Lesson 45 – Safal Niveshak

Life goes by too fast, or so it seems. Today I turn 45 in my current state of existence. This is more than three-fifths of the average life expectancy of an Indian male.

Now, while spiritualists would have me believe that I existed from anadi (before the beginning of the cosmos) and will exist until ananta (infinity), I see forty-five years as a good enough time to find some meaning in my life. At least my rapidly graying hair and receding hairline help me realize that.

Now, although I’m amazed that I’ve been around this long — I feel like I’ve barely started (except when I look at the actuarial spreadsheet).

I’m not usually one to make a big deal about my birthday, but as always, it gave me something to think about.

So, as I have done for the past few years –

– let me share the 45th lesson.

It’s the art of embracing imperfection.

From a young age I was bombarded with societal expectations and pressure to fit pre-defined molds. I was taught that success meant perfection, that I should strive for a flawless life, a perfect body, and a flawless career.

However, as I have gone through the decades, I have come to understand that true happiness lies in embracing the imperfections that make us unique people.

My journey to embrace imperfection began in my early thirties, a few years after I started my first job. Fresh out of my MBA, I was eager to prove myself, to be the best at everything I did. I strived for perfection in every task, often staying late at the office and sacrificing my health and personal life. I thought if I could be flawless at my job and make decent money, everything else would fall into place.

But life had other plans. I still remember that day, sometime in 2009, late at night in the office rushing to meet a tight deadline, I got a phone call that turned my world upside down.

In short, it was news of a close friend’s sudden death due to a heart attack. Like me, he was also at work when he died. He was also my age. His little daughter was also my daughter’s age.

That one event broke two things in me.

One was my heart for a dear lost friend and the other was my perfectionist desires that suddenly seemed completely pointless. I realized that life is too short to spend it chasing unattainable ideals.

Looking back on that event and the person I was before it reminds me of the teachings of the ancient Stoic philosopher Seneca who said, “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.”

I suffered from a fear of failure and a desire for perfection, but it was actually the imperfections and unexpected life events that taught me the most profound lessons.

That tragic event forced me to reassess my priorities. I began to question the relentless pursuit of perfection and began to see the beauty in life’s imperfections. I’ve learned that it’s okay to make mistakes, stumble, and even fail because these experiences are essential to our growth.

As I progressed through my thirties, I faced many more challenges and setbacks. I quit my job to start something of my own and with no income for the first few months I had to face the problems of an empty bank account. My son was born prematurely and it took a huge emotional and financial toll on the family.

However, looking back, each of these challenges brought with it a valuable lesson. I have discovered that it is in our weakest moments that we find our greatest strengths. It is in our mistakes that we discover our true selves.

In the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle: “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of mind next to honor.”

I learned that accepting our imperfections requires courage and a willingness to face our vulnerabilities. Through these challenges, we develop resilience and discover our inner strength.

Philosophically, this lesson introduced me to the concept of “Kintsugi”, an ancient Japanese practice of beautifying broken pottery, celebrating imperfection, transience and the beauty of the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

Kintsugi literally means ‘joining with gold’. In a Zen aesthetic, the broken pieces of a ceramic pot should be carefully picked up, reassembled, and then glued together with lacquer infused with gold powder. The Japanese believe that gold cracks make the pieces even more valuable. It includes the breakage as part of the object’s history, instead of something to be hidden or thrown away.

It’s beautiful to think of kintsugi as a metaphor for life and to see the heavy, broken, or painful parts of yourself as radiating light, gold, and beauty. It teaches that your broken places make you stronger and better than ever. They actually make you anti-fragile. This is the opposite of what we have been taught all our lives – that we are supposed to be perfect and that we have to hide all imperfections.

This belief is ingrained in our culture: if something is broken, throw it away; if something is wrong, hide it. Kintsugi is a perfect metaphor for how we can find healing in our lives that sometimes just doesn’t come
cracked but broken.

It teaches us to appreciate cracks in ceramics, wrinkles on faces and the impermanence of all things. It reminds us that the beauty of life lies in its imperfections.

Accepting imperfection not only improved my relationship with myself but also with others. I learned to accept people as they are, flaws and all, and they in turn accepted me in my imperfect glory. This has enriched my life with meaningful connections and deeper and more genuine relationships.

Additionally, I have come to appreciate the imperfections in my relationships and the world around me. The wrinkles on the faces of the elders in my family, my messy desk, my physical flaws, the inversions, the weathered pages of my beloved books, a few eccentric habits—these and other such imperfections in my life have a unique charm that cannot be replicated in perfection.

In our fast-paced, digitally-obsessed world, we often find ourselves chasing unattainable ideals of beauty, success, and happiness. We are bombarded with images of smart investors, perfect celebrities, airbrushed models and curated Instagram feeds. But let me tell you, real life is not filtered, edited or photographed. Real life is beautifully messy and wonderfully imperfect.

Embracing imperfection doesn’t mean settling for mediocrity or complacency. It means striving for excellence while acknowledging that mistakes and failures are a natural part of the journey.

It means being kinder to yourself and practicing self-compassion. It means understanding that perfection is an illusion and the pursuit of it can be a never-ending and exhausting endeavor.

Modern psychology also recognizes the importance of accepting imperfection for our mental and emotional well-being. Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, has studied vulnerability and shame extensively.

Her research has shown that embracing your imperfections, being vulnerable, and letting yourself be seen as “flawed and imperfect” are key factors in building real connections and finding true happiness.

The work of Dr. Browna is in line with the teachings of ancient philosophers who emphasized the importance of authenticity and self-acceptance. They suggest that when we are open about our imperfections and willing to share our struggles, we create deeper connections with others and experience a sense of liberation.

So, as I stand here on the cusp of 46, I embrace my imperfections with open arms. I wear my scars, both physical and emotional, as badges of honor, reminders of the battles I’ve fought and the lessons I’ve learned. I celebrate the wrinkles that trace the map of my life’s journey and the gray hairs that whisper stories of wisdom.

I hope you too will embrace imperfection in your own life. Embrace the messiness of existence, the unpredictability of the future, and the uniqueness of your own path.

Remember, it’s okay to stumble, fall, and get back up. We find our humanity in our imperfections, and when we embrace them, we find our truest selves.

So, here’s to 45 years of life – imperfect, beautiful and uniquely mine. And here are the countless lessons, big and small, that have made me the person I am today.

May we all continue to learn, grow and celebrate the imperfect masterpiece that is life itself.

Thank you for reading.

Stay happy, healthy and peaceful.

Stay imperfect.

Regards, Vishal

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