Life only makes sense in retrospect. While we're living it, it's chaotic and unsettling. Much of the time it doesn't make sense and the way forward is difficult to see. It's only when we come to the end of a chapter that we can draw the narrative arc and to make sense of what happened.
I’ve spent a lot of time studying the stories of successful people. Yet the problem with such stories is that they inevitably gloss over The Gap. The Gap (and it’s always capitalised in my mind) is the chaotic middle part of the story, before things finally work out.
Ghandi famously said:
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
The Gap is the part of the story where you’re being ignored, laughed at or fought. It’s the time between setting and achieving a goal.. For artists it’s often the time that they either learn their craft or develop their unique voice. Everybody has to spend time in The Gap. The Gap is unavoidable.
The Gap is unsexy, repetitive and frequently depressing. Much of what takes place here ultimately ends up being irrelevant. It can be a period of frustration spent mining dead-ends and making wrong turns. And it can last a long time.
Even when successful people acknowledge The Gap, it provides little comfort to those still living there. The knowledge that the person ultimately succeeded incontrovertibly justifies everything they went through to get there. Time spent in The Gap was an intrinsic and necessary part of their evolution. When we know that the end result was success, the steps taken to achieve it appear reasonable, rational and valuable.
But that's not how it feels when you're living in The Gap. The Gap is a lonely place, full of self-doubt and fear. Unlike those whose stories we look to for inspiration, we don’t know if our story will end in triumph. There are no guarantees and all of our efforts may be in vain. There's a very real possibility that what we’re doing is unreasonable, irrational and of no value whatsoever.
There are only two ways out of The Gap: give up and go backwards or keep moving forward in spite of the fear and see what happens. There’s no way of telling how long we'll have to spend there. Some of us may never get out. I hope that one day I’ll be telling tales of my time in The Gap and my success will seem as inevitable in retrospect as it did for all those people that I admire - but for now I've got to learn to live with the fact that it might all be for nothing. Accepting that truth is the only way I'll ever be free enough to do the work that matters because the best work, the most honest work, the real work, is the work that is done for its own sake.
This is The Gap. It’s where I live now.
Barry Dallman is a musician, writer and eternal student of the creative process. He is fascinated by the process of personal change and the challenges creative people face in committing to truly meaningful work. He's documenting his own creative struggles in the hopes of inspiring others to pursue what really matters to them.