If you’re a creative, you’ve probably got a perfectionist streak running somewhere through your spiritual play-dough.

Am I right?

It’s there because we believe, with every fibre of our being, that what we make matters.

This art—whether it’s sculpting or music or sketching or writing or problem solving or decorating—is a part of you, isn’t it? That painting I just finished is a reflection of me. I made it “in my image.” We creatives don’t just lob half-hearted energy and skill into our projects because we’re not half-hearted, unskilled people.

When people ask an artist to just “whip up” something for an art show or a personal project, they sigh. We don’t “whip up” things. Our art matters, so it deserves our best.

The problem is that the imperfections in our work nag at us. Glare at us. And sometimes, infuriate us. Which means technically, the work is never done.

Our last sermon series nearly fried my heart as a preacher. The content wasn’t the problem. The problem was, it mattered so much to me that I crossed a line and just about flamed out doing it. I found myself exhausted, discouraged, grumpy, and spent.

God, help!

As I prayed about what happened, God put a number in my head.

Ninety-five. As in, percent.

When you aim higher than ninety-five, he said, you’re crossing over into perfectionist territory. Ninety-five (for me at least) is the intersection of greatness and exhaustion.

I call it I-95. 


Here’s what I’m learning:

The effort required to create something good is minimal. To move from good to great takes twice as much work, maybe more. To rise from great to excellent, our effort doubles again. From that point on, there is a profound and diminishing return on our effort. I’ve found that in my preaching, my delivery can actually get worse. This is the 95% threshold God was talking about. I become so obsessed about the details that I forget about the art, the message itself, and it begins to deteriorate.

I painted this acrylic piece this week. It’s entitled “Destiny” (42″x20″). I tried to depict a modern Mary being approached by the angel Gabriel. I’ve reached the 90+ range on this painting. Even my daughter said, “Okay, dad, stop fiddling.”

I think I just might. Or I might wreck it.

My best, you see, isn’t about perfection. My best is about what I have to give, not how great the product is.

If you’re a creative, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this concept. Do you ever cross the I-95 in your own work?