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celebrate the smudge

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”- John Steinbeck

As one boy peeled the silkscreen away from his new t-shirt, we all saw the striking blue shape of a fish—and beside it a small blotch of blue. He noticed it, too. “Look at that smudge. I must have moved the screen too quickly by mistake,” he said, before adding, “Doesn’t it look cool?” He admired not just the fish he’d planned to create, but the whole process. The unexpected imperfection was an ideal result.That’s a stretch for a lot of us. With age comes mastery, and often with it, weighty expectations: Perfect house. Perfect job. Perfect body. Perfect relationships. In fact, what makes us universally human is the nuance of our imperfection. And yet our minds and hearts push tirelessly against this truth. Youth know better. A toddler learning to walk, teetering and tumbling, is thrilled to struggle through each step. Adults cheer on youngsters as they stumble toward these milestones, yet we aren’t quite so generous with ourselves. Teens bridge the gap between child and adulthood. And they remind us how exciting it can be to discover the unexpected outcomes that appear only when we expect to make “mistakes.”

But how do we let go? Consider the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which translates to “golden joinery.” It’s a centuries-old practice of repairing broken pottery using gold, silver, or platinum lacquer. And love. Tiny streams of gold glint in the former cracks of bowls and plates. Kintsugi celebrates each artifact’s unique history as it highlights imperfections instead of disguising them. They are more beautiful because they were broken.

Instead of hiding our flaws, we could embrace them—to connect with ourselves and others. Author Brené Brown, in her breakthrough book The Gifts of Imperfection, explains the value of imperfection and why it’s worth cultivating the vulnerability to share it. “In the heart of compassion is acceptance. The better we are at accepting ourselves [with all our imperfections], the more compassionate we become. When these shine through, we show acceptance of our humanity. We become better connected to ourselves and those around us.

”At the start of the new year, a lot of us resolve to make changes that lead us closer toward perfection. Imagine, instead, setting a new intention: Try more things and make more smudges! Let the gold veins of your flaws shine through. When you do, you may be surprised to rediscover a good, old friend… absolutely, imperfect you.


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