Avoiding work to retain the possibility of perfection

UPDATED ON JAN 16, 2022 : 535 words, 3 minute read — PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

Over 9 months ago, I set out with a simple task: take the 3-D printed Halo Pelican I was given as a gift and paint it. Do I have any experience painting miniatures? Tons, and none1.

A pelican you say? An airship from the Halo video games, not the bird you’re thinking of.

Not this Pelican, that Pelican

Hopeful beginnings

With grandiose ideas in my head and a quick trip to Michael’s, I was armed with the brushes and dollar paints suiting my talent level. I spent way too long researching guides for similar color schemes, then began with a simple base coat - impossible to screw up. The half-painted Pelican then fell into limbo, waiting for me while I worked mere feet away.

I didn’t want to face it, but I was too chicken to move the project forward.

Finishing the job

Finally, it was Dec 30th, 2021. Over a year since I had the idea to paint it, and at least 9 months after I first put paint on the brush. Buoyed by my Action 26 theme, or at least by the clock winding down to 2022, I was emboldened to finish the job. To my surprise, it only took about 30 minutes to get to an acceptable finished state. What was the hold up then? A few hours later, I had a realization.

I was avoiding finishing the paint job not because it was difficult or time-consuming, but because once I did, it collapses all the potential future paths into one imperfect reality.

Where to find perfection

If I don’t finish the project, it lives in a hypothetical world where it could be completed perfectly - even if in reality, I don’t have the experience or knowledge to get there. It’s much more enjoyable to get the dopamine hits of what’s possible, versus the disappointment of what’s real. I was hitting The Gap like a brick wall, stopped in my tracks.

The Gap

The Gap is the difference between how your taste and expectations of a skill change in comparison to your ability to execute. In the wrong hands, The Gap makes it difficult to take the first step because your creation won’t measure up to your standards.

Diagram of the The Gap by Ira Glass Expectation: 🥇 Reality: 💩

As a chronic over-thinker and over-researcher, I was exacerbating this problem. I sift through piles of information and become an armchair expert, increasing my expectations without changing my ability to execute. The Gap gets wider with every turn of the page, but when I finally pick up a brush the theoretical evaporates, and I’m left as a novice. Only taking action can close the distance.

Imperfect, but Complete

Though the final product wasn’t up to my armchair expert standards, I was incredibly proud of taking action and completing the paint job. I also felt a huge weight come off my chest. I didn’t realize how much all the half-finished projects weigh on my mind, even something as simple as painting a desk toy. May this be a lesson to us all to default to learning from action rather than consuming. I leave you with my Halo Pelican in all its imperfect glory.

Rubber ducky for scale. Rubber ducky for scale.

  1. Tons of theoretical knowledge, almost no practical experience. ↩︎

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