you had a bad day

What I Didn’t Know About Embracing Imperfection

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In January, I challenged myself to spend 30 days acknowledging, accepting, and welcoming my most imperfect moments. For awhile, The Imperfection Challenge was smooth sailing. I was starting to think that a bump in the road would not get me down.

Then I hit a bump in the road. A minor dip, really. I spent a great deal of time planning a presentation, only to forget the necessary materials on the day I presented. The teachers in the meeting had to scramble to find what we needed—the materials I was clearly designated to bring– to continue on with the work. As wasted time ticked by mercilessly, this small blunder morphed into a chorus of steadily rising voices in my head. And even though we eventually accomplished our goals, the thoughts came anyway:

You are wasting people’s time.

The people who respect you are changing their minds.

You are a non-essential member of this team.

After the presentation, I racked my brain. I’m supposed to enjoy my failures this month! Remember the imperfection experiment, I thought to myself. Accept the meeting and be okay with the mistake.

Well, it turns out that embracing imperfection is easy until things actually start going wrong.

And that’s when I realized I had it all wrong. Embracing imperfection shouldn’t be about turning our mistakes into something closer to our original expectations. In fact, that approach defeats the whole purpose of the imperfection challenge. My misconceptions about being imperfect did not stop there.

I was camouflaging imperfections, not embracing them.

I’ll be honest. In the first few drafts of this post, I was trying to put a positive spin on all of my bad days of January. That awkward training, the day I was two minutes to just about everything, the conference application that got denied. I was going to point out all of the benefits of failing and convince you (and myself) how wonderful it feels to fail.

It doesn’t usually feel wonderful at all. And anyway, why was I always trying to rewrite the script? Things go wrong. Period.

Looking for some insight, I did some reading about wabi-sabi, the Japanese art of finding the beauty in a naturally flawed world. Under this belief, the most beautiful objects are irregularly shaped, uneven, and split with cracks. Life is revered in its most natural, simplistic state. It isn’t about coming to terms with the flaws or being happy despite of them. Instead, the beauty is found in the flaws themselves.

I liked the idea of being able to just exist in my discomfort, letting it settle around me. It’s common, acceptable, and so very human to make mistakes. And besides, it takes so much energy to hide all of it so no one can see.

Maybe we need to stop camouflaging the flaws in our own messy leadership.

I forgot other people fail, too.

It’s important that we recognize our own imperfections and allow ourselves mercy and grace. However, to offer that to someone else is a true exemplar of leadership. In our efforts to improve the way we handle our own imperfections, we can’t overlook the fact that it is just as important to embrace the imperfections that are not our own.

How do we view others in the stormy wake of their mistakes? Perhaps this is the hardest challenge for a leader. You can always look away from your own reflection, but you can’t lead without taking action on behalf of others. How we choose to do this for others can be the difference between someone who fails and moves on, and someone who believes they are a failure.

I didn’t account for the fear factor. 

There were plenty of imperfect moments that I didn’t experience in January because I didn’t allow myself the opportunity to faiI. I let fear keep me “safe.”

Fear of speaking up, fear of being too passionate, fear of being wrong in the end. (And this last one has a way of quietly dissolving my convictions, bit by bit.)

It doesn’t matter how comfortable we are embracing our imperfections if we are too scared to let ourselves fail in the first place. I think about the blog post I didn’t write, the hand I didn’t raise, the risk I didn’t take. I wish these things, potential failures or not, were a part of my January.

Here are some strategies to manage fear so that you don’t miss another opportunity to be imperfect.

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So while I clearly failed my imperfection experiment, I guess that was the point along. To get it wrong, to make the mistakes (or be too afraid to make them), to be a regularly operating human in this world and to sometimes be uncomfortable about it. These fears and imperfections–they were a part of our January, and they will be a part of our February, March and April too. They definitely aren’t going anywhere. I was misguided to think embracing my flaws would make them go away.

Take a seat, imperfections. Go ahead and make yourself feel at home.

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1 Comment on What I Didn’t Know About Embracing Imperfection

georgia wierengo said : Guest Report a week ago

I read this quickly when it first came into my email box and thought 'oh this is good'. Then, woke up this morning feeling very miserable with my imperfections and actions and reread it again. Thank you, Ali, for helping me to see that I can forgive myself for these imperfections and begin to perhaps accept and to grow from them.

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