Perfectionism is very dangerous, because of course if your fidelity to perfectionism is too high, you never do anything.

David Foster Wallace

Welcome to Day Four of Embrace Imperfection

Creativity is not limited to making art; it’s a playful and courageous way of being in the world that includes trying new things, taking risks, and laughing at and learning from your imperfect efforts along the way. Revered Benedictine Sister and social justice advocate Joan Chittister writes: “The concept of perfectibility, the idea that anything human can possibly be perfect…concentrates on the elimination of errors rather than the value of efforts. Few people play Chopin’s Minute Waltz in a minute, but generation after generation tries to conquer the piece and, in the trying, get better and better, happier and happier with themselves.” The idea that it’s in the trying — the practice — that our lives are enriched offers a compelling invitation to unleash our creativity. 

While you may have fairly well perfected your equivalent of the Minute Waltz — whether it be music, writing, cooking, gardening, caretaking, communicating, leading, or some other creative endeavor — what aspect of your life would benefit from greater creative expression or experimentation, even if wildly imperfect? What if the goals of your efforts included playful exploration, enjoyment, and beauty? Living gratefully beckons us to awaken to possibility, and creativity is available in some form to all of us. When perfection becomes a roadblock to trying something new or pushing at the edge of your creative passion, it’s a rejection of sorts, a turning away. Today’s focus is about embracing the imperfection of creativity and saying yes to the trying, to the playful practice.

Begin by reading Maya Stein’s poem, the construction project, in which she describes the joy she finds in her “body turned toward an act of making, however imperfect.”

After reading the poem, consider the following:

  • Do you allow yourself to experience this kind of delight in being a beginner, this savoring of the imperfect creation?
  • How is saying yes to this kind of creativity an expression of gratefulness?

Today’s Practice: Let Yourself Play

To begin, enjoy this inspiring and delightful 4-minute video by Reflections of Life in which the narrator Gina shares her playful, imperfect, and meaningful creative project. As you consider your own creative act, take note of her message to “trust in life and just stitch.”

After watching the short video, let yourself play. Play, of course, is inherently imperfect; in fact, we expect it to be a bit messy and always without a known outcome. And if there’s one essential ingredient of creativity, it’s the willingness and ability to adopt a playful stance. In his book Play Matters, Miguel Sicart reminds us that play is much more than games or puzzles but is a way of living. He writes: “Play is a mode of being human. Like literature, art, song, and dance, like politics and love and math, play is a way of engaging and expressing our being in the world.” When we show up to our lives with a sense of play, creativity follows.

Step One: Identify a specific area in your life where you’d like to unleash your imperfect creativity — finally writing that poem, leading or parenting differently, cooking or gardening, communicating with a beloved in a new way, etc. For this practice, pick one creative act as your focus.

Step Two: Approach your creative act through play by considering the principles of play and accompanying questions below.

  • Play is open-ended: What is one way you can try out your creative act with curiosity and exploration rather than a specific outcome in mind? 
  • Play is learning: Get specific about approaching your creative act with a growth mindset. How will you pause to learn from the imperfections that inevitably occur?
  • Play disrupts routines and habits: Lean in to your creativity as a way to mix things up a bit. Is there a particular way your creativity can bring a new rhythm to some aspect of your daily life?
  • Play can heal: Is there a way that unleashing your creativity might be healing to you or those around you?

Today’s Action to Embrace Imperfection: Take one step to show up to your creative act with a sense of play, trusting that there’s meaning in the trying. Remain open to the surprise, learning, and joy that arises from your imperfect creativity.

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

Earth Altars: A Practice for Grateful Living by Laura Loescher

Enjoy this article and video about creating earth altars, or nature mandalas, as a gratefulness practice. Because they are temporary, there’s incredible freedom to create with a sense of play and openness to imperfection. Unleash your creativity by building your own earth altar on your next walk or by adapting the author’s openness to possibility to your own creative endeavor.

Research Highlight

While Joan Chittister references the happiness that can be found in the trying, research points out that perfectionism functions in the opposite way, putting up a roadblock to practice or effort. A study of a group of cyclists found that the performance of those with high levels of perfectionism plummeted when they believed they had not done well on a first timed race. They gave up. Those with lower scores of self-oriented perfectionism tried to improve. In short, perfectionism “actively obstructs us from trying in the first place.”

The Rise of Perfection and the Harm It’s Doing Us All , Will Coldwell, The Guardian, June 4, 2023

Photo by Alex Presa