Don’t plan it all. Let life surprise you a little.

Julia Alvarez, from In the Time of the Butterflies

Welcome to Day Three of Embrace Imperfection

How many times have you envisioned the perfect vacation, the perfect relationship, the perfect day — only to find that the hotel looks nothing like the pictures, someone beloved to you has flaws (oh my!), and the day that unfolds is an unexpectedly bumpy ride. We all have a version of this — an experience when we imagined things would be one way (“perfect!”) and they turned out differently. Some of these are enormous disappointments and losses, of course, and today’s invitation is not about pretending there’s a silver lining for the grief in our lives. It is about identifying the possibilities that live in the unexpected, flawed, and surprising ways that life actually unfolds. It’s about releasing a tight grip on some ideal we’ve envisioned for our lives — how it should be or how it should go — and discovering the meaning, connection, and opportunity available to us right now. Beyond the realm of ideals and expectations, there exists something else. It is in your openness to an outcome you may not be able to craft or control, an experience and perspective beyond what you imagined, where the meaning of what is will be discovered.

Begin by listening to this brief parable of the Chinese farmer as delightfully retold by English philosopher Alan Watts. Like any good parable, it offers layers of teaching and can be interpreted in numerous ways. In part, it’s a lighthearted reminder that we actually can’t predict the consequences of the imperfect — or perfect — things that happen in our lives. The villagers hold tightly to their belief that what befalls the farmer and his son is either bad or good. The farmer remains steadfastly open, responding to the villagers’ assessments with a consistent, “Maybe”!

After viewing, take a moment to consider the following:

  • Is there an imperfect aspect of your life right where you might adopt the farmer’s open stance to what might come next?

Today’s Practice: Get Curious

Begin today’s practice by reading The Liberating Lessons of Imperfection by Grateful Living Director of Education Sheryl Chard, in which she shares the opportunities she discovered when her “perfect year” unfolded in unexpected and challenging ways.

After reading the essay, try this:

  • Identify an experience in your past when you hoped for one thing and were surprised, maybe even delighted, by something else. Take a few minutes to write down your reflections.
  • Next, identify where you are expecting or awaiting perfection from life right now — from a relationship, your work, plans you’ve made. Again, take a few moments to write down your thoughts.
  • Begin to replace expectation with curiosity by exploring the following questions:
    • Why am I holding tightly to this particular ideal? 
    • Is there a possibility being offered that I haven’t let myself see?
    • Is there a relationship that could expand or deepen if I soften my expectations?
    • How might releasing my expectation of perfection impact my emotional and physical well-being?

Today’s Action to Embrace Imperfection: Each time you find yourself expecting perfection today, commit to asking yourself, “What is the opportunity here?” Greet imperfection with genuine curiosity and pay attention to what new meaning or insight is revealed.

Scroll to the bottom of the page (or click here) to find the Community Conversation space where we invite you to share your reflections.

Deepening Resource

A Relationship of Compassion: Living Gratefully in the Body, Mariah Fenton Gladis

As a young woman, Mariah Fenton Gladis was diagnosed with ALS. In this beautiful piece, she describes the way that gratefulness allowed her to find meaning and opportunity in her life, despite her life not unfolding in the “perfect” way she had imagined.

Research Highlight

Research demonstrates that there’s a meaningful relationship between liberating ourselves from perfection and our capacity to be generous with others. Self-compassion has an impact on others because increased acceptance of one’s own imperfections can enhance acceptance of others’ imperfections. Specifically, acceptance of one’s own flaws can lead to greater acceptance of flaws in both acquaintances and romantic partners. 

Zhang, Chen, & Shakur (2020). From Me to You: Self-Compassion Predicts Acceptance of Own and Others’ Imperfections. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 46(2), 228-242.

Photo by Actionvance