How to Seek an Imperfect Life
In 10 Empowering Principles to Live by, we explored that a set of beliefs is what we use to make sense of our world. We feel or think about something, and then our brain compares it to our cognitive map to understand the situation or generate meaning out of it. With time, we adjust those inner rules so that we can navigate our lives more effectively and with more clarity. But what does this have to do with seeking an imperfect life? What does that really mean? Why would we want to seek an imperfect life and how do we live it?
First, let us recognize what most of us currently believe: that perfection exists and we should strive for it. It sure sounds noble and it certainly makes us feel smart. But at what cost? A perfectionist mindset develops early in our childhood. It begins with meticulous parenting that tries to prevent children from making any mistakes. In school, we have grades that measure our performance based on an ideal. Additionally, they convey a sense of permanence that reinforces what we’re good or not good at. In business, the hiring process tries to select the perfect candidate with the most competence. These decisions stem out of a belief in perfection that include the notions that there should be a right answer, it should be known, and that innate talent exists.
But where does this perfection-seeking belief—about fast, mistake-free, winning, and results-driven work—come from? It comes as a byproduct of an industrialized era of mass production, standardization, and efficiency. We needed people to learn to follow instructions, not necessarily to think independently and creatively. But the 21st century doesn’t work that way anymore—especially when it comes to innovation. Mistakes are not permanent any longer. In this information/tech era we want to test for mistakes and iterate. We want to take measured risk to learn and improve our systems. More than ever, we buy (and follow) the brands that are innovative and stand for customer satisfaction and connectedness. People are becoming successful not by seeking perfection, but by how passionate they feel about their work and how they contribute to the marketplace.
And granted—there is a lot of competition, judgement, bills to pay, feelings of embarrassment, and harsh criticism. But who’s judging? Shouldn’t we focus less on the perceptions of others and our need to present immediate and immaculate results? Why not develop more interests and be comfortable making mistakes while we learn, grow, and find how to contribute our gift to the world? I’m not suggesting recklessness, but boldness. Instead of sticking to what’s true, proven, and ever-narrowing our field—we can begin a quest to widen it, and most importantly, to live it.
So how do we seek an imperfect life? We can begin by practicing groundedness. We can choose to be courageous as we approach work that matters to us. We can choose to stand up for something, even if it’s uncomfortable. We can choose to believe in growth, development, and impact. We can believe that difficult learning happens when we allow ourselves to make mistakes. And we can declare the present moment as magical: a moment to express who we are, clarify what we care about, enjoy our life, and contribute our work—however small. We can practice being passionate about learning and coming up with fresh ideas, while committed to engage in work, and driven to provide the world with our unique contribution. To seek an imperfect life, consider the following:
- Engage to learn, not to be perceived as smart
- Provide yourself, don’t compare yourself
- Strive to contribute, not to perform
- Stand up for yourself and others, especially when no one else does
- Express yourself, even when it’s uncomfortable
- Be patient and courageous, not judgmental and perfect
- Keep starting, exploring, and leaping, not ever-conforming
In The Mindful Leader, Michael Carroll points out that “Mindful leaders express courage by not holding on to fixed views, wielding credentials, or stubbornly insisting on a position. Clinging to our prestige, authority, opinion, or command is not a priority for mindful leaders, and when we let go of such fixations, we find that we are, as traditionally described, ‘suddenly free from fixed mind.’” So when we put perfection aside—we are freed to learn again, to explore, make mistakes, grow, and feel alive. And when we have that kind of imperfect life, we become the kind of person that is most able to enjoy their work, venture out, and create a positive impact.
Seeking an imperfect life takes time. But it’s liberating and it can be done! It took me a long time before I finally started writing because I didn’t feel it was going to be good enough. I was thinking: has it been done before? Will it be liked? But I’ve realized that it doesn’t need to be perfect. I love writing as much as I love numbers. I have something to share that is unique and that you might find insightful. My question to you is: what would you share to the world if it did not need to be perfect? What kind of life would you lead?
Juan F. Diaz
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