Living In The Gap (And How To Avoid It)

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All my life, I lived in a gap that I didn’t even know existed.

Its roots were perfectionism, self-criticism, and fear.

Those were the chains that held me in place for many years.

I had a mentor some years back who very clearly saw the gap I was in and recommended to me a book by a man named Dan Sullivan. Dan is a business coach to entrepreneurs and founder of a company called The Strategic Coach.

Dan wrote a book and companion audio CD called “Learning How to Avoid the Gap, The skill of building lifetime happiness” (click here to buy it on Amazon). It’s a very short book and contains a very straightforward, relatively simple concept. But it’s a concept that is profound in it’s simplicity and–for me at least–it’s impact.

The summary is that many of us see an ideal in how we approach life. It’s the ideal we imagine that we can or should be achieving in our lives. However, the reality–or the “actual”–is almost always different.

The gap is the difference between our mental ideals and the actual results we achieve.

We all have creative pursuits. And I don’t mean creative from an artistic perspective necessarily but creative from the perspective that we have goals and dreams and we “create” in some way in order to achieve those things–be it sit ups to lose belly fat or studying (creating brain cells) in order to excel in our professions.

The problem is that we tend to imagine the ideal and when that ideal doesn’t come to pass, or come to pass quickly enough, we get discouraged and give up. And we collectively share a profound unhappiness because of this gap.

I recently came across this video based on a interview of Ira Glass (of American public radios This American Life show) and I think it partially captures this. It’s specifically around the traditional sense of “creative work” but he talks about a gap and if you listen, and think about it in this context, it’s fitting.

The parts I particularly like are how he says “everybody goes through that” and “do a lot of work”.

We all face this challenge. We all are way too critical of ourselves.

But we all need to keep trying. Just keep going. Keep doing it. Put yourself on a deadline to become who or what you want to become.

“It takes a while. It’s going to take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that.”

Impatience was one of my biggest “walls” for a long time. I would get focused on some specific goal and put everything I had into it and then…I would lose that energy because I either didn’t see my progress or the results didn’t immediately match my expectations.

I have now learned that anything worth doing that is meaningful and impactful to your life will take time. And you just have to fight and keep going until you get what you want while having compassions for yourself knowing that when you get there, your mental ideal will already have moved on.

The important part of all of this–and the key to avoiding a life of unhappiness in the gap–is to understand that the ideal is not achievable.

But what is achievable is that which you have accomplished!

And that is the key–to measure your progress against where you were, not what you imagine you could be because you’ll never live up to perfection but you can always see your progress when looking back to where you started.

Dan uses the analogy of the horizon. We know that the horizon is not a place and we know we cannot ever get to the horizon. But if we proceed toward the horizon, it’s very easy to look back and see how far we’ve come.

Yet we give up on our goals because we forget that our goals are like the horizon and we forget that measuring our progress against where we started is what matters.