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Embracing The Gap

I bought my first copy of Adobe After Effects in 1999.

I’ve also upgraded to versions 7, CS4, CS5, and CS6. I’ve spent dozens of hours watching all kinds of tutorials on lynda.com, tutsplus, and elsewhere.

So how come after all these years, when it comes to motion graphics, I’m still such a novice?

I think the answer is twofold.

For starters, whenever I try to learn a new skill, the difference between those that flitter away and the ones that stick usually comes down to, not surprisingly, practice. It’s easy enough to find the time for a 20-minute video tutorial. But practice—real practice—is about learning to own the tools so that you no longer need to think about them. That means repeating tasks over and over until they become second nature. Mastery takes time and lots of it. [1]

But more than knowing the mechanics of a software package, I’ve found that practice requires you to constantly move beyond what you already know. You have to stick your neck out a little bit more each time.

When you are a beginner, that can be daunting. Particularly because you may know what you’d like to create, or how something should look, but the distance between your abilities and your desire is often enormous. Ira Glass, host of This American Life, famously calls this chasm The Gap[2]

And for me, that’s the heart of the matter.

I have no graphic design training so my gap, as you might imagine, is formidable. In the past, I think I’ve been frustrated by my sheer lack of skill. I see the work of others, like my extraordinarily talented colleague Joe Fuller, and I can’t help but feel hopeless.

I think we’ve all been there.

But embracing the gap is essential to learning. We—you, me, all of us—must see it not as a sign of weakness or a reason to quit but as a road map to where we are headed. The Gap tells us that we still have the strength to soldier on, shortening that distance with each new project. It should a promise to ourselves not to give up.

So with that in mind, I’m going to try again this year. Even if my efforts still kind of suck.

To quote Alain de Botton, “Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly.”


  1. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, claims that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill.  ↩

  2. You can watch Ira’s original description of The Gap here. But I much prefer this animated version.  ↩

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