“I believe in imperfection.”
Have you ever received a handmade gift? A drawing from a friend, perhaps, or a knitted sweater from your grandmother. If you were to look closely, you’d notice faults, a certain roughness in the creation. Maybe your friend coloured outside the lines. The sweater had a few loose ends. Gifts of that sort are far from perfect — they are unrefined, blemished, cracked, and rudimentary. And yet, it is the handmade gifts that we treasure the most. For one thing, that drawing would be the only one like it in the entire world. The sweater? You’d know your grandmother put hours of effort into it, proof of her love for you. And any other creation crafted by human hands; when broken down to its bare essence, becomes a beacon of humanity — evidence of connection, authenticity, and admiration.
This is Wabi-Sabi.
I was eleven when I was first introduced to the concept of Wabi-Sabi. A speaker was invited to make a presentation in our class, and she was unlike anyone I had seen before in both the way she dressed and the way she carried herself. (At the time, I attended an art school. I was exposed to unique, creative, and weird people everyday, so her (the speaker) being unlike anyone I’d seen before meant that she was, in fact, very strange.) “Wabi-Sabi,” she said, and we laughed, because it was a funny word, “is the beauty of imperfection.” She proceeded to explain the origins of Wabi-Sabi, (Buddhist belief, originated in Japan), and its significance in art specifically. I listened. I took notes, asked questions. But I didn’t understand. I thought my art was supposed to be as perfect as could be.
Wabi-Sabi slipped away from my mind — I simply could not comprehend it.
In seventh grade, I transferred schools. I felt obligated to work harder, and be academically successful. An innocent target. And it got results too. From an objective point of view, I was successful.
But over time, my seemingly short-lived goal of achieving academic excellence integrated into the mindset that carried me throughout school for another three years… I lost track of what I was trying to accomplish. Suddenly, I wanted to be everything. I simply aimed to be perfect.
My idea of perfection varied each year, but the image was always there, in the back of my mind. Being a perfect artist. A perfect musician. A perfect student, a perfect daughter. A perfect friend. truly believed I could eventually achieve all of that, and more. None of those things are bad, really. But there was a downside, one that only revealed itself after I stopped actively choosing to have a mindset that longed for perfection, after that mentality became engraved in my very being, whether it was a conscious effort or not.
That downside was in the mindset itself. Although sometimes motivating, it brought along a slew of insecurities. And I was burdened by the expectations I put upon myself. I slowly came to the realization that no matter how hard I tried, how desperate I was to achieve my dreams, I would always fall short. I was imperfect. I had faults, some of which I couldn’t even control. Flawlessness always required more of me, and of my external circumstances, than could be achieved — even if I devoted my entire existence to reach that level of satisfaction.
The reality of perfection is this: It is nothing but a lie.
The dream of excellence is only good for temporarily distracting me from my hidden insecurities. It is also entirely subjective — one person’s broken life could be another’s fantasy. Sometimes, it is even dangerous. (If I can’t do it perfectly, why should I try at all?) The illusion of perfection acts as a brick wall separating me from the things that really matter, leading to stress, confusion, and a certain kind of hopelessness that can only be felt when I convince myself I will never be enough.
Wabi-Sabi is the alternative. Being able to embrace the beauty in the way that everything is, not as it should be, is a skill that has had a great positive impact on my daily life. Wabi-Sabi encourages me to reside in the moment, and to love everything about it, because everything is temporary. Instead of being swept away by the relentless pursuit of perfection — in relationships, achievements, or possessions — it invites me to step back and take in the truth of the present. And if I were to look closely, the present is always more beautiful than it seems at first glance.
Sixth grade me had no capacity to understand Wabi Sabi, but now I do. My art can never be perfect, just like every other aspect of my life.
And that’s okay.
Because I give myself permission to be myself, and to live a human life. I will build on what is already in existence, instead of remaking myself entirely to fit an imagined ideal.
I’ll live in the moment.
Featured Image Reference:
Spirited Away. (2001).
Directed by H. Miyazaki. Japan: Ghibli.
7 thoughts on “This I Believe — Imperfection”
I’m speechless- this is an incredible piece of art. As someone who knew you when you first transferred to our school- I am happy to say that you really have changed. You’ve matured so much since the first time I met you, and I really do feel that you’ve embraced Wabi-Sabi. I’ve always known you as an artist- one who explores painting and drawing, but I never realized that you were a fantastic writer as well.
I felt that this piece could relate to anyone; you wrote it in a way that allows it to relate to everyone. We all strive to be the best we can be, but perfection is false and there’s beauty in that. I sincerely appreciate your honesty in this; you can really tell that it came straight from your heart. As soon as I started reading, I was drawn into the world of Kate. It’s difficult to engage your readers to the point where they can imagine everything in the story-but somehow, you managed to do just that. I imagined little, eleven year old Kate struggling with the idea of perfection; I imagined now, where the Kate I currently know is happy with her art, and herself.
