Creative Work and Christian Perfection: The Humility Required to do Your Best Work

Horace Dediu once said, of the idea of a business disrupting itself, “You have to be completely psychotic about it.”

The same is true of creative work. Hate the past. Scrutinize the present. Obsess over the future.

I spent a few years of my life pursuing a theology degree. It didn’t stick, but if there’s one thing I’ve kept from my churchy upbringing, it’s the concept of Christian Perfection. For John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, being good enough isn’t good enough. Perfection is the only good worth seeking. Wesley was batshit crazy, but he was profoundly influential on the people his life touched.

Perfection, for Wesley, isn’t possible. Yet it is the constant goal towards which good people strive just the same. Good works are done, one gets closer to perfection, but never close enough. There are victories along the way. With each victory, the temptation is to become enraptured by one’s own successes. The dangerous irony here is that being a better person is itself the source of the temptation that can ruin it all. Pride cometh…

As creative workers, we have to learn how to do our best every day as if for the first time, forgetting what we did before as if it was someone else’s success and not our own.

If you are a revolutionary technology company, or a film production company with a perfect track record, or a preeminent blogger, then goddammit you had better be goddamn perfect, and that means perpetually acknowledging how far you have left to go.

Remember how quick Steve Jobs was to dismiss his past successes?

I’ll close this with the best words Wesley ever wrote (and he filled many volumes before he died; emphasis added):

Fire is the symbol of love; and the love of God is the principle and the end of all our good works. But truth surpasses figure; and the fire of divine love has this advantage over material fire, that it can re-ascend to its source, and raise thither with it all the good works which it produces. And by this means it prevents their being corrupted by pride, vanity, or any evil mixture. But this cannot be done otherwise than by making these good works in a spiritual manner die in God, by a deep gratitude, which plunges the soul in him as in an abyss, with all that it is, and all the grace and works for which it is indebted to him; a gratitude, whereby the soul seems to empty itself of them, that they may return to their source, as rivers seem willing to empty themselves, when they pour themselves with all their waters into the sea.

|  27 Sep 2013