When to Stop

Many years ago, I published an article titled The Gap, which was about the enormous chasm between what I consider good enough quality to ship and what I am actually capable of producing. I was going to write something on that topic today, but, as it turns out, The Gap expresses almost exactly what I wanted to say. So here it is, resurrected, with a few edits.

For a couple of years, I have been paralyzed. When I sit down to write, nothing comes out. When I start to design, I stare at a blank canvas. My ability to create things does not meet my own ridiculously high standards of quality, so I get stuck in an endless loop of making decent things, throwing them away, and then starting over from scratch. I’ve been floating around in despair, a creativity limbo, which has nearly destroyed me. I stopped working. I became depressed. In a last ditch effort to restart my brain, I left; I bought a one-way plane ticket to Bali with the hope that culture shock would inspire me to make great stuff once again.

That was several months ago, and while I now feel more inspired and energized than ever, the paralytic gap between my actual ability to create and my unachievable sense of what constitutes “good enough” remains. I simply cannot make things that are good enough for myself. This problem festers in my thoughts, and it causes me to doubt myself at every turn.

The truth is that perfection is impossible and “good enough” is good enough. Logically, I know this. But as a designer, this task is insurmountably difficult. It feels like defeat. Accepting good enough instead of absolutely amazing is a tacit admission that I am not good enough to create things that meet the same level of quality that I demand from others when I evaluate creative work. My taste exceeds my own ability.

It’s interesting that the source of my internal battle lies buried in something as innocuous as “taste”. For most people, taste is just the basis of opinion. It describes the point at which something flips from being “not good enough” to “ok, decent”. But for creative people, it’s something different. Taste is everything. It is what drives us. It is the definition of success, the ceiling of what is possible, and the source of everlasting internal frustration. Being creative is a battle fought over the slow conversion of a mere idea into something tangible that you think is great. The question is: When do you stop the conversion process?

I don’t know.


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