Photo taken by Carl Studna
Photo by Carl Studna

As I continue to assimilate the profound thoughts in Beth Kempton’s book, Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life, the idea of a perfectly imperfect life has a certain fascination to me. I will be honest with you and tell you that I can be a perfectionist if I am not completely conscious and mindful about my intentions. I won’t film a meaningful Qigong video when I feel the impulse to if my hair doesn’t look right, or if I don’t have make-up on. If I do film a video, but toward the end of the filming make some meaningless, small mistake, I won’t release it. By meaningless, I mean something like briefly blocking the camera with my finger—something really innocuous like that. 

There are other ways my perfectionism paralyzes me and stops me from accomplishing goals that are important to me, so when I had the chance to do some inner work to grow as it related to this tendency, I jumped at it.

“Do you believe you have intrinsic worth?” Shelly Lefkoe asked me in a session I had with her to find the belief that leads me so often to procrastinate. 

Shelly is the Lefkoe Method Maven. She and her late husband, Morty, Founder of the Lefkoe Method, gratefully came into my life courtesy of the Transformational Leadership Council. 

My answer came quickly, “No.” 

Not sure I had understood the question completely, Shelly asked it again, “Do you believe you have intrinsic worth?” putting the emphasis on the word intrinsic this time. “Value that comes simply from being alive?” she restated, in case I really had not understood what she meant by intrinsic.

Again I answered, “No.” 

She asked me where I believed my value came from. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something along the lines of: “My worth comes from what I do, what I contribute, or how I make the world a better place, but certainly NOT from simply being alive.”

She got really quiet. And then she, knowing my religious beliefs, asked me a stunning question, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ died for you?” 

“Yes,” I replied. 

“And were you even born yet when he died?” she continued to question me.

“No,” I replied. 

“And so how is it that your life could have no intrinsic worth?” she wondered.

Suddenly I got it. My belief that I have no intrinsic worth was simply that: a belief. It was not truth. It was a conclusion I had come to along the way for a variety of reasons, and it seemed true. I was behaving as if it were true. And that belief was causing me to stop short of completing things that were really important to me — my first book, my black belt test — and so on.

The belief that my worth was based on doing, contributing, or making the world a better place, was wrapped up in needing to perform perfectly in order to have value. I know for a fact that I am not the only person in the history of the world to have that belief. 

In Wabi Sabi, Beth Kempton wrote: 

We need to trust and accept and be willing to say: I don’t know it all, but I don’t need to know it all. I know enough. I don’t have it all, but I don’t need to have it all. I have enough. And I am not all things to all people, but I don’t need to be all things to all people. I am doing my best to be all I can to those who really matter. I am enough. Let go of the push and the fight, the uphill battle to a place I don’t need to get to.

When I read this passage, I remembered again that I truly can be who I am and not struggle to be more, or bigger, or better . . . perfectly imperfect. 

A little further along in the book, she wrote, “Accepting imperfection is one thing. Allowing others to see it is another.”

Now this takes me to an altogether new place. Can allowing others to see my imperfection actually help me have an even more positive impact on them? I believe so, yes. 

I agree with Beth K. when she says “we are all works in progress . . . In truth we are all learning from each other.” 

I am 55 years old. I am no longer interested in performing perfectly. That is just exhausting, because I can never achieve it. Shelly’s work with me opened the door for this realization. Beth K.’s writing moves me into action . . . perfectly imperfect action.