing something you found hard: learning a new language, exercising or having a frank conversation with a stubborn relative. In these situations, you may have judged yourself as being slow, unfit or irritable. Perhaps you told yourself that you really should be better than this by now.

You can make living in the gap more difficult by fighting against it, or you can decide that you might as relax into it. You can do this by laughing at trouble or simply acknowledging each inch of progress made. These other options aren’t always easy, but you can practice defaulting to them instead of getting upset. Over time, doing this may gradually get you to a point where you actually relish challenge.

Recently, I was teaching an online lesson where everything was going wrong. My voice was echoing, attempts to write on the screen mysteriously appeared as strange squiggles and at one point I stopped being able to hear the student entirely. He was struggling slightly with the concept and my efforts to send instructions as chat messages weren’t going very well. Feeling somewhat frustrated, I messaged the programme coordinator. She too seemed unsure of how to solve the problem.

Somehow I realised that the only option left (aside from growing increasingly annoyed) was to find humour in the situation.

“Chris,” I said suddenly to the student, “Look. This is what happens when I try to draw a number 8 on the screen.” I proceeded to use my pen to draw what appeared on the screen as several mouse droppings. He laughed and helped me out by drawing a much more respectable version. I thanked him and we kept going. For a moment, I felt almost grateful for the dropping-shaped squiggles.

Things got better after this. If you keep going and wait long enough, they often do.

What if you reframed the discomfort caused by the gap between your current and ideal self as a deeply constructive sign, an indicator that you are simply alive and always striving to do better? The fact is, much of our our time on Earth isn’t about arriving. Most of life is the gap — the moments in between, including large swathes of boredom, doubt and angst (please refer to 2020) punctuated by small joys.

When you realise this, it becomes clear that you may as well embrace the gap and go with it whenever you can. Even if this involves laughing at mouse droppings on a screen.

(Hey, at least they’re not on your kitchen floor).

To read more of my articles please visit my articles page

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