Leading Like a Monk: Embracing Our Own Imperfection

Leading Like a Monk: Embracing Our Own Imperfection January 11, 2018


Embracing Our Own Imperfection

Andrea  Sanchez’s hourlong #DareToBe conversation on Tuesday got me thinking. Our conversation this week centered on imperfection.

We talked about whether, and how, leaders can encourage people to make mistakes. One of our ideas was we could become “imperfectionists” and lead by example. We can share the stories of our own mistakes and encourage other people to share theirs.

The conversation sparked deep reflection in me. The next day I drove from Los Angeles to San Diego and back again, and had some time to reflect in the car.

My relationship to and understanding of imperfection is significant to me. We tend to think of imperfection as something to be avoided. None of us really wants to call attention to our imperfections.

We believe, theoretically, nobody is perfect but we can almost always justify what we do. Some of us are willing to admit we make the kind of mistakes which lead to discoveries. Even those of us who appreciate the value of trial and error see those errors as different.

While we might never say out loud we are perfect, most of us see ourselves as above average.

How I embrace my own imperfection has changed over time. There have been times I pushed imperfection as far away as I could, refusing to acknowledge it. The ways I connect to my own imperfection may be the deepest indicator of spiritual life in me.

Imperfection is also an important aspect of our leadership. How we as leaders deal with imperfection, in ourselves and others, shapes us. The leaders who inspire me approach imperfection in their own unique ways.

Some of the monks I know have helped me grow in understanding imperfection.

Appreciating Our Own Imperfection

Embracing our own imperfection can be a challenge.

Being imperfect is not something I have ever really been encouraged to do. Perfection was an expectation at school, at home, at church, and eventually at work. Even sports teams endeavor to play a perfect game or a perfect season.

I have believed in the power of perfection longer than I can remember. It is better to be right than to be wrong, so why would we not want to be right all the time?

Being right, being perfect can take over our intellectual and emotional lives. Perfection can be so significant to us we lie awake at night in anxiety about not being perfect. We start to believe we need to be perfect to earn the things we want in life. Our expectations of perfection can become the threshold to a perfect life. It can be nearly impossible for us to accept anything other than perfection.

We may become perfectionists.

Our perfectionism carries a very high price.

Nothing is ever really acceptable when we practice perfectionism. We are constantly evaluating ourselves and other people against an impossible standard. Nothing is ever as perfect as we expect it to be. We are setting ourselves, and everyone else, up to fail.

It can be a long, painful road out of perfectionism. For many of us, the first step is beginning to appreciate our own imperfection.

Perfectionism, worshiping the ideal of never making a mistake, robs us of the joy of life. We lose the valuable experience of learning from our mistakes. It becomes harder and harder to laugh at ourselves and the situations in which we find ourselves. Perfectionism steals our perspective.

We spend all our energy convincing ourselves we are perfect.

Valuing Our Own Imperfection

Becoming “imperfectionists” means celebrating the valuable gifts of being imperfect.

We move from denying our imperfection to recognizing all the ways it helps us. I have learned I like myself more when I celebrate my imperfection. Life is less stressful and more enjoyable when I am not solely focused on being perfect.

We are able to move from working all the time to taking opportunities to play. There is more time to appreciate the beauty of each day, each moment. We are not killing ourselves to maintain a fictional perfection and life is more joyful.

Not only do we feel better, we are more creative and insightful. We are able to learn the lessons our mistakes have for us rather than being fixated on not making any.

We learn about the world around us, and ourselves, by trying new things. It is how we learn as small children and how we learn still today. We want our ideas to be practically beneficial, but we do not really know until we try them.

As we work to develop our own imperfection we begin to see its power. We enjoy life more and learn more significant lessons in our imperfection. Perfectionism becomes an obstacle which is almost impossible to overcome.

Our imperfection is far more beneficial to us than being perfect could be.

We begin to understand perfectionism as the flaw it is.

Putting Our Own Imperfection to Work

The monks I know have taught me we do not begin where we wish we were. We begin here, where we are.

Our lives will not become happy or satisfying someday because we attain perfection. Actually, our lives are happier and more satisfying when we embrace our own imperfection.

The mistakes we make teach us the most helpful lessons. The imperfections in the flower give it its striking beauty.

Nobody is perfect. The joys of life rise out of our shared imperfections. We tell the stories of our imperfections with each other and we grow closer. When we try to cover ourselves in perfectionism it drives us apart.

It may be challenging for us to appreciate, value, and celebrate our own imperfection. As we do we begin to receive the wisdom our imperfection has for us.

Our choice is between perfectionism which cuts us off from real life and the reality of our own imperfection.

Becoming “imperfectionists” allows us to live the lives we have.

How can we put our own imperfection to work today?

Where can we celebrate our own imperfection this week?

[Image by mRio]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and leadership coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and university professor, and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com, and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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