I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of energy all day, every day, trying to get things perfect and often failing. I can sometimes find it downright crippling when I feel that I’m not getting something right, and then sometimes, when I think I’ve gotten it right, it turns out I was completely wrong. Don’t you hate that?

I’m coming off of a particularly stressful month so I’m sure that is factoring in, but I’m feeling pretty weary from the effort to achieve perfection right now. Perfectionist perspective is exhausting, at best, and I watch myself and others fall into this pursuit on a regular basis. I wondered if there was a way that I might stop the madness, and I was surprised at the voices from which I found the wisdom I sought.

In order to feel that you are getting things perfectly right, you must first decide that you know what perfectly right looks like, and how do you know you’re not getting that part wrong? It is quite the conundrum, if you think about it.

Many people consider Marilyn Monroe to be the most perfect example of beauty that has ever existed, but she very famously said, “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” What a beautiful encouragement to not only accept the things we find imperfect, but to celebrate them!

Every woman has likely, more than once, struggled with whether she is getting her hair right or her makeup right or her outfit right. I don’t mean to suggest that men are immune to it, especially the younger they are, but societal expectations of women can be much more complicated and ever-changing, yet always seemingly concrete, so I believe we are particularly vulnerable to it.

Luckily, in my experience, as we get older we become less concerned with how others may see us and more comfortable with our own ridiculous selves. As we age we are far more likely to dress for our own comfort than for the attention of those around us, and I wish we could figure out how to teach our children how to get there sooner. Maybe if we taught Marilyn Monroe in school we could help kids learn to embrace their imperfections and those of their peers. I wouldn’t have thought of that if I hadn’t have been reminded of that quote, but what a relieving way to think!

As I read about Marilyn’s words, I found the quote compared to a Japanese philosophy called wabi-sabi. Have you ever heard of it? I had not. When I think of precision and perfection, I have to say that Japanese traditions rank high on my list of what embodies such thoughts.

The meticulous and ceremonious manner in which their culture functions seems to leave no room for mistakes, but it turns out that wabi-sabi is the very practice of appreciating the beauty of natural imperfections. It was beautifully detailed in this story as retold in a Psychology Today article.

“Centuries back, in the height of the Japanese autumn, in one of Kyoto’s majestic gardens, a tea master asked his disciple to prepare for tea ceremony. The young man trimmed the hedges, raked the gravel, picked the dried leaves from the stones, cleared the moss path of twigs. The garden looked immaculate: not a blade of grass out of place. The master inspected the garden quietly. Then, he reached at a branch of a maple tree and shook it, watching the auburn leaves fall with haphazard grace on tidied earth. There it was now, the magic of imperfection. There it was, the order of nature, never far from the hands of humans. There it was, wabi-sabi, thought master Rikyu — the father of Japanese tea ceremony.”

Here in the peak of our short but beautiful southern fall, it is very easy to appreciate what the master saw. After the recent arctic turn in temperature, leaves fell from the gingkos at Fifth Avenue and Broad Street in great batches overnight, leaving a beautiful carpet of gold on the street and sidewalk below. Such beauty could only happen by letting the chips (or, in this case, leaves) fall where they may, by allowing chaos to exist and forgetting the potential for “perfect” placement. A little “que sera, sera” can go a long way in allowing for unexpected perfection, sometimes.

When my daughter was young we had a favorite musician who specialized in kids songs that were about as clever as you can get. His name is Billy Jonas and he even came to Rome once and performed on the stage at the Rome City Auditorium.

One of our favorite songs was one called “Happy Accident” that describes famous things throughout history that were only discovered because mistakes were made in attempts at creating something completely different. Things like corn flakes, penicillin and sticky notes all came from experiments that seemed to be going very badly but turned out to produce something perfectly unexpected.

After each verse Jonas shouts “EUREKA! UNIQUE-A! TOTALLY SUPERFREAK-A!” and you can’t help but feel excited about what is possible when things seem to be going wrong! You can see how a kid would find the song downright liberating, and a good number of adults, too.

Here in the aftermath of some big events, I am happy to reflect on what perfect positives may have come from things that felt stressfully imperfect at the time. Life is hard, but we can usually look back and find that, had that seemingly imperfect thing not happened, that unforeseeably perfect thing might not have happened, either. Hopefully, we are all able to find such forgiveness for ourselves and for those around us, as there is rarely room for holding on to the regret of things that didn’t go as planned. That is only perfectly painful and prevents us from moving onward and upward. Instead, let’s embrace that we are all imperfectly perfectly fine.

Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.

Recommended for you