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Joy in Imperfection: Normalize Being Human
Discover the joy that resides in your own unique flaws... but wait, is that a good idea?
In a world where perfection is often celebrated and sought after, embracing imperfection may seem counterintuitive. We are bombarded with images of flawless beauty, success stories devoid of struggle, and the constant pursuit of an idealized version of ourselves.
But what if we shifted our perspective? What if we found joy and fulfillment in the very imperfections that make us human? It sounds a bit bananas, but who doesn’t love bananas?
The Imperfection Paradox
We often equate imperfections and flaws with failure or inadequacy, and this mindset can lead to feelings of self-doubt and insecurity. However, there lies a paradox in our pursuit of perfection: the more we strive for perfection, the less attainable anything close to it becomes.
Remember when I wrote about trying to be the “cool girl” in relationships, who didn’t need anything from a man? That backfired by separating me from what I genuinely needed, resulting in anxious control freak behavior that probably made me a nightmare partner! I was so, so much farther from the “perfect me” I had in my head than if I hadn’t tried for what I thought perfection looked like at all.
The inverse is also true. The more we allow our imperfections to exist, the more we are able to act beautifully and with ease despite (or perhaps because of) them. When we can love our flaws, they often start to bear unexpected fruit. Like bananas… but I digress…
One of my flaws is being quite sensitive. Or at least, I used to think so. I was always noticing subtle changes in the people around me, and it could make me quite off-kilter. I felt as though anything anyone did that didn’t add up to 100% straightforward kindness and acceptance could cut me deeply. So I kept walls up and tried not to let people see things that might be perceived as weaknesses in case any of their shifting behaviors indicated possible betrayal.
But the reality is that my sensitivity is very useful. When I tried to ignore what I was sensitive to and keep a rigid wall up, yeah, it hurt. I didn’t like to think about any of what I feared, so I didn’t look too hard.
Yet once I learned to embrace it, I could let my sensitive awareness teach me much more than before. When I started to de-personalize the subtle shifts in people around me, I could engage more with what I observed. Since my sensitivity lets me notice subtle changes in other people’s expression, tone, mood, or behavior, it has, in turn, allowed me many opportunities to address undercurrents of tension that other people haven’t been able to unpack, or maybe haven’t even noticed.
During one consulting project, my role was to align seven different technology teams who were each conducting overlapping work without seeming to realize it (due to a highly matrixed organization with a 60,000 strong corporate headquarters). None of them was willing to give up on their work, even though they were replicating things in ways that confused customers.
When I jumped in to learn what was really going on with our client’s seven technology teams, I sat down to have individual discovery meetings with well over thirty people. As I spoke to each of them, I started to notice certain patterns emerging.
Subtle evasiveness among a couple of different groups raised red flags. A few folks were talking in circles. Some used technology jargon, seemingly to obfuscate the truth, and acted surprised when I knew their terminology and/or pushed back on it.
When I noticed subtle cues that people were uncomfortable with a topic or trying to change direction, I realized I was starting to get close to the secret political reasons why none of these technology teams wanted to let go of the overlapping work they were doing. I started to ask soft questions that revealed how the desire for budget, headcount, and high profile projects were causing people to try to hold onto what they had. None of them said any of this clearly— if they even said it at all— but as I put two and two together, I was able to uncover a holistic picture.
Using that holistic picture of the fears and desires behind the resistance allowed me to come up with a proposal for alignment and change that delivered what those technology teams wanted without them ever being straightforward enough to tell me. And it worked. We got the alignment negotiated, some teams let go of work, and others picked up new, related work, that I’d proposed.
An Exercise in Finding Joy in Our Imperfections
Let’s reflect on the areas in our lives where we’ve struggled to accept our imperfections and brainstorm ways to find joy in those places instead.
Step 1: Self-Reflection:
Take a moment to sit quietly and reflect on your life. Think about moments when you felt inadequate or imperfect. Consider the aspects of yourself that you've often wished were different. These could be related to your appearance, your personality, your habits, or anything else you've wished you could change for fix.
Write down three traits that you’ve always considered imperfections or flaws which you’d like to reconsider today.
For instance: I lose touch with friends when I’m working too hard. I hate my upper arms. I still yell at my mom when I get upset.
Step 2: Explore Your Feelings:
Dig deeper and explore the feelings that arise when you think about the things you feel are flaws and imperfections.
Are you filled with self-criticism, shame, or anxiety?
Write down these emotions and acknowledge them without judgment.
