4 Ways to Let Go of Perfection and Embrace Vulnerability
Learning to mend what’s broken and grow in unexpected ways.
Posted June 10, 2021 | Reviewed by Chloe Williams
Recently, two children in my family had a disagreement. They ran excitedly after each other until they tripped, falling over each other and the cocoa brown ceramic dog that had been painted by their great grandfather. Their fighting immediately stopped as the kids sadly looked down, surveying the damage.
After helping the crying child to calm, we discussed what had happened. Each of us felt distressed and heavyhearted about the now broken treasure.
Yes, a front leg of the dog great-grandpa had painted was broken, and yes, each of us cherished the object. Then it occurred to me to remind all of us that although imbued with meaning, the ceramic dog was a “thing,” an inanimate object. So, we talked about what had happened, what each child might have done differently, and what we each could learn.
Deciding to repair the broken dog, I researched various methodologies. The following week, the cracks were mended. Some inspirations came my way during the process that I’d like to share with you.
1. Integrate what’s broken – heal, learn, strengthen.
The eastern philosophies of Wabi-sabi and Kintsugi offer contrast, inspiration, and perhaps liberation from western cultural ideas about beauty and perfection. These eastern practices see cracks and imperfections as objects of beauty to be celebrated, rather than hidden or disguised (Buetow & Wallis, 2019).
Rather than treating vulnerability and brokenness with contempt, what if you were to embrace vulnerability, irregularity, imperfection, and aging? How would that change your viewpoints and your relationship with yourself, other people, material objects, and the earth on which we all live?
2. Acknowledge negatives, embrace positives, and leverage strengths.
As a professional executive and life coach with a grounding in positive psychology (Seligman, 2011; Boniwell, 2012; Biswas-Diener & Dean, 2007), I’ve learned to adopt a strengths-based approach to many of life’s challenges. Thus, in the heat of the broken ceramic dog situation, I was somehow able to insert a mindful pause (Niemiec, 2018).
Here’s what I think happened. I paused just a second for a mindful breath — ok, maybe it was a big sigh! Then I called on some of my strengths. First of all, love. The ceramic dog that we treasured, but was accidentally broken in a heated moment, was in reality just a thing. In life’s big picture, the children obviously mattered much more. Sharing love, kindness, and empathy with the children and helping them learn without damaging their sense of selves felt more important than the ceramic dog my dad had painted.
The strength of gratitude – I am thankful for these beautiful children and the opportunity to partner with their parents and teachers to help them learn life’s lessons.
My strength of spirituality as I resonate with memories of my father, his beautiful spirit, and the oneness that connects all of us in this world and beyond.
And finally, the strength of creativity. Researching how to repair the ceramic heirloom, I later explained to the children that the epoxy glue used to repair the fragments actually makes those places stronger – we can also become stronger as we learn from our experiences.
According to scientific studies, there are 24 character strengths common to humankind. These character strengths can help us live with greater efficacy and fulfillment. Learning to leverage strengths is part of the evidence-informed field of positive psychology, the scientific study of what makes life most worth living (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). This study teaches that what’s good in life is as real as the negatives, not ignoring life’s adversities, but rather exploring ways to engage our strengths.
3. Things we take for granted can suddenly become very precious.
In those heated moments when that favored object broke, we all had to pause to collect ourselves. It quickly became clear that the well-being of the children was more critical than that of the ceramic dog their great-grandpa painted.
In my own life, as I continue to develop my discernment muscle, I’m learning to pause and ponder what really matters in life’s big picture. Here are a few thoughts — take them or leave them:
- Learn to differentiate between needs and wants.
- Accept what life serves up and be open to possibilities, even when circumstances seem overwhelming.
- Spend time with children and older people.
- Usually, when we say yes to something, consciously or unconsciously, we are saying no to something else.
- Take time each day for deep work. Notice the still small voice that calls.
- Once basic needs for food, shelter, and health are met, relationships, love, and creating a positive footprint matter more than anything.
- There are all kinds of beauty in life — look beyond the exterior and beyond the imperfections toward the light — whether it’s obscured or shining brightly.
- Be a student of life, someone who continues to grow and approaches life’s moments with a beginner’s mind.
- Strive for a sense of purpose — know your strengths, values, and philosophies.
- At our essence, as Carl Sagan said “we are star stuff” — we are sparks of light, life-force energies, innately interconnected with each other and the world around us.
- Contribute to moving humanity forward, imbuing each day with love and compassion. If not now, when?
4. “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
Songwriter Leonard Cohen is known for his iconic song "Anthem" (Cohen, The Future, 1992) and this well-known lyric. The song reminds listeners to accept imperfection while also noticing the light that lies beyond.
** This post is for educational purposes and should not substitute for psychotherapy with a qualified professional.
Biswas-Diener, R. & Dean, B. (2007). Positive psychology coaching: Putting the science of happiness to work for your clients. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Boniwell, I. (2012, 3rd Printing). Positive psychology in a nutshell. New York, NY: Open University Press.
Buetow, S. & Wallis K. (2019). The beauty in perfect imperfection. Journal of Medical Humanities, 40(3), 389-394
Cohen, L. (1992). Anthem Lyrics. (n.d.). Lyrics.com. Retrieved March 23, 2021, from https://www.lyrics.com/lyric/21933080/Leonard+Cohen.
Hemingway, E. (1929). A farewell to arms. New York, NY: Scribner.
Niemiec, R. (2018). Character strengths interventions: A field guide for practitioners. Boston, MA: Hogrefe.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, E.P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.
Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Atria Paperback.