Glimpses of the possible


That’s how many words that I’ve written for Phronetic since August 27th, 2015. That doesn’t include other miscellaneous writing projects, and the multiple notebooks I’ve filled up.

To me, that seems like a lot.

Do you know how many posts composed of those 216,265 words I’m proud of? That I read and say to myself, “That was bloody good Matt.” Not many. Maybe four or five percent of everything I produce. Perhaps more.

This persistent dissatisfaction is what Ira Glass noticed:the gap between taste and ability:

“[What] nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody 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, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?

A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.”

Now, pair Ira Glass’ observation with something I wrote last year: that the best way to motivate someone is to show them visible signs of progress. What you get is my predicament. I write a lot, but only a small percentage is up to the standards I’ve created for myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a blast doing what I’m doing. Writing every day, interviewing people, working on a new book. But it’s both rewarding and frustrating. Why? Because I get glimpses of the possible. I see snatches of what I can do when I’m at my best, on top form. These glimpses are both inspiring and depressing. Inspiring because they send a signal that says, “you can actually do this.” Depressing because they are so few and far between. 

But you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing. 

When your work is getting hard and life is beating you up, it’s nourishing to look for glimpses of the possible. To think about the moments where your true potential shines through. Where everything feels right. Because if you can find those moments, it means there’s a possibility that you could make them happen more often in the future. And that’s the inspiring, seductive, regenerative power of glimpses of the possible. They compel you to keep going, even when it feels like everyone and everything is telling you to stop.