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The skill – taste gap

In many areas of life our taste is for things that are better than the things that we can make ourselves. This makes sense with a lot of things (computers, cars, toasters, chairs) – indeed it’s the point of (Adam) Smithian specialisation* and trade: specialists develop skills and invest in tools and processes that make more and better things available far more cheaply than we could ever achieve on our own.

But in other areas of life – particularly creative or performance-based endeavours – it can be crippling:

  • “I want to write a novel / poem / work of nonfiction, but my manuscripts feel embarrassingly bad;”
  • “I want to act / sing at open mic night / dance / make a film, but everything I see on YouTube is a lot better;”
  • “I want to play football / run competitively / swim in a relay, but I know what ‘good’ looks like, and it isn’t me;”
  • “I want to cook for guests, and I love good food… and I’d be embarrassed if they-thought-that-I-thought my cooking was just so;”
  • “I’d love to paint but my pictures are rubbish;”
  • “I. Just. Can’t. Do. X.”

The skill – taste gap is perhaps worst of all when you start to close it. An earnest “almost, but not quite” is harder to laugh off than a hilariously bad, flat-out failure. It’s frustrating and demotivating in private, and it’s stifling in public.

Recognising that this problem stems from the skill – taste gap gives us a couple of choices:

  1. Never do anything you’re not really good at ever again, and especially not in public**, because who are you to do that?;
  2. Recognise that (1) is utterly absurd. Do all of the things. Deliberately cultivate a thick skin and learn the subtle art of really not caring what other people think about things that don’t matter***.

Choice 2 will lead you to a couple of truths:

  1. By doing you’ll develop your taste far more than you would otherwise. You’ll appreciate the craft of the masters in new ways, and increase your respect for the merely mediocre;
  2. You’ll get better.

*Spell this with a z if you prefer
**Don’t try something new, don’t do it badly, don’t fail in private or in public, don’t learn, don’t growever again.
***I’m not arguing that we should never care what people think – caring is important. We should just be very clear in our minds which of their thoughts are important / relevant to us / right, and which should be beneath their dignity to care about and beneath ours to imagine that other people might care about. Telling the difference might be the topic of another post.

I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommended resources...