by Hollen Hostetler
“The imperfections show that a person made this.” Someone recently said this to me in a conversation about arts and perfectionism, and my breath caught in my throat for a moment. She was right – the little imperfections in our art make it more accessible, reminding others that we are just like them. Yet, so often, I find myself hesitant to engage in creative expression because of a deep fear of imperfection. Thoughts such as “Will it be good enough?” “What if it’s awful?” and “Maybe no one will like it,” stomp all over my creative spark, putting it out before I can even begin.
I find this to be a common theme among artists – we are our own worst critics. But what if we were never called to create perfectly? Cognitively, we all know that the notion of perfection is a falsehood, and we even celebrate and revel in the messiness, trial and error, and raw expression that is art making. But, secretly, we hold ourselves to a different standard that is much less graceful and much more exacting.
Recently, I was part of a dance class taught by a guest instructor. After a little over an hour of intense, tiring, and genuinely hard work, we began gathering our things and preparing to leave. A beautiful young dancer who has grown immensely in her skill level over the last year packed up near me. As she walked out of the room, she said quietly to herself, “I failed.” Something in me resolutely said, “Enough.”
So often, I believe our ideas of perfection, success, and failure are based on unrealistic expectations. When we expect ourselves to perform perfectly, we set ourselves up for failure every single time. We were never called to be, and indeed never can be, perfect.
However, excellence is another matter altogether. Excellence calls for hard work, doing one’s best, and seeking to better oneself in skill and technique while recognizing that success is attainable because it is not based on perfect performance or execution. For believers, true excellence is when we work for the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is the mark of success – regardless of how “perfectly” your artwork turned out, if you created for the glory of God, you can consider yourself successful. Excellence gently reminds us that we can certainly work hard to improve for next time, but without allowing for the nagging shame and defeat of perfectionism.
So, will you join me in saying, “Enough?” Will you work alongside me to be more gracious with yourself, striving for excellence rather than perfection? And will you share that grace with those around you, freeing them from the misplaced belief that perfection is the only mark of success? Leaning into excellence also allows us to lean into our God-given gifts that bring Him glory. The imperfections in our work remind us of our humanity and His divinity, and we can rejoice that He is the reason for all that is good and right and beautiful.