Any time I start on a new painting, I pass through different phases: the nervousness of starting, the excitement of finishing the sketch and starting to add color, and then what I call the “ugly stage.” The ugly stage can turn a painter inside out, and it happens to all of us no matter what the project. You know you are in the ugly stage when certain thoughts come to mind: “Why did I ever start this?” “This is nasty looking!” “I have no idea how this will ever work out!” “Ugh! I should just rip it up and destroy it!”
If you are doing something that you have never done before and it seems especially hard, maybe you are in the “ugly stage” but do not recognize it. And so you just give up: The dessert is just not coming together, so you call the bakery. Your plans are not adding up, so you decide not to start the business. Or you never get as far as trying and just call the handyman or go to the store, and then watch TV and growl when someone asks you about that project you were thinking about starting.
That point when you are wondering whether to quit — that point is the critical make-or-break point. Maybe you really have bitten off more than you can chew. There are times when we need to call in an expert. But maybe there are times when all we see is the ugliness, and so we quit way too soon.
Once I understood that there is always an ugly stage, once I was able to recognize it for what it actually is, I was able to work through it. The ugly stage is just part of the process; it is just one phase, but not the whole project. I had to learn that creativity is not merely a matter of gritting my teeth and pushing through, but also a matter of seeing things in context and recognizing what will pass.
In other words, though endurance is necessary, there is more to life than persistence. There is also perspective. Gritting your teeth on a project might work, but lack of perspective often chokes your creative flow.
Here is my advice for the ugly stage: Step back in order to get some perspective. Take a break, call a friend, listen to some music, go for a walk, ask for advice. Remember that we are all works in progress, that God’s perspective on us in Christ is not to look back on our faults and our failures, but to look at the perfection of His Son. He sees our ugly stage in the perspective of His transforming work. We can give generously and risk sacrificially because He is able to make all grace abound to us so that we can abound in every good work!
Are you going through, are have you gone through, your own ugly stage? Maybe sharing it will encourage others. Leave me a comment!