Losing touch with friends when I’m working too hard makes me really sad.
My arms: just comparison and self-criticism all around… I mean, why can’t they be like Jennifer Aniston’s? Plus, I hate admitting I even have any body image issues… it feels shallow.
And my mom… ugh, I feel like a bug worthy of squashing when I get upset with her. She’s almost the only person who triggers me like that. I’m an adult, why can’t I act like one?
Step 3: Appreciation Time: From Imperfection to Intriguing Trait
For each item on your list, let's practice appreciation. And while we’re at it, let’s rename these damn things to help reframe them. Call them what you want: intriguing traits, helpful differences, unique perspectives… you name it!
My helpful difference: Write down at least three positive aspects or helpful qualities associated with this trait. For example, if you consider shyness an imperfection, you might notice that you have strong listening skills, empathy, and the ability to create intimate connections.
Losing touch with friends when working too hard is how I get a lot done, I guess. The trait at play here is dedication. Dedication to my work, and also to my friends. It creates tension in me, and sadness. But dedication is good because I can be very productive and focused. Also, dedication to my friends means my love for them stays, even when I’m busy. It’s like we pick right back up where we left off, when I am able to be with them.
My intriguing trait: Repeat the process for the second trait you identified. Consider embracing the unusual, interesting, or badass elements that can be found in this aspect of yourself.
My upper arms are intriguing? Well, they are pretty damn helpful. I love to swim, and I have to appreciate how easy they make it. Plus, they’re shaped the way they are (a little plush on the back) because, let’s face it, I have big boobs, which I guess is fairly intriguing. Also, they’re muscular. Muscular is good. It’s not exactly what I envision (ahem Jennifer Aniston) but they don’t need to look like hers.
My unique perspective: Identify and appreciate three positive aspects or unique qualities that arise from the special way you engage with the world.
Getting mad at my mom seems like it has zero upsides. But when I zoom out to what’s behind this, it’s that I care so much about our interactions that when they don’t go well, I get very upset. So I guess maybe the trait here is that I’m hopeful. It’s good to be hopeful because it means I see relationships as evolving, essentially positive, and I don’t enter situations with poor expectations.
Step 4: Find Joy in Imperfection Consider the ways in which embracing these traits can bring fulfillment, utility, fun, or greater compassion into your life.
Could it lead to a sense of liberation, allowing you to take risks without fear of failure?
Could it foster deeper connections with others who appreciate your authenticity or who uniquely understand it?
Could it create greater empathy for the struggles of others?
Could it allow for some serious self acceptance, and just letting it be what it is?
Write down the potential sources of uplift and benefit that you discover.
Embracing my dedication may mean that I am able to better balance all the things that I want to be dedicated to. Even more important is having some compassion for myself when I don’t balance. I work hard. Accomplishing things brings me joy. That’s great too.
Embracing my arms will mean less stress in a sleeveless dress, lol. And the ability to be proud of how far I can swim and how strong I am. It’s also okay to wish to look different, that’s a part of being human. We all compare. We all wish. And we can all still love ourselves. These things can all be true at the same time. When I’m clear on this, and okay with it, I can be more empathetic to others who feel these things, rather than labeling myself and them shallow.
Embracing my hopeful outlook in my relationship with my mom can give me more perspective on the long term: even if one interaction gets off track, the big picture is still hopeful. We are usually good to each other, and we love each other. Perhaps a larger sense of positivity will lead to less reactivity in the difficult moments. And even when I fail, and still yell, I can be compassionate enough to forgive myself, aware enough to let the emotion go quickly, and kind enough to apologize. We both want to interact kindly, I know.
Step 6: Take Action: Going forward, when you encounter situations where the traits you have often rejected come to the forefront, consciously apply your new mindset shifts. Start to notice how this changes the ways that you engage and how you feel in those situations.
A Tapestry of Traits
In a world that often demands perfection, choosing to normalize being human can be a revolutionary act of self-love. Remember that joy and fulfillment are not reserved for the flawless; they are accessible to all who dare to embrace their imperfections.
The next time you find yourself striving for an unattainable standard of perfection, pause and reflect on the benefits that can be found in your imperfect traits. Imperfection is not the enemy—it's a source of strength and resilience. Give yourself permission to who you are. Rest in it.
As you practice this, you'll find that embracing your perceived imperfections allows you to weave the positive and negative aspects of who you are into a beautiful, unique tapestry of your authentic self.
Here’s to the beautiful mess.
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