Embracing imperfection

When I was a child, I was a creative spirit. I liked to draw and paint, and also enjoyed acting and singing. My artwork wasn’t bad and I had a pretty good voice but I had a fatal flaw: frustrated perfectionism. Every time I drew or painted something, I tore it up as soon as the flaws became apparent. Later it got to the point where I froze whenever I faced a blank canvas. It was the same with the performance arts: I couldn’t bear to watch or listen to myself without dissolving into a puddle of shame.

Thankfully I grew up and became a writer. It is far less degrading than other forms of prostitution. And while some client revisions make me want to tear my hair out, I’ve learned to take satisfaction in making the best of each writing assignment. There is always an opportunity to bring creative flair to copy, even if I sometimes think of myself as a ‘silk purse maker’ (transforming the proverbial sow’s ear). It’s easier to be a closet perfectionist as a writer than as an artist, even if death by editing is a thing. Word processing technology lets us draft and redraft in blink of an eye and ensures that the worst of our spelling and grammar mistakes are hidden from view. Beta readers and editors help us transform our shitty first drafts into stories that people actually want to read.

Each new year brings with it the chance to start again, whether in writing or in life, with a blank page. Like every year, I am setting myself, if not firm goals, a mantra or two. This year I’ve decided it is all about embracing imperfection. It may not be perfect, but it is my life and I love it. Each day, no matter the weather, the time available or whatever else is happening, I will do something that makes me truly happy. Just for me. Creatively speaking, I will not throw out the baby with the bathwater when my work falls short. I will believe in my star and, if something needs work, then I won’t back away from it. No shortcuts. The only failure is the failure to keep trying.

We live such curated lives. I post pictures of this beautiful place where I live and enjoy hearing from people who appreciate them. We are indeed blessed to live here. But sometimes it feels like those photos are completely unreal. Days with no shareable moments, when life’s problems and challenges feel overwhelming. When everything feels like a shitty first draft and you just want to crumple it up and start over.

But I’m learning that the imperfections are what make things interesting. I’ve always found beauty to be like that: flawed is better than perfect. I’d rather look at an interesting face than one which is boringly beautiful. I recently had a revelation about my work-in-progress novel: my main character needs more flaws in order to reveal his arc in the story.

On a side note, I made these vanilla ‘kipferl’ cookies, a local specialty, at Christmas. They were supposed to look like crescent moons but their appearance was far less than perfect. The bright side? They tasted absolutely delicious!

So I’ll be embracing imperfection this year. What about you?

24 comments

  1. davidprosser · January 7

    I’m happy to accept that I can’t be perfect, so I count any shortfalls and imperfections as interesting diversions that may keep me off the main path for a short while or even a long time if I explore them. If I can ever get back to writing I’m sure the diversions will make my books much longer and maybe more fun.

    • MELewis · January 7

      David, how lovely to see you back here in a place where I can add a comment! Looks like you are feeling better — after some of your recent posts I was worried. Going off the path and exploring imperfections sounds like a worthy plan to me. Hope that 2022 brings you back to writing in whatever form as long as it brings you joy! Stay well. 🌟

  2. midihideaways · January 7

    I’m with you on this – the more I think about it, the more I’m realising that I need to embrace imperfection too!! Being a perfectionist can be tiring, and I know a perfectionist is difficult to live with!! 🙂
    Happy New Year, Mel!

    • MELewis · January 7

      That’s a very good point about being hard to live with. Even if you manage to curtail some of your more overt perfectionism, when you are miserable inside, the entourage sure feels it. But it can be hard to find the balance between letting go of things while sticking to your goals. 🧐 If you find the secret, Andreas, let me know! All the best for a happy and healthy 2022!

  3. margaret21 · January 7

    Yes indeed. The need for everything to be ‘just so … perfect’ can leak into other aspects of life, like looking for perfection in others. Which is just plain exhausting all round. When we have young children in our lives, we often find the moments when they don’t live up to perfection just plain charming (Their mispronunciations! So cute! Their misapplying a regular grammar rule to an exception! So revealing! That painting of granny – aaaw!). Why can’t we apply that to ourselves and those others who are part of our lives? Maybe in 2022?

