We know that perfection is impossible. And yet we yearn for it. We strive for it. We go to great lengths for it. We go to great lengths not to make mistakes. We strive to have spotless, immaculate spaces. We strive to appear put-together, not a hair out of place. We go to great lengths to have wrinkle-free faces and dimple-free skin. We go to great lengths to mold our bodies to fit the latest ideal. To hide our flaws from loved ones and potential partners. To constantly feel happy, only allowing ourselves to feel “positive” emotions. Because who wants to deal with the muck?
But the muck, of course, is part of the process. Remember how many beautiful things grow out of the dirt?
The muck, of course, is part of life. And ignoring, dismissing and pretending it doesn’t exist only hurts us and keeps us stuck. Plus, we can use the muck to learn and evolve. We can use the muck to help others. That’s OK. I’ve been there, too.
And, of course, there’s the simple fact that we are chasing something that doesn’t exist. As Salvador Dali famously said, “Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.” But the chasing is hard, really hard, to stop.
So we practice. We take off our running shoes and practice embracing imperfection.
Below are all sorts of ways we can use creativity to play, to get messy, to loosen our grip on the stain-free, wrinkle-free, fake-grin-wearing, flawless lives we long to build.
- Be wrong. For instance, be wrong by creating a list of wrong ways to do something, such as clean, write and cook; making up 10 illogical inventions; and taking one risk in your creative process.
- Draw people of all shapes, sizes, weights, wrinkled and smooth skin, all hues and colors. Draw people you see on the street or on your subway commute. Draw your loved ones. Draw yourself. Aim to find one beautifully perfectly imperfect thing about each individual, including yourself. And please note that drawing experience is not at all required.
- Take something from the trash, and give it new life. Take something broken, tattered and battered, and make it shine again.
- Write a list of random words. Use them to create a random poem, which may or may not make sense.
- Set your timer for 10 minutes, and write about an endearing character named Sloppy Joe or Sloppy Jill. Describe the character in detail, focusing on why they’re so wonderfully imperfect. If you have kids, ask them to help with the description, and to dream up a story.
- Use all the pens, markers, crayons, paints and anything else in your home to doodle all kinds of scribbles and shapes on a piece of paper. Don’t think about what you’re doing. Just do.
- Cook something you normally don’t cook because it gets too messy. Brownies or cookies from scratch. Pasta sauce. Pizza. Barbecue ribs.
- Make up a dance with five silly moves.
- Draw your feelings. What color is your sadness? Your anger? Your fear? What does anger look like? What does it feel like? Where in your body do you feel the sensations? Draw these images, or find images in magazines that match your emotions.
- Spend the day taking pictures with your smartphone of all the things that are imperfect and yet magical. Broken tree branches. The scribbles of your little one who’s just learning how to write. A frayed sweater you still love and wear. A torn tablecloth that’s been in your family for years. A musty, crusty, yellowed book of poetry. An unmade bed illuminated by a stream of sunlight.
Chipping away at our pursuit of perfection takes time, especially if we’ve glorified perfection for years and years and years. But the above tips might be a good place to start. A place where we start to have fun being imperfect. A place where we actually play—and don’t worry so much about the cleanup. A place where we realize that beauty is found in a crooked smile, in a unique mole, in a scar, in a soft belly, in the deeply lined hands of your dearest grandparent.
What’s your favorite way to make a mess? What’s your favorite way to play? Has getting looser with your creative process helped you embrace imperfection in other areas of your life? How so?