Secret of Adulthood: Flawed Can Be More Perfect Than Perfection.

Further Secrets of Adulthood:


Agree, disagree?

If you’re interested in this idea, it also relates to the haunting Japanese concept of wabi-sabi–the beauty of “the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”

I recalled this Secret of Adulthood when I was watching a ballet last year. At one point, a dancer wobbled slightly, and for me, this brief moment of imperfection heightened the beauty of the entire performance. It made it seem more real, more thrilling.

If you want, you can hear me talk about this Secret of Adulthood in two short videos: one video is a story is about an illustration in a children’s book (a story I read about in Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom); one is the story of going to the ballet and also about listening to Glenn Gould.

  • Penelope Schmitt

    I have a favorite object. It’s a glass paperweight that I bought for about a dollar in 1968 or so, when I was in college. The reason it was a dollar, is that it was a ‘second’ or flawed millefiore paperweight, and instead of perfect little rosettes, the glass flowers inside the glass paperweight are all ‘twirly’ and distorted. They are blue in the clear glass paperweight, and the trapped bubbles, meant to be symmetrical, are different sizes. It’s sitting right here on my desk, 48 years later, still a small treasure that I prize for its imperfection, and for being a piece of beauty that I could buy and enjoy when I was allowing myself $5 a week in spending money.

  • Mimi Gregor

    I LOVE wabi-sabi, and, in fact, it is the “theme” for the furnishings in my home. I have much-loved pieces that have been picked up over the years at garage sales, rescued from dumpsters, or inherited. One of my favorites is my sideboard in the kitchen. When we first moved in, there wasn’t much counter space, and we had very little money for things like remodeling. I needed a sideboard. A few weeks later, we found the perfect one in a dumpster where someone was moving out. Well, it was almost perfect. It had two shelves underneath, and I would have preferred drawers. A few days later, a neighbor who was moving out asked me if I wanted four wooden French wine boxes. I took them, slid them onto the shelves, and they fit perfectly! Voila! I had my drawers! Not only do I love wabi-sabi, but I’m a big fan of synchronicity as well!

  • Don’t we always love the fictional heroes that show a bit of a weakness, an imperfection, a neurosis of some sort? Perfection is hard to love, it can be too controlled and sterile.

  • Marci

    I agree. When I find myself stressing over getting something perfect, I tell myself “Done and flawed is better than perfect.” Sometimes I spend more time on a project than it deserves just so that it meets my inner expectations of “perfect.” I have found that most people don’t care about those little details as I do.

    Strangely, I’m not a perfectionist with everything. I didn’t care about those little details for my wedding (really, who cares what kind of paper you use for your invitations?) or entertaining. But I have spent hours looking for the right sofa – that perfect and elusive combination of affordable, comfortable and good looking. At a certain point, I just decide being done will make me happier than working for perfect.

  • Phoenix

    Yes, yes, a resounding yes!! Growing up in Florida as a red-head with white skin and freckles, I always thought of my fair skin as a flaw–and it burned so easily too. But because of this “flaw,” I learned very early on to question society’s concept of beauty and not to judge my value by my looks. Learning about inner beauty, as opposed to society’s definition of outer beauty, at an early age was more pefect.

    But I think we likely all have found this concept out on a personal level. When I attend a high school reunion or a business function where I strive to wear the “right” outfit, and have my nails done, and get a haircut, and engage in small chit-chat where we focus on what we are doing right and how well things go, it may be a lovely evening, but there is an emptiness there still. I can check it off as “done.” When I have a dinner engagement and really let my hair down and talk about my imperfections, my questions as to things I don’t know, my fears, a faux pas I recently committed, we connect–really connect–and I leave the event feeling energized or excited, wanting more.

  • Ffwl

    Years ago I heard a ceramics expert from ‘The Antiques Roadshow’ discussing his own collection. He mainly collected Satsma ware but could only afford slightly damaged pieces. Initially that had bothered him, then he realised that when you looked at the chips you could see the layers of slip and glaze and see how it was made and so even on occasions when he could buy ‘perfect’ ceramics he tended to preferential buy damaged ones.

    • gretchenrubin

      What a great example.

  • Thank you for this.
    Seeing an imperfection as beautiful and real and thrilling has made a profound impact on how I treat myself. I have been thinking a lot about wabi-sabi and also about kintsukuroi, which is the Japanese art of “repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.”
    I’ve spent a lot of time looking at pictures of once broken and now beautifully repaired pottery. The imperfections aren’t really imperfections anymore.
    I’m so glad you’ve continued to expand on your Happiness Project. Your books and this blog have really added a lot of light to my life over the past five years. I can see now that flawed can, indeed, be more perfect than perfection.
    I got mad respect for you, Gretchen Rubin.