    • MELewis · January 8

      You are so right. Seeking perfection is a demanding and vicious circle game in which there are no winners. I hope to take inspiration from wee ones soon — stay tuned!

  4. Taste of France · January 7

    Wabi-sabi rules!
    My mom was a perfectionist–she wouldn’t let go of things because they were never good enough, and as a result she never got anything done. By not finishing, she could avoid judgment–it’s not perfect because it’s not done yet.
    “Good enough” often is just that, though it sits on a slippery slope of complacency and crumbling standards.
    I like deadlines–do the absolute best in the time allowed, then call it a day. No more fretting over it. It can’t be perfect, because there wasn’t enough time. It’s as good as possible under the time constraints.
    Your cookies look yummy. My Eastern European grandma made something similar, with a similar name.

    • MELewis · January 8

      Wabi-sabi! Thanks for reminding me of this wonderful word. Not finishing is the bane of the perfectionist’s existence, and working to a deadline is a good way of avoiding the ‘never-done’ trap. Thanks for stopping by and bonne année to you!

  5. Dale · January 7

    You are so right. Our posts are cousins!
    Needless to say I agree with this one hundred percent. And, by the way, your cookies look lovely to me 🙂
    I can have perfectionist tendencies on certain things (maybe more than I like to admit) and yet on others not at all. I think it is mostly fear of looking the fool that has stopped me from trying anything I don’t know. Which is ridiculous and and of itself.
    Happy to be imperfect alongside you!

    • MELewis · January 8

      That is so true, Dale. Fear of looking foolish has stopped me from enjoying life in hundreds of ways. But that in itself is an imperfection that I have come to accept. 😇 Nice to have you along for the ride!

      • Dale · January 8

        How liberating would it be if we just let ‘er rip instead of worry about what is surely less than what we think it will be?
        Always enjoy hopping on your rides.

  6. A Star on the Forehead · January 7

    This is perfect Mel!
    I am all about enjoying our imperfections and feeling happily imperfect.
    Blessings to you!

  7. Ally Bean · January 7

    Until I was about 40 I was more of a control freak who wanted perfection, but I’ve lost that drive now and just do my best. I came to the realization that it’s the flaws that make a person more interesting, and who doesn’t want to be interesting!

    • MELewis · January 8

      I’ve been working on this for some years but I find it’s a process of letting go of unrealistic expectations as they keep cropping up. Sounds like you figured it out in time to enjoy life. Here’s to an imperfectly interesting year!

  8. Colin Bisset · January 8

    What a perfect metaphor – the kipferle epiphany! Wishing you a very Wabi-sabi year!

    • MELewis · January 8

      Ha, ha….and just in time for the Epiphany (which they really do seem to celebrate around here — or perhaps it coincides with the start of Fassnacht. We had band music and fireworks on Thursday!

  9. acflory · January 8

    Ugh, Mel! Stop sneaking around inside my head! As another perfectionist, I salute you. And please post the recipe for the kifli [Hunagrian spelling]. A Hungarian family friend used to make them when I was a kid and I LOVE them. -hugs-

    • MELewis · January 9

      Aha Meeks! Another fellow (im)perfectionist, why am I not surprised? 🧐 I started from this recipe for the vegan but adapted it (I refuse to sift!) using ground hazelnuts. You can use any ground nuts — almonds are quite typical too. They were truly amazing!

      • acflory · January 9

        Mmm…I happen to have a packet of ground almonds in the pantry… 😀 😀

  10. Vanessa in France · January 18

    I’ve struggled with frustrated perfectionism all my life, to the point that it has made me not do things because of fear of failure. You’re quite right that we should embrace imperfection, but it’s hard to do. As I get older, I start to realise the necessity of doing so. Good luck with your own embracing!

    • MELewis · January 21

      Funny how age really does bring wisdom. At 50 I thought I knew it all, yet here I am more than a decade later realizing all the things I’ve learned about myself since. Which, as you point out, doesn’t make it easier to put into practice! Being mindful really does help, though. Since I posted this, there have been several occasions when I realized I was making myself miserable over something that really did not matter, so I let it go. And the world did not collapse, or even notice! Glad it resonated with you, Vanessa. I suspect we are many more in number that we might think.

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