Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Recently, I was interviewed by Laura Kupperman, who has been a friend as well as my coach, as part of a week-long online business training she organized targeting yoga teachers and therapists who wanted to learn how to reach more people and freshen up their business approach.
Laura asked me about dealing with perfectionism in my work. Honestly, I was trained away from perfectionism from a young age. Even as far back as kindergarten, my parents pretty much left things up to me to deal with – including the one big “homework” assignment we had: creating an illustrated handmade book with all the letters in the alphabet. I was dumbstruck at “Q” – the only word I could think of was “queen”; I couldn’t find a single image of a royal in my Highlights or my mother’s Redbook magazines. Had my parents helped me, they might have cut and pasted a diagram of the New York City borough we lived in. Instead, I drew a stick figure with a crown atop her head, figuring Mrs. L. would get it. She deemed it incomplete. I was one of a handful of readers in that kindergarten, and knew all the letters, but Mrs. L wouldn’t cut me a break. I didn’t get the gift package that everyone else in my class got – a burger king ring, magic markets, sparkly stickers, and candy. It was the first time in my life I remembered failing.
My parents were quick to make sure that my failing didn’t mean I was a loser. My father, the son of a Hasidic rabbi, treated me to Burger King, where they were no longer giving out rings, but I got to wear a crown. And because this farewell message to me was just the latest in what they understood to be a pattern of oppression, they also took me out of the public school system, and enrolled me in an orthodox yeshiva (Jewish day school), where they thought the teachers would emphasize conceptual grasp over creative expression.
While I learned that being a perfect artist or collector of magazine images was secondary to knowing my stuff (in this case, reading), I wonder if this was also where I first encountered the lesson of giving up. I understood that I failed because I didn’t know how to draw a queen well enough. So I gave up on drawing for an entire lifetime.
To this day, I have to work hard to transcend my inclination to step away from things I think I’ve failed at. When I find myself resisting or procrastinating, I try to parent myself, reminding the five-year old inside that it’s not perfection but persistence that can yield surprising successes.
Which is why I have falling in love with the Japanese art of Kintsugi which uses precious metals – liquid gold or silver, or lacquer dusted with powdered gold – to bring together the pieces of a broken pottery – mending the breaks while accentuating where it’s been shattered.
There’s so many metaphors that we can draw from Kintsugi. Things that are broken haven’t outworn their usefulness – or beauty. In repairing things – or our own bodies and psyches for that matter – we can create something of even more functional and aesthetic value. Rather than hiding our weaknesses and scars, they can become what to exhibit. Our irregularities make our lives much more interesting when they’re not perfect.
Isn’t this the essence of resilience? We look for a way to reconcile harsh experiences, eventually taking the best from them and maybe even being grateful that we couldn’t be who we are without sucking the marrow from daunting circumstances.
In his 70s, Leonard Cohen performed 387 times over six years, while continuing to create and record. He was forced to tour for financial reasons: his daughter helped him figure out that his long-time manager had betrayed him, embezzling millions of dollars. He told Rolling Stone magazine “You depend on a certain resilience that is not yours to command, but which is present. And if you can sense this resilience or sense this capacity to continue, it means a lot more at this age than it did when I was 30, when I took it for granted.”
Where are your own cracks? What would it look like to not shy from them but to slowly embrace them, and maybe even assume your beauty and value are in the cracks themselves? Please feel free to share your stories in the comments!