There was a brief period – one evening in fact – where I worked as a waitress in a fancy restaurant. I was about 18 at the time, 19 at most, and when I sat down to the interview with the maître de, I fell immediately in awe of her. She was who I wanted to be when I grew up. She was cool and classy. Clothed in all black – it was Melbourne in the 90s, there was no other colour – she had soft blonde hair, bobbed neatly, and she sported a perfectly curated natural look on a fresh, 30-something face. I desperately wanted to be 30-something, even though I hadn’t even reached 20-something. Once during the same era, I scored a massive speeding fine trying to get home in time to watch the ubiquitous show: Thirtysomething. How embarrassing.
My new idol took me on because, without blinking, I’d said that of course I could carry three plates. Which I could – I’d juggled three plates quite regularly in the café where I’d been working for a while, the kind of place where the plates were loaded with chicken schnitzel sandwiches, chips and lasagne from the bain-marie. But the thing about those plates in the café is that they were a normal size. The plates in the fancy restaurant were larger, heavier and impossible to stack confidently upon my feeble 18-something forearm.
Sometime during the evening, with much disappointment and even distress on the part of the maître de (it was busy in the fancy place and I was proving useless), I was relegated to filling up the water glasses. As I went from table to table, some condensation from the jug fell upon the freckled, flabby arm of an older woman – also dressed in black, by the way, with some sequins to boot – and she cried out “She dripped on me!” in the most horrified of tones. And that was it, the end of my employment. I had to drive home, humiliated and unpaid.
It's now 30-something years later and I still cringe when I think of it. It’s one of the many, many imperfections in my past that remind me that I’m lacking. Incompetent. Useless. Incomplete.
I have clients who would beg to differ – those who enjoy working with me and who keep asking me back. I have a family who would beg to differ too, considering how good I am at life admin and cleaning everything up. But I’ve got to accept that I will never be perfect. I will never be enough. I’ll always drip on someone, or something. I’ll always stuff something up.
Do you ever feel like this?
In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown encourages us to embrace our flaws and live wholeheartedly, stepping awkwardly toward authenticity through a maelstrom of vulnerability, arriving eventually at our destination confident, happy and empowered.
Brown talks about the difference between guilt (I did something bad) and shame (I am bad). And this is where I go wrong. My inner narrative says: I dripped, therefore I’m bad.
And so, I turn to wabi-sabi – the Japanese art of imperfection. This worldview teaches us that all of life is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. Wabi-sabi is derived from Buddhist teachings and it is part of the gracious and delicate nature of Japanese art.
For example, Kintsugi is the tradition of fixing a crack in a piece of pottery with a form of liquid gold, adding value and beauty to the formerly broken item.
When we embrace this way of thinking, we can move toward believing that the imperfections make us who we are.
And that’s a beautiful concept. I love the idea of every one of us being incredibly unique, full of chips and cracks. It’s just that sometimes, when I’m stuck in my own head and am getting a bit sick of myself, all I can see are the cracks.
I don’t mean to be all glass-half-empty here. I want to embrace all forms of beauty, to see the good in all experiences, to find the silver lining – all of that. But I want to be realistic too. To say oh God, I fucked things up. And then I want to find a way to just get on with it, imperfections and all. I don’t want to gloss over anything with liquid gold. Or try to be something that I’m not. I’m just a girl, standing in front of her life, knowing nothing and only seeing flaws.
But that’s today. Tomorrow I’ll see sunshine and rainbows again, maybe even flecks of gold. Such is my nature. I’ll keep shifting the lens on my mental kaleidoscope, attempting to find the combination that makes sense to me, that achieves clarity, that pieces together an outlook for my weary little soul. Cracks, drips and all.