WHAT I LEARNED FROM JAPANESE PHILOSOPHY

January 24, 2018

In recent years, many young professionals feel the pressure to try and be perfect. There is a constant barrage of social expectations that teach us that being imperfect is synonymous with being inadequate. Everywhere we turn, there are messages that tell us who, what and how we 're supposed to be. The quest for perfection is exhausting and unrelenting.

 

For many years I have been part of this quest. Always busy meeting expectations and hiding imperfections. I concealed my struggles to protect myself from shame, judgment, criticism and blame by seeking safety in pretending and perfection. I performed and pleased, all the while thinking: "What if I can't keep all of these balls in the air? What will people think if I fail or give up?"

 

When I was diagnosed with a burn-out I felt all the emotions I was protecting myself from: shame, judgment, criticism and blame. I felt broken, damaged and imperfect. On an intellectual level I was telling myself to re-frame the failure, approach it as a learning opportunity, a gift in disguise, a growing pain. But on an emotional level I felt a bit cynical about the idea of re-framing failure.

 

In this emotional process I watched a video from Sean Buranahiran 'Be proud of your scars' about the Japanse Kintsugi philosophy. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with powdered gold. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

 

The Kintsugi approach of emphasising rather than hiding damage illustrates a key difference between eastern and western philosophy. Kintsugi beautifies the breakage and treats it as an important part of the object’s history. This idea of celebrating the broken pot is an extension of the idea of wabi-sabi which, in contrast to western values of perfection and symmetry, is an eastern philosophy that finds beauty in the damaged or imperfect.

 

The process of transcending failure is quite similar to the practice of repairing broken ceramic with golden bonding. The object having been repaired emerges more beautiful, more valuable than when it was intact. In the same manner to applying gold to the fragmented pieces, engaging in the process of transcending our failures allows us to grow, to come out stronger and wiser than before the failure.

 

This philosophy helped me to realize that imperfect is not synonymous with being inadequate. It means that, instead of 'getting over' or even 'getting through' my burn-out, I can find a way to add 'gold' to this situation. It's about shifting focus from what's lost to what can be gained. From broken to transformed. Not only seeing beauty in, but creating value from trials and adversity. 

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