On Embracing Imperfection


The lights outside are beautiful; having spent hours on a high stool before a vintage-style bar table against the full-length glass window, I have fallen completely in love with the view from here. Thinking Cup is a café recommendation by a friend – the panoramic view of Boston Common, a central public park in downtown Boston, is absolutely breathtaking. The rain drizzles incessantly, but does little to blur the scene of the colourful lights outlining the silhouette of each tree. The pavilion in the distance is a work of art on its own with lights of red, blue, green and yellow dotted along its shelter. Passing cars and people taking quick, small steps bring life to what would otherwise be static. Overhead is a cylindrical wire-meshed casing that wraps around a dim, yellow lamp. There is a surreal knowing that life is beautiful and that so much lie ahead of us; all thoughts I am privileged to bask in. These thoughts, remind me of the time I shaved – with the struggles aside and dilemmas reconciled, the inner peace seated in the chair two years ago; I remember thinking then, as I am thinking now, that I want to remember this moment forever.

The current read is Grit by Angela Duckworth, another investment to the Strong Mind Fit Body Student Champion Development Programme which we have been working hard to develop during this trip to America. The Programme is designed to empower students in secondary school with project management skills and self-development techniques to be better – better at finding out the needs of community and meeting them, better at investigating themselves and who they are. It is, really, a thoughtful curation of all the skills, tools, strategies and capabilities from renowned, game-changing academic researchers, essential for the 21st century millennial. This piece is about embracing imperfection: because the hard truth to all who are awaiting perfection before trying is that we are all, truly, waiting for nothing.

Growing up, I have lost count of the talks or lessons, motivational speeches and enrichment programmes that have employed the “what is your passion?” opening strategy. An awfully open-ended question that is meant to pry into your gut for ‘truth’ and ‘meaning’, it gives a false promise that the answer to this singular question will rid our lives of uncertainty and misguides young individuals into searching for some form of a magical entity that will come to you one day. Finding one’s ‘passion’ has so often brought to mind a vivid image of a highly motivated individual doing something (anything) day and night, with a smile on his or her face and a deep sense of satisfaction. It is usually described as an end-point more than a process and the message sold, then, becomes that “all you’re doing now will become worthwhile when you’ve found your ‘passion’, that one thing you’re willing to do anything for.” In the words of Angela Duckworth, “Nobody wants to show you the hours and hours of becoming, they’d rather show you the highlight of what they’ve become.”

We are conditioned to applaud good performances, praise excellent results or nod in agreement to brilliant products of innovation. Too little attention and time is spent on reading biographies, listening to stories of lives besides our own and way too little affirmation returned for smaller victories – a job well done in a single assignment, one choice that exemplifies an invaluable core value or the absence of negativity, for example. The result is that while we are deeply inspired by those who appear extremely devoted to their line of work and dare say, “I love what I do”, we fail to appreciate that this does not happen overnight. We consciously understand that it takes hard work and effort, but intuitively we are attracted to the idea that it is divine and God-given, it just happens. We prefer a story of an accomplished pianist who “one day, just knew that music was his ‘calling’,” than a story with the same accomplished pianist who “practiced and did little but practice for his entire college life, dropping out of school and facing disapproval at home”.

This unhelpful message creates a cloud of confusion around the idea of passion and of the more important purpose that we are truly in search of for fulfilment. Did you know that the root word of “passion” is the Latin word “passio”, which means “suffering”? Analysis of the etymology of passion has it that at the core of what we today know as ‘passion’ is ‘suffering’ and the willingness to be in the state of suffering. The starting point of discovering passion – that thing you’re willing to suffer for – is not an easy on either. It takes a whole lot of exploration and experimenting to find out what it is that you’re interested in, and then, what you’re so interested in to transform into passion. If we truly acknowledge the value of ‘passion’ and the importance of it for dedicated and sustained (possibly life-long) good work, then we have to start inspiring passion, truly.

Perhaps, where we might start is by embracing imperfection. The fear of rejection and disconnection is found everywhere, even in the classroom which is meant to be a safe space to learn. Given that failure is a necessary part of learning, the implications have it that the classroom is also meant to be a safe space for failing. Yet, it is in these classrooms that we have learned to be afraid of failure. The sniggers from classmates that are left unaddressed, the subtle social hints we give one another and the different messages that are sent about grades; we implicitly learn to not fail. The irony lies in that while it is common sense that perfection is impossible, we expect from others (and ourselves) perfection. We cringe at shortcomings and reject flaws. This is unhelpful to the necessary process of finding passion – it is through the route of discovering interests that we find this so-called ‘passion’.

So I think, perhaps, where we might start is by embracing imperfection and this piece is dedicated to the incredible dutch uncles who have embraced mine.



9 thoughts on “On Embracing Imperfection

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