39 Lessons - Lesson 1... The Beauty of Imperfection

39 Lessons - Lesson 1... The Beauty of Imperfection

Today's lesson is about the beauty of imperfection. 

Many years ago, I spent some time with a family in Tanzania working with an organization which provided dental training. I love to bake for others, and I had attempted to make a chocolate cake to take to a dinner party. (As an aside, it was then that I learned another very valuable lesson – cakes behave differently when you are many metres above sea level – the recipe needs to be adjusted!) I was faced with a cake that had sunk in the middle with a texture that I was less than convinced about. Being a slight perfectionist, I had no desire to take the cake to dinner like that, and I was wondering what to do when my friend who I was staying with gave me a suggestion that involved a cookie cutter and a little bit of creativity. I was very pleased with the result, and in our conversation afterwards, I expressed my pleasure and asked her where she had gotten such an idea from. She told me that something similar had happened to her just after she had first arrived in Tanzania, and since she had worked so hard on the cake, and the ingredients were not easy to come by (for example - getting butter involved milking the cow, then skimming off the cream and churning it!!) she was determined to make use of it, and so she had to come up with a way to make it work. We ended up with some mini Victoria sponge looking cakes, and even had some leftover pieces, which we put in the freezer, and used for a chocolate trifle a few weeks later.

This story taught me a valuable lesson demonstrated by what she said next – if you never make any mistakes then how will you develop the skills to correct them?

I can still remember the feeling of a lightbulb going off in my head, and even now when I think about it, I get the feels. It was such a simple and powerful lesson there – that a mistake could be useful and could bring an unexpected bonus, or a new technique and or skill. I had made mistakes prior to this for sure, and I had corrected them, but I cannot say that I had ever seen them as anything other than a nuisance. I loved the lesson in this, and it has stayed with me, even at times when I try to forget it!

As the years have gone by, I have seen the importance of this time and time again, as I work both professionally and voluntarily, and in my leisure time (large portions of which involve baking). I have a troupe of God daughters who once ate an entire pan of “burnt” cookies and who have been known to ask their mother if I burnt anything lately! Just last week a friend polished off with a batch of granola that was definitely not right. So many clichés can be found in these stories – one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, necessity is the mother of invention, every spoil is a style (one from Barbados) – but for me the bigger lesson came more recently, as I began the journey to considering that that there may be value in accidents, mistakes, and even in bad situations, if you are prepared to see it. I began to re-frame things when they happened to me, and instead of seeing them as awful or terrible, I decided to assume that the experience may have some value, and that I might see it at some point in the future. I am not going to say this is easy, and I am not going to pretend that I do it all the time (especially not when scary bugs and creatures are involved – to me mosquitoes still have little to no purpose). But it is a journey that has begun recently and has become one of my 39 lessons.

As I mentioned earlier – it is not easy. I often get frustrated when I read self help articles or books which tell you to do these things, and make them sound easy. Some things are more difficult to re-frame than others. For example right now, I am having a frustrating experience with the bank, and all I can think is that perhaps I can learn patience from it. But just having that thought makes me pause – could this have a purpose in the future? (I am still very annoyed and believe me the bank will be getting a scathing letter, but I digress). The point of it, is that by choosing to see that there may be a lesson of value has helped me come to terms with a number of so called challenges – from chronic illness, to financial decisions, to bad traffic. I recently told a friend of an experience I had where I made a bad financial investment into something that I was planning to make a long term commitment to. Shortly after I made it, I had a phonecall from a close family friend, who urged me not to continue down that particular path, and implored me not to throw good money after bad (another cliché!). While it was a costly lesson, it was one of the most valuable experiences that I had at that time – partially because I walked away from the long term commitment and saved myself in the long run, but also because it made me realise that there is no danger from turning down a path even if you have already started down it (another lesson coming in a future post).

There is beauty in imperfection if you can choose to see it. There is value in making mistakes, or having a less than ideal situation thrust on you. Today’s lesson – the next time you face a situation that may not be ideal, instead of losing your cool, decide to approach it as if it has a value and purpose, and see how you feel about the situation in a few days. Start small, and give it a try - you may even see the beauty in that imperfection, if indeed you remember it at all.

Big love from a small island...

Ps. The above photo is of a more recent set of cupcakes I made. That is what it looks like when I make something that actually works!!