I struggle with conjuring up something for you to improve on, however I do think more visuals might have enhanced your point. Your artwork has always been beautiful, so I think that if you inserted some from grade six, or your younger years, and then some from now- your point would have had even more impact.
Thank you for sharing something so close to your heart, I feel like I got to know you even more- for that I’m forever thankful.
Thank you for taking the time to read my piece and write a very supportive comment. I’m glad you think I was good at engaging the reader, that I was able to draw you into the “world of Kate”. Having my audience emphasize with my experiences has always been a writing goal for me, and your comment proves I’m getting somewhere with it. 🙂 I’m happy you were able to see myself in sixth grade and compare that to the person I am now, because there was a big difference in my perception of perfection. (I’ll certainly add more visuals, if I’ll find accurate representations of my artwork in middle school.)
Again, thank you for the thoughtfulness and sincerity in your comment, I’m excited for us to write and work together for the World Lit project!
This was quite a thought-provoking piece and I am glad that I chose to take the time to read through its entirety as it had brought about some ideas that I have previously never really pondered over before. The transition between a detailed anecdote and the life lesson taught from it was practically seamless, and I am amazed by your ability to sew your paragraphs into one flowing piece. This fluidity between ideas is something that I feel I personally have been struggling with, so it is interesting to find a work by a fellow peer that has been mended so well that I can learn from.
As for improvements, I would suggest that you still keep in mind the general topic that you are discussing, as you began to delve into your own personal experiences a lot more, and what that has personally taught you, and only briefly touched the idea of imperfection in its entirety around the end paragraphs. You seemed to have lots to talk about with your own experiences, which is good, but I felt that it could have been more relatable to the reader if you discuss more of the ideas that you had begun to establish near the end.
I felt that I had totally understood the viewpoint from which you were coming from, as I too have had my own doubts of what I can do and improve on, and this piece really gave me a new perspective as to how I should treat these ideas. Wabi-Sabi seems, to me, an ideal that everyone can benefit from learning and understanding, and I am glad that you have chosen to write what seems to be genuinely from your heart. After hearing your presentation for your ‘This I Believe’ I just knew that your following work would be just as worth reading, and I am pleased to say that it was. I look forward to reading your other work in the future, and I just know that you will have so much more to give to this blog as a writer.
I am grateful for your direct and ardent feedback. I’m glad you think I had good transitions, I spent a very long time trying to turn my thought process into cohesive paragraphs, in the most seamless way possible. (I actually ended up deleting two paragraphs that I thought interrupted the natural flow of my piece.) Thank you for providing a constructive response, in terms of keeping my topic of imperfection evident throughout the entire blog, not just the parts that related to my personal experiences. I’m sure it will help me connect to my audience more.
I’m glad my view point resonated with you, as Wabi-Sabi plays an important role in my worldview, and its always nice to know someone else agrees with the concept, 🙂
Holy moly, this was incredible. You have a very powerful way of writing, and you have the gift of expressing your ideas and making them relatable enough to let your words touch the hearts of the reader. Each paragraph has a flawless transition that allows your words to move freely without interrupting the story.
I completely relate to the idea of perfection, I have always been a perfectionist. If something wasn’t done exactly the way I wanted it, it would leave me frustrated. I loved your example with art, as many criticize the works of art when, technically, art cannot be done wrong. Especially in FFCA, expectations can simply become a huge encumbrance to the students, and they develop the idea of perfection.
For criticisms, I believe there is not much to say. You proved your point, and you proved it well. I guess you could take the time to elaborate into the lives of others (generalizing) and talking about people as a whole. For example, you could mention schools and how they manipulate the mindset of a student, whether that is intentional or not.
Other than that, great work. I am super excited to see what you can come up with in the future!!
I appreciate you taking the time to read my post and provide such an honest response. I’m glad you were able to relate to my struggle with the impossibility of perfection, I do try to put a significant amount of time into my writing to make it easier for a reader to connect and emphasize with my words. Looking over my piece now, I agree with your constructive criticism, of elaborating on how Wabi-Sabi can be applicable to the lives of others. Overall, your comment makes complete sense and I hope we will work together in the future to improve upon each other’s writing.
I cannot wait to read more of your own blogs!! 🙂
I just read your piece and saw in it a great part of a personal essay. You used a personal anecdote, analyzed in and related it to a broader context making it relevant to your audience which is great thing to be able to do.
Something I noticed as I was reading was one sentence that, for one, did not begin with a capital letter. This really stood out to me and upon reading it, I realized it was also grammatically incorrect. My suspicion is that you accidentally deleted the beginning of your sentence. Whether or not that is the case, a great lesson to be learned from this is to pay close a attention to the little details in your writing especially when rereading it. If it was on an exam you would probably feel horrible for making such a simple mistake and possibly losing marks, I know I would.
On the other hand, you explored an interesting topic and, without getting into my own opinions, did it really well. I wish you the best in your work and sincerely hope that with this new viewpoint you will not sit beating yourself up for any imperfection you may encounter.