One of life’s major sources of unhappiness is the gap or distance between where we currently are and where we would want to be or wish we were.



I remember as a  7 or 8 year old child going to school and seeing the older children who seemed so much more confident and sorted out than I was. In particular they had impressive brown maths textbooks and I had simple childish yellow ones! How I longed to be where those older children were! Well a few years later I too had those brown maths textbooks, but I still felt the same! The problem now was that I was looking at even older kids who seemed even more sorted out with even cooler books and even more confidence! And I was the same me with the same insecurities aware of how big the world was and how little I knew!

Then there was the whole area of getting into medical school and becoming a doctor. After all the effort and toil of getting a place at medical school I felt I had arrived. The next 6 years were a huge struggle with me failing exam after exam. It was like I had got to the top of one ladder and found myself at the bottom of another one. I forgot what a privilege it was to be in medical school (something so many yearn and long to achieve) and instead found myself miserable because I could not keep up with my peers.

Its never stopped to amaze me how this is such a never-ending experience in life. Dan Sullivan talks about this in terms of  what he calls ‘The Gap’.

The Gap is not something just confined to childhood or growing up. It is the reason why so many apparently successful and intelligent people in the world can still be miserable with their success while those with comparatively little can be so happy.

The key is a difference in perspective. The unhappy look from one perspective and the happy from another.

To illustrate this think about the picture above. I want you to imagine that you are on a boat in a harbour looking out to the ocean. You see the ocean spreading out as far as the eye can see with the horizon in the distance. As the boat leaves the harbour lets imagine that you decide for the next 5 hours to just keep looking straight ahead.

Well after 5 hours if all you were doing was looking ahead and not talking to anyone it would be very easy to imagine that you had made no progress what so ever. The horizon, where the water ends and the sky begins, is a mental construct. It does not really exist, but is created in our minds because of the curvature of the earth. So no matter how far forward you go if your attention is just focussed straight ahead it would appear that you are making no progress. (I am of course assuming that there are thousands of miles to the nearest shore!).

It is only when you look back do you realise how far you have come. 

Now think about our lives and the way it is so easy to look at our accomplishments and what we do. It is so easy to take for granted how far we have come. Our minds automatically tend to look at what lies ahead and is still beyond our reach.

The Gap is the permanent difference between our actual achievements and the ideal that we would want.

John Newton (1725 -1807) was a slave trader who lived a life of profanity, gambling and drinking. He experienced a spiritual awakening which led to a radical change in the direction of his life. He wrote the famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’.  A favourite saying of his captures the concept of the Gap beautifully:

“By the grace of God I am what I am. I am not what I want to be, but I thank God I am not what I once was.”

He was able to make the distinction between where he ideally wanted to be and where he actually was while at the same time being able to be grateful for how far he had come.

We will explore this in more detail in the next blog post. Let me end with a couple of questions for you to consider.

So which way do you tend to look?

How could focusing on how far you have come rather than continually looking at how far you have to go help you in your life?