When my wife and I lived in Vietnam we would make frequent trips to the nearby city of Hoi An. Nicknamed Ancient Town, it is comprised of buildings that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Many of streets are regularly closed to motorized vehicles so the streets are mostly occupied by walkers and the occasional bicycle. During one visit, I stood admiring the beauty of this ancient town and started asking myself what made it so beautiful. It certainly wasn’t because everything was perfect. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Its beauty was in its faded yellow walls, the green moss growing upon the roofs, the cracked plaster, the chipped wooden pillars, and the weathered doors and shutters.
If something is perfect, it is in a state in which it can no longer be improved upon. It is free from any flaw or defect. I wondered, if Hoi An was free from any flaw or defect, free from decay, free from cracks and faded paint—would I love it in the same way?
I wasn’t so sure.
On the other hand, if Hoi An descended into complete collapse to where it was dysfunctional and inhabitable, it would lose much of its intrigue. There is something about the tension between decay and perfection that strikes me.
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We toy with the idea that we are one article or book or workshop away from being able to perfectly execute our ideas, write the perfect resume, run the perfect business, or be the perfect parent. But it is in the struggle, the failed execution, the self-examination, the slow growth, and experimentation that life holds its greatest riches. I never want to reach a state in which I can no longer be improved upon. I never want to be at a place where perfection comes with the push of a button or with an instant download—without struggle or organic growth. How dull and uninteresting!
Perhaps the concept of perfection is acceptable. Maybe the idea of perfection keeps us in that zone of exploration and pursuit. If there were no concept of perfection, maybe we would merely fall into stagnation and insignificance…I don’t really know. But the mistake we make is when we think we can actually obtain perfection—or that we are just one step away from it. To live this way is to live a life of perpetual disappointment and dissatisfaction. Know that true life, goodness, reward, satisfaction, and meaning are found in struggle. It is found in learning, in growth, and in tension—in being imperfect. Strive for growth, yes, but release any false hope that your growth will turn into perfection.
And know that life is wonderfully good and beautiful without perfection.
Discovery, brainstorming, creativity, hypothesizing, exploration, and wonder would all disappear from our lives if we were to obtain perfection. I don’t want to live in a world without these things—and these things are only possible in a world without perfection.
The book of Genesis says that when God created the world he said it was good. Not perfect. Good implies that there is stuff that needs to happen. Relationships that need to be developed. Creative work that needs to take shape. Lives that need to take shape. A world that needs to take shape.
That is what I want. A good life. A good life where things can always be improved upon, where the air is pregnant with possibility, where the sentence always remains…
Everything in life that is worth doing takes time. We have to wrestle with it. Think on it. Learn some more. Test it out. We are all mostly stumbling through life—even those that seem to be so…perfect…are riddled with questions and doubts of their own.
You may even appear perfect to someone else who is observing an aspect of your life.
I want to be thankful that I get to live this life. What a waste it would be for me to spend it comparing myself to someone else, wishing I had what they had, mourning my inability to do something perfectly, living in the fear of failure, and wishing that I just had one more possession or one more skill.
It’s all good. Nothing is perfect. But so much of life is good.
What I want is to appreciate life, the ever present moment, and its goodness. What I really want is to participate in the stream of life. I want to enjoy the flow of challenge, creativity, and growth. The more obsessed I am with perfection, the less able I will be to live a good life and enjoy its marvels.
To embrace the goodness of life is to embrace its messy tensions, the wrestling, and the questioning.
To embrace life is to embrace that it is good—not perfect.