How can you become an expert at something if you’re not interested in it? I have no idea, which is why I recommend you follow your passion. More passion sets a higher ceiling on where your skill and talent can go.
This is a topic I come back to from time to time and the reason now is one of those times is due to an article by Erik Spiekermann titled, Being obsessive about detail is being normal. The quote below is specifically responsible.
Unless you are obsessed by what you’re doing, you will not be doing it well enough. Typography appears to require a lot of detail, but so does music, cooking, carpentry, not to mention brain surgery. Sometimes only the experts know the difference, but if you want to be an expert at what you’re making, you will only be happy with the result when you’ve given it everything you have.
Let me add. If you don’t have enough passion to be obsessed with the details of what you do and you don’t want to learn everything you can about it, then you’re probably not doing the right thing for you.
That’s what I’d like to talk about today. I want to discuss passion and craft. I want to talk about how the passion you have for the work you do will help you become a better designer or developer or whatever it is you do.
Closing the Gap Between Taste and Skill
The last line of Erik’s quote says you won’t be happy with the results if you aren’t giving it everything you have. I agree.
We all start with a gap between our tastes and our skills. At first our taste exceeds our skill by a large margin. You’re incapable of designing something you think is good, because you don’t yet have the skills to make it as good as you know it can be. It’s ok. It’s just the beginning of the journey.
Early in your career your finished work isn’t going to make you happy and you just have to get through this stage. The more you put in, the more you learn, the more you’ll become aware of details you didn’t notice at first. You see these details as you close the big gap you started with.
It’s difficult to close that early gap. You need to study and practice and you have to allow for considerable time for both to pay off. Your passion is what drives you to put in the necessary work to become aware of the many details there are to know and to understand what to do with them.
Many of your visitors won’t be consciously aware of these details, but they will feel them. They will be affected by them. They’ll notice something about your design even if they can’t point to it directly.
When you feel passion for a subject you’ll dig deeper into the details. More passion means greater interest in exploring a subject. It leads to better end results for having explored and thought about things others didn’t and don’t.
You gain a deeper understanding of the subject. You gain context to further increase your understanding. You gain more information on which to base decisions and to make them as objectively as possible.
Any subject or discipline requires time and effort to master the details. That’s how you become an expert. You put in the time and you do give your best effort. With work that involves creativity you also need confidence in your skills and ability to make decisions because there is no absolute answer to look up for what’s best.
Opening New Gaps to Close
As you close the big gap you start with, you begin to notice smaller gaps within. These smaller gaps are hidden by the larger one. In a sense as you close one gap it opens another, which you’ll then want to close.
Why constantly close gaps if doing so opens more gaps that need to be closed? Because it makes you better. The newer gaps are usually smaller. They don’t leave you as dissatisfied with your work. They may be smaller, but they’re also deeper and will likely take more time to close.
Each gap is something new that leads to a new awareness. Each is another detail to pay attention to and obsess over. Every gap you close should open new ones. Every answer and solution should raise more questions and problems to be answered and solved. If an answer doesn’t suggest at least 2 new questions, you probably haven’t found a good answer.
The more time you devote to a subject the more you become aware of all the things there is to know about it. You become aware of all the things you can control and all the decisions you can make to affect the outcome. You get better.
The more time you devote to a particular project and the more time you spend with its details, the more you become aware of it’s flaws and the more you see details others would never notice that need to be improved
It takes a long time to learn expertise in any field. It takes great attention and time to know a project so thoroughly. It’s much easier not to do these things and settle for good enough. It’s what many do.
It’s harder settle for good enough when you feel passionate about what you’re doing. You can’t leave it alone. You do more because you want to and because you have to. You obsess where others would be done. You need to move that line a few pixels left or find better color combinations or typeface pairings, because you know you can do better.
It’s you making a small something better where most people don’t bother. Your visitors may not be able to point out specifically why, but they will feel your attention to detail and delight in it.
I mentioned in my post about subjective and objective design choices that you never really know if you’ve discovered a best design solution because there are far too many possible solutions to consider.
The more time you spend on your solution and the more time you spend considering the problem, the greater the odds your solution will be the best it can be. It may not be the single best solution (if such a thing exists), but it will be your best solution. It will be your design coming closer to its ideal version.
The Enjoyment is in the Journey
There’s another side to why passion is important and that’s your enjoyment. I think the joy is in the journey more than it is in the results.
When you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, there’s not a lot of joy in the journey. You might not even dislike the travel. Your focus is all about the results. For some this is fine. Perhaps their enjoyment is entirely in the results and what they can do to get the results they want.
I think for more people the enjoyment is in the journey and that the journey is the reward. If you learn to enjoy the process you can do so to the point where results may not matter.
I’m not suggesting results aren’t important. They are. It’s more that when you gain joy from the process itself, from the work it takes to achieve the results you want, those result may no longer be necessary. You’ve already been rewarded for walking down the path. A good ending is the cherry on the sundae.
Face it. You’re going to spend the majority of your waking life working at something. You might as well enjoy the time and you will when you feel more passion for your work.
I don’t think you can ever do your best if you’re only focused on results and not the journey itself. There too many things you can only see by being all in on the work. It doesn’t mean you can’t get better if you’re only focused on the result, but I don’t think you can go as far as if you were a more active participant in the journey and exploring what you find.
That means enjoying both the good and bad. It’s easy to enjoy your path when it’s smooth and flat and easy to walk along. It’s easy when exciting new things reveal themselves by tapping you on the shoulder and saying hello.
It’s harder, but also necessary, to enjoy the struggle to overcome obstacles in front of you. You have to enjoy surviving stretches of the path where you aren’t gaining ground or are walking in circles.
These times aren’t easy, but you should relish in them. Enjoy the challenges and finding your way back when lost. You have to enjoy these times as much as the good times. The greater the struggle, the greater the reward for having struggled.
Passion helps with the struggles. Being obsessed with what you do helps you during difficult and challenging times. It keeps you curious and open to new things during the good times too.
Allow me to close by repeating something I said at the start of this post. If you don’t have enough passion to be obsessed with the details of what you do and you don’t want to learn everything you can about it, then you’re probably not doing the right thing for you.
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