A few years ago, I was working with a client in Chicago. One of the women on the team mentioned she’d been an extra in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” specifically, one of the little students in the museum scene. She explained they were to hold hands and walk in a line. Her friend, Maya, was the little girl who broke the chain then scrambled to catch up.
My colleague said, “Maya was so upset she messed up. She thought she’d ruined it.”
We hold up perfection as the pinnacle of achievement: the Natalie Portman last-gasp proclamation; the Mary Lou Retton landing. But perfection isn’t necessarily the best version of something. My friend since childhood, Taro Gold, wrote a book about this called Living Wabi Sabi: The True Beauty of Your Life. In it, he talks about Wabi Sabi, an Eastern aesthetic celebrating the beauty of imperfection (in simplistic terms. I think. I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about).
I would argue my nose is, in fact, Wabi Sabi. Growing up, I was envious of my little sister’s ski-slope nose, my mother’s nose. I, on the other hand, got my father’s nose. It looks just fine on his face, but on mine I felt it was like someone rolled a ball of Play-Doh, stuck it to the end of my nose-thing, and forgot to smooth it out.
Then I got skin cancer on that ball of Play-Doh.
It’s fine, I’m fine, but its removal left a little scar along the side of my nose. And now, I love it just the way it is. It took this imperfection to remind me that my nose is healthy, living, changeable. While a few years ago I was Photoshopping my nose into LaToya proportions just to see what it looked like, now I’d no more carve it up than I would my antique dining room table (I don’t know. I’m bad at analogies).
Along the same lines, I bought a giant original movie poster on eBay (“An American Werewolf in London,” if you must know). It had been displayed outside a movie house in 1981, and it showed. There were wrinkles and tiny rips along the edges. The woman at the framing shop frowned. “It has little tears,” she said, pointing them out. “I’m not sure I can fix them.” “Don’t worry,” I said. “I like that it looks a little worn.” She turned her frown on me. She didn't understand.
But I didn’t want a pristine version of this thing. I didn’t want it to be something that a vendor pulled perfectly preserved from a museum-like warehouse. I needed to know this poster was near the theater while my favorite movie played. I wanted it to have a previous life.
Imperfections are proof that we were here, even for a short time. That we lived, participated, made mistakes. That damaged occurred, healed, got patched up. There is character in faults, truth in blemishes, and beauty in flaws. It’s what makes us real and relatable. It’s what makes us learn and grow. It's what makes us human.
Back in Chicago, we all stood around a computer and watched the clip from Ferris Bueller. “She didn’t ruin it," we agreed. "She made the scene. They couldn’t have planned that any better.”
Go ahead and aim for perfection. Then celebrate when what you get is practically imperfect in every way.