Artists, musicians and even leaders share something in common, an innate drive to make something beautiful, something inspirational that points to an all-loving God. The instinct to create comes from the Creator Himself, whose first act toward humanity was to create something He deemed "good."
But what is God's definition of "good"? When He created the stars, the planets, the skies and the seas, He said they were "good." His creation is divine, but individually created parts do not necessarily fit our boxes or ideas of "perfect." The cosmos is reproduced through violent and chaotic physical processes. Certain laws of physics and nature seem limiting and counteractive. Even music is best perceived by human ears when harmonic frequencies are not precisely tuned to perfect pitch. Yet we all know this was exactly how God intended things to be, and He is proud of His creation.
So how can we adopt God's perspective on creation, creating things He would deem good without getting stuck in perfectionism? Here are three ways to recognize the difference between perfectionism and excellence:
Perfectionism never stops tweaking. Often the only difference between a brilliant creator and a successful one is that the successful one dared to call his work complete. If an author never finishes a book, there is no book to read. If a painter never stops painting, there is no canvas to display in a museum. I imagine any author or painter could look at most of their "completed" works and give many examples of what could be changed, tweaked or thrown out. But they don't. Eventually, they come to a place of realizing what they created was "good."
The spirit of perfectionism says your work is never good enough, and it never will be. On the other hand, the spirit of excellence learns to recognize when you have done your best. Only the creator of the work knows what has gone into the work. But if you can develop a keen sense of accomplishment, a sense of knowing you gave your all to a project, you can rest assured you have created something worthwhile.
As a leader of creative people and projects, I encourage you to know when to call it quits and just put it out there.
Perfectionism defines your identity—wrongly. If you ever find yourself in a place where criticism of your work absolutely destroys your sense of self, you might have a perfectionistic spirit. A mature creator learns that investing effort and personality into a project does not mean that the creator's worth or value as a person is defined by that project.
Author and professor Brené Brown says: "Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. It's a shield. It's a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it's the thing that's really preventing us from flight."
Creatives should always strive to do their best work. But if you are looking for self-validation in your work, or a sense of identity or purpose to come from it, you will always hide behind that work. You will fluctuate in personal worth depending on the ebbs and flows of projects.
Learn to hold creative projects with an open hand. People may discredit your work or downright hate it, but that doesn't mean they hate you. Their feelings or expressions about your work do not invalidate your ability to create or take great risks.
Perfectionism does not embrace the beauty of blemish. Anyone who has ever felt intense love for another person as a parent or a lover has realized how beautiful imperfection can be. A freckle on a face, a birthmark on a shoulder, a gap between two front teeth, whatever it may be, when a person begins to truly love another, he realizes how these little "imperfections" are the very characteristics that make an individual distinct and original.
Like human features, creative work is more beautiful when it is authentic. Perfectionism will polish something so much it eventually becomes nondescript. It's the same as so many other projects. Works that are truly great or beautiful carry elements of our human messiness in them. Art that "feels" human carries the human experience—the pain, joy, struggle and triumph.
As creators and leaders, we must embrace the scars of our battles. Allow creativity to flow from your heart. It may not have perfect edges, exact lines or precise coloring, but if it has your personal touch, it will be inspirational, beautiful and excellent.
Joshua Mohline is director of WorshipU (worshipu.com), the online school of worship from Bethel Music. With a background as a worship leader in settings from small to large, he has been a part of the Bethel Church worship teams since 2012. He facilitates the worship school as it equips and empowers thousands of worship leaders and teams worldwide.
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