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Wellness and Personal Development

A Plea For Imperfection

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

A Plea For ImperfectionI was sitting in a Starbuck's sipping my Latte one morning when I came across a magazine lying open on a nearby table. The magazine lay open to an article about the fact that life is not perfect. It really caught my attention. I have no idea what magazine it was, none that I was familiar with.

The article was written by Lori Erickson and the subtitle was, "What Wabi Sabi Taught Me." Wabi Sabi, it seems, is the Japanese art of the tea ceremony and was designed long ago to bring calm and order to daily stress. One of the main principles that Lori Erickson took from Wabi Sabi was the importance of embracing imperfection. How many of us are the victims of the inner pressure to be perfect?

Do you look in the mirror and get upset about bags under your eyes, or wrinkles starting to appear. Do you respond with stress with the signs of hair turning while or, for men, the hairline receding? Men and women, are you worried about that midline expansion as a result of too much dessert or not enough exercise? Did you do a project at work or at home and have turn out less perfect than you wanted? Do you view anything you do with a critical eye that results in intense feelings of dissatisfaction? Are you plagued with the feeling or thought that whatever you do is never good enough? 

Well, according to the writer, Lori Erickson, the term, Wabi Sabi, describes the celebration and beauty of imperfection.

If you wish to know more about this Japanese art, I refer you to a book by Diane Durston, Wabi Sabi: "The Art of Everyday Life."

On a much less than technical level regarding this term and concept, the notion of embracing and seeing the beauty in imperfection makes a lot of sense. After all, none of us are perfect. In fact, life is not perfect. Therefore, why feel intense satisfaction about the way things turn out rather than accepting and even enjoying the products of our labor. By products of labor I am meaning everything we do, say, have and do not have.

Think about your children. If they come home with a B+ from school instead of an A grade, must you feel unhappy with the results instead of enjoying the fact that they performed well? Even if the get a F, C, or D, you and they must know that they can do better next time, and, more than that, you still love them regardless of grades.

If we are perpetually dissatisfied with ourselves and, by extension, with our children, then they will grow up dissatisfied with themselves.

Let me give an example of what I am talking about here. All the great artists of history, such as Leonardo Davinci, Rembrandt, and so on, made many experimental copies of their works before they arrived at the finished product. Modern technology has enabled art historians look beneath great works, without harming them, only to discover that the "finished product" covered over constant reworks of the same picture.

We cannot learn without making mistakes. More than that, we can enjoy and thrill in the imperfect finished product, be it a child of ours, or a work project, are project, literary project, and ourselves in our physical and emotional natures.

I submit to all of you that the pursuit of perfection the intolerance we have for our imperfection, robs of the chance to enjoy everyday life. How can life be enjoyed when constantly under the pressure of walking around feeling dissatisfied.

I am opening this question for discussion:  Can you accept yourself and your life as it is and without constantly feeling unhappy about yourself? Can you see the beauty in your imperfection and the imperfection around you?

I look forward to your answers, opinions and comments.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD