imperfectionthought management

imperfection and wabi sabi

I think I can’t go deep on sharing something vulnerable right now for fear of the assault from others that could come afterward. In reality I’ve been greeted with lots of love when I share my writing.

Perfectionism has been my biggest weakness and I’ve clung to it like a child pulling on their parent’s pants at the grocery store begging for the overpriced candy-toy combo strategically placed at checkout. I can hear my inner child pleading in a very high, very annoying voice, “But I need this!”

As an adult I have to ask, what do we gain from perfectionism? Why is it so hard for us type-A control freaks to let go? The short answer is that perfectionism keeps us safe.

By clinging to the need to be perfect, we rationalize our way out of taking risks that could lead to making mistakes or worse, failing completely. I can tell myself that nothing I’ve ever written is perfect, therefore I shouldn’t share it because then y’all would figure out that I’m just as f*cked up as the rest of you. (Don’t everyone comment at once that y’all already knew that.)

This type of thinking may seem far-fetched to you. If it does then I commend you because you’re probably actively working against the internal dialogue that tells you to stay in the cave; there are lions out there after all.

It can be helpful to remember our brains haven’t evolved much in the last few centuries. It’s still following the same programming to avoid pain and seek pleasure in every moment. The same thinking that kept us safe from very real, very dangerous threats is killing us slowly these days.

The same thinking that kept us safe from very real, very dangerous threats is killing us slowly these days.

Every time I have a great idea for a story to share but don’t, a little piece of me shrivels in disappointment about what might have been, who I could have reached, how I could have helped them think about their life a little differently by sharing my experiences.

Over months, years, and even decades, we begin to bury those little ideas deep inside ourselves to forget that we aren’t willing to risk imperfection in order to create the thing that excites us most, the thing that makes us feel more alive than playing it safe ever could — connection.

My motivation to share experiences, express love, and create meaningful connections through writing has often been overcome by fear.

So how do we cultivate the courage to embrace our imperfections and live out the desire we feel in our hearts to create, express, connect, and grow?

Traditional Japanese pot boasting cracks filled with gold, an example of “wabi sabi.”
Traditional Japanese pot boasting cracks filled with gold, an example of “wabi sabi.”

In Zen Buddhism there is an aesthetic philosophy called wabi-sabi that dates back to 15th century Japan. The concept is timeless and may even help us evolve the detrimental thinking of perfectionism today.

Wabi-Sabi refers to a worldview of beauty that embraces imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness. It began with a teacher intentionally using simple utensils at tea ceremonies to help his disciples learn to appreciate being able to see the moon in the sky and cloudy evenings alike.

Have you seen a cracked ceramic pot repaired with gold? This visual is often used to depict wabi-sabi.

There are three ultimate truths to acknowledge in wabi-sabi. “Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect,” as author Richard Powell said.

“Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

Does this mean I should publish stories with blatant grammatical errors and wandering thoughts? I don’t think so. I think it means that I should publish work that feels good to me, and then hear your feedback and make adjustments or corrections where I see a crack in my logic, or a run-on sentence.

The harsh judgment we place on others comes from our own unmet need to be perfect. We judge others as harshly as we judge ourselves.

When you see a typo in someone’s writing, are you the person to comment publicly ripping them a new one? “I can’t believe this guy gets paid to write. They can’t even spell.” Or do you read past it, totally able to understand and glean value from the author’s point? Maybe even feeling a bit of empathy, thinking, “Yep I’ve accidentally written ‘your’ when I meant ‘you’re’.” I’ve thought both of those thoughts and I can tell you one feels wayyy better than the other.

The way out is in.

Inversely, we feel the amount of empathy for others that we can feel for ourselves.

The way out is in. As I come to appreciate my own opportunities to become a better writer, I can share more with you from a place of love, instead of fear of rejection. Only then can I improve my writing and share more helpful content with you. The more I open myself up, the more of you I’ll find that appreciate what I offer, the more of you I can connect with and help, and the more of you that can support me as well. By sharing more, I’ll be able to make mistakes, learn from them, and write something better next time.

It’s true that I’ll also hear from more people who don’t get down with my style, and that’s okay too. I’m willing to pay that price to find my people because connecting to people who my writing resonates with, or even helps, is worth it all.

Then is it possible that embracing your imperfections can help you feel more connected to others?

Is it possible that your mistakes, flaws, and failures can put you in a better position to do what you love or even love whatever you do?

Some reallllly old wise people in Japan thought so. And so do I.

What are your cracks you don’t want others to see? What would it be like to fill them with gold and show them off?

The world would love to see you, cracks and all.

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