Tag Archives: professional growth

The Benefit of Imperfection

Herbie Hancock, one of the all-time great jazz musicians, remembers when he played a wrong chord on the piano while performing with Miles Davis in Paris years ago.  Hancock was horrified by his mistake but “Davis didn’t hear the chord as wrong.   He heard it as something new and went with it.  There was no negative judgment,” said Hancock in an interview on National Public Radio.

Last December, I experienced similar newness birthed in imperfection when I was too ill to decorate for the holidays and a friend offered to decorate for me. The only opening in her schedule, however, was a time when I wouldn’t be home.  “No problem,” she said.  “Tell me where your decorations are stored and the house will be finished by the time you get back.”

That evening I stepped into a home that radiated hospitality and Christmas welcome, my home.  Since my friend didn’t know where each angel and bit of greenery traditionally went, she had put them wherever she wanted.  I no longer felt badly about not being well enough to decorate my own home.  My “imperfection” let in the light of newness from a good friend.  How could one ask for a better gift?

Perfection certainly has an important place in life–when building the new San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, making a souffle, or developing a website for the Affordable Care Act, to name a few examples.

On the other hand, if we try for perfection in every part of life and beat ourselves or others up for not achieving it, our drive for perfection causes damage.  It constrains us and strains our relationships.  It fills backpacks with impossible expectations, and our lives with unnecessary judgment and stress.

One of the unexpected gifts of my life having turned upside down a few years ago is that I am constantly invited (or should I say, challenged) to accept vulnerability and imperfection in myself, and to welcome the grace and newness imperfections make possible. In the words of Canadian composer and singer, Leonard Cohen,

The birds they sang at the break of day
Start again I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what has passed away
or what is yet to be…
Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget your perfect offering,
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.

 From “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen

Go Karts, Speedos, and What Not to Wear: Change Happens

After flooring contractors moved everything from half our house to lay wood floors, my husband and I decided to keep what we no longer need, want, or use.  In the process, I held examples of how much change has happened over the years.  Some change happened in the ordinary stages of life.  Some we noticed at the time, but much of it we didn’t.  Some change was intentional, responsive, and creative, expanding life and stretching into new experiences.  And some was embarrassing.

I looked in horror at clothes I’d worn until they appeared on What Not to Wear.  I gave away curtains that no longer match our decor and affirmed that I like our current palate better.  I read my old sermons and compared them to recent ones.  I held pictures of our sons grinning in Speedos at a high school water polo game and smiled as I pictured them now happy and creatively challenged as adults.  I tossed 3-1/2″ computer discs, wondering why I keep so many vestiges of the past that are no longer useful.

“Change happens,” I thought, as I looked around. “Embrace it, incorporate it, and keep going.”

It is up to us whether we lean into change and creatively engage with it, or we deny its impact on us and our ability to affect it.  Choosing not to change in positive ways is a certain outline for disaster and unhappiness.  If we stay frozen, inevitable changes harden our spirit and life and shrink our space.  The choice is ours.

Did you ever build a go kart?  Leaning into change is like that: we turn random wood, pipe, tires, wire and rope from the garage into a marvelous invention of freedom.  It’s like making pottery: we moisten our hands, spin our potter’s wheel and shape bowls and pitchers from what had been just a mound of clay.  It’s like making a quilt:  we arrange pieces of fabric we already have and stitch them together for a new purpose.

In life we straddle a hinge from which we look back at change already navigated and forward to change yet to come.  If we stretch our arms in both directions we discover we have room to move.  Our mind and life muscles flex to incorporate new ways of being and doing, of relating and living, if we encourage them to do so.

I’m glad I ditched some of those clothes I used to wear.  Some of my sermons were better the second time I preached them.  My sons no longer wear Speedos (that would be scary!).  Clean closets and less clutter gives my husband and me space to consider new possibilities.

Change happens.  I have the evidence.  It can be good.  Embrace it.  Claim it.  Lean into.  Dance with it. Create with it. Make it your own.

The Power Within

English: Morro Bay Docks, California.

English: Morro Bay Docks, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I sat by the beach in Morro Bay, California last week, I met an old friend.  The friend is a quote by Marianne Williamson included in a new book by U.S. Representative John Lewis, Across That Bridge:  Life Lessons and a Vision for Change:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It is not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.  And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”*

I used to keep this quote on the front page of my calendar, like a string tied around my finger to remind me of something important: “Barbara, you are not small and inadequate, no matter how you feel, or what other people say or do.  You have power that is immeasurable and light within to shine.  Claim it.  Use it.  Stand up.  Move forward.  Speak.  You’re capable of more than you realize.”

We only learn to fly when we dare to step off the nest–or out of the bird-cage.  Then we discover we already have what we need:  power beyond measure, light in the darkness, and wings to soar.