3 Timeless Quotes That Help Me Build My Taste

Building one’s taste is hard work. It is ambiguous, emotional, endless. But it is also infinitely valuable as it impacts our decisions. In the end, a person’s skill, experience and talent might be replaceable. But her taste is what makes her unique. Allows her to take bold steps that eventually change the world.

Here are 3 quotes that have helped me build my taste. I visit them often and feel inspired every time.

Ira Glass

Host and Producer of the hit radio and television show This American Life.

I love this quote as it reminds me to stay focussed on the work. Failures are natural, confidence is a state of mind. Others have crossed the gap. And so can I.

Tina Fey

Creator of 30 Rock, ex-head writer and performer at Saturday Night Live. From her piece in the New Yorker on her learnings from Lorne Michaels, the creator and producer of SNL.

The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s eleven-thirty.
This is something Lorne has said often about “Saturday Night Live,” but it’s a great lesson in not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke until the last possible second, but then you have to let it go.
You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute. (And I’m from a generation in which a lot of people died on waterslides, so this was an important lesson for me to learn.) You have to let people see what you wrote. It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring on live television.
What I learned about bombing as an improviser at Second City was that, while bombing is painful, it doesn’t kill you. What I learned about bombing as a writer for “Saturday Night Live” is that you can’t be too worried about your permanent record. Yes, you’re going to write some sketches that you love and are proud of forever — your golden nuggets. But you’re also going to write some real shit nuggets. You can’t worry about it. As long as you know the difference, you can go back to panning for gold on Monday.

This quote keeps the perfectionist inside me in check. Reminds me to just put myself out there. Be vulnerable. Have the courage to accept feedback, fail fast and build something great.

Paul Graham

Co-founder of the seed capital fund Y Combinator. From his essay Taste for Makers

Saying that taste is just personal preference is a good way to prevent disputes. The trouble is, it’s not true. You feel this when you start to design things.
Whatever job people do, they naturally want to do better. Football players like to win games. CEOs like to increase earnings. It’s a matter of pride, and a real pleasure, to get better at your job. But if your job is to design things, and there is no such thing as beauty, then there is no way to get better at your job. If taste is just personal preference, then everyone’s is already perfect: you like whatever you like, and that’s it.
As in any job, as you continue to design things, you’ll get better at it. Your tastes will change. And, like anyone who gets better at their job, you’ll know you’re getting better. If so, your old tastes were not merely different, but worse. Poof goes the axiom that taste can’t be wrong.
Relativism is fashionable at the moment, and that may hamper you from thinking about taste, even as yours grows. But if you come out of the closet and admit, at least to yourself, that there is such a thing as good and bad design, then you can start to study good design in detail. How has your taste changed? When you made mistakes, what caused you to make them? What have other people learned about design?
Once you start to examine the question, it’s surprising how much different fields’ ideas of beauty have in common. The same principles of good design crop up again and again.

I swell up inside with a funny mix of inspiration and gratitude every time I read this quote. And relish reading it out loud to naysayers! It captures one’s pursuit of excellence in a magically simple way. The true north.

I want to hear from you. What is a quote that inspires you every day?

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