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Wonderfully Imperfect

written by Lisa Buksbaum 5 June 2015

Lisa Buksbaum, MAPP '13 is CEO & Founder of Soaringwords. She has shared positive interventions with more than 250,000 patients and families and 120,000 employee volunteers. Three experiences with death and illness in her family motivated her to launch Soaringwords, a non-profit organization devoted to inspiring ill children and their families to "Never give up!" Lisa's articles for PositivePsychologyNews.com are here.

Editor’s Note: The fourth World Congress of the International Positive Psychology Association will take place in Orlando Florida starting Thursday evening, June 25 and running through Sunday June 28. The Saturday night of IPPA is usually a gala event. The Author’s Note below includes an invitation to participate in an event that is both a celebration of being together and an opportunity to contribute to a non-profit that benefits hospitalized children. Here’s the sign up link

While dashing to the train after my morning swim, I noticed a small pull in my brand-new navy stocking. By the time I got off the subway, my left leg resembled the tights of a punk-rocker. Not exactly the look I was striving for in a morning piled up with back-to-back meetings like a big stack of pancakes. The truth is, why did the wardrobe malfunction even matter?

Yet on a really small, ever-so-annoying level, somehow it did.

Even Stars are Imperfect

That got me thinking. For some reason, I immediately recalled an improbably famous People Magazine cover from 1990. Cybill Shepherd smiles broadly, a dazzling Hollywood leading lady right off the red carpet. However, in spite of the A-list team of stylists, hair and makeup experts who surely spent hours creating the “perfect look” the most remarkable thing about the cover proved to be something rather unexpected. There was a significant run in her stocking. When the actress saw the wardrobe malfunction she laughed and was not interested in changing into a new pair. To the surprise of the editorial team, hundreds of readers actually wrote letters thanking Ms. Shepherd for presenting herself as a regular person, runs in her stockings and all.

Each of us is wonderfully imperfect, including glamorous celebrities who occasionally get a snag. Perhaps you can’t find your cell phone charger as your phone starts powering off just as your doctor or your best friend calls to give you some important news. Or you get immersed in a magazine article and forget that your favorite activity is about to start in the teen lounge. Once you remember that the class started twenty minutes ago you head for the lounge getting there just in time to see all of the other patients laughing and walking back to their rooms. You missed the entire experience. When you or someone you love is grappling with a serious illness, sometimes it is precisely these little daily indignations that can trigger a strong negative emotional response that can make the incident seem even worse.

Trade Perfectionism for Imperfectionism

When we free ourselves from setting impossibly high standards of self-perfection, our ability to accept mistakes, failures and painful emotions actually allows us to experience more happiness since we don’t let the mistake or the imperfection define us and take over our lives. In his book, The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life., Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar talks about our own and society’s crushing expectations. According to Ben-Shahar, the pursuit of perfection may actually be the most powerful internal obstacle to happiness.

In my experience, I’ve found that some of the most authentic conversations with strangers, friends and people I’ve met while spending lots of time in hospitals have been conversations where people are courageous enough to be vulnerable, not trying to project an image that “they’ve got it together all the time.” When people share from this rich, authentic place of vulnerability, then everyone can feel a sense of relief, a sense of connection, and a sense of hope. Connections like this make us feel safe.

As human beings, our bodies are wired with a mammalian care system programmed to respond to warm, gentle touch or a soothing voice that makes us feel comforted and safe. Think of a human baby or a baby deer being cared for by its mother. When mammals are nurtured, their bodies release oxytocin the natural chemical that makes us feel safe and calm.

You are human. Be kind to yourself.

Studies show that people who have self-compassion are able to brush off set-backs, disappointments, and mistakes without blowing them out of proportion. Dr. Kristen Neff is an expert on self-compassion. She defines self-compassion as “the importance of putting ourself in the circle of compassion which means treating ourselves with the same kindness, care and concern that we would treat a good friend.”

Self-compassion is a way of relating to ourselves kindly, as we truly are, flaws and all. Neff shares the three elements of self-compassion:

  1. Treat yourself with self-kindness.
  2. Recognize that there is a common humanity. This is the process of “realizing how I am the same as others and that to be human is to be imperfect.” Recognition of our shared human experience allows us to feel connected to others, instead of feeling isolated in our suffering.
  3. Be mindful. Neff defines this as being with “what is” in the present moment. When we notice we are feeling isolated or suffering, then this is precisely the time to give ourselves some self-compassion.

So the next time you experience a setback, simply stop and take a deep breath. Instead of taking it out on yourself with self-criticism, shame, anger, and other negative emotions, take another deep breath and give yourself a gentle hug or kind word. This simple step takes less than ten seconds and can prevent you from falling into a black hole of negative emotions and despair.

The more self-compassion you practice, the easier it becomes to replace the negative self-criticism with warm and loving self-talk. In doing this simple ritual you’ll be able to celebrate your wonderful imperfections as part of the glorious, messy journey to your true authentic self.

As I got into the elevator at my office building, I looked down at my disheveled blue stockings and quickly turned the run towards the inside of my leg where it was slightly less obvious. I confidently walked out of the elevator into the rest of my day. Later that night, the tangled hosiery was tossed into the trash while self-compassion helped me keep my spirit from landing in the garbage.

Author’s Note: Join me and hundreds of positive psychology enthusiasts at the IPPA Rocks the World: Saturday night June 27 celebration with Soaringwords + Zumba® at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort

What could be better than hearing the ROCK STARS of Positive Psychology at the IPPA World Congress? Dancing with them at the Saturday night party. Come out and dance with Barb Fredrickson, Tal Ben-Shahar, Corey Keyes, Kim Cameron, and many of your favorite positive psychology heroes!

Together we will have a blast and meet new friends in a fun and energizing experience. IPPA has teamed up with Soaringwords, a non-profit organization that lessens the negative impact of serious illness by embracing hospitalized children and families to encourage positive health and healing. In this action-packed social activity you will harness your unique VIA Character Strengths to create a SoaringSuperhero puppet to donate to a hospitalized child.

Zumba stars

Marcie Benevides and DJ Francis

Afterwards, we will Rock the World with a Zumba Master Class featuring world-renowned instructors Marcie Benevides, Fabio Barros, and several IPPA superstars. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RE1XCjiyb94

Many positive psychology luminaries (Jonathan Haidt, Shane Lopez, Jane Dutton and dozens more are donating autographed books for the raffle.

Dance, laugh, do something fun and meaningful to “pay it forward” for ill children. 100% of the entry fee supports Soaringwords’ Hospital Outreach programs in hospitals around the world. Watch a brief video of Soaring Words and Zumba in hospital..
Donation $20 per person, $30 VIP ticket includes t-shirt. Sign up today, and share this invitation with your friends and family.

Doors open 6:30 PM
7-8 PM Make a SoaringSuperhero puppet for a hospitalized child
8-9:30 PM Zumba® Master Class

Read more about how Soaringwords came about.



Ben-Shahar, T. (2009) The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life. New York: McGraw Hill.

Neff, K. D. (2011). Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. New York: HarperCollins.

Photo Credit:
Cybill Shepherd from Wikimedia
Hospital Waiting Room courtesy of mrvklaw via Compfight with Creative Commons license
Soaring Quilt from Soaring Words.

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Gregor 16 June 2015 - 7:11 am

I love the idea of being perfectly imperfect. I think we should accept ourselves the way we are and don’t chase the perfection mirage. Instead, we could utilize sort of KAIZEN psychology and take small steps in right direction whenever we feel right to do it. This allows to improve without overlooking the final, perfect destination. I also encourage everyone to use their personal strengths whenever possible. Such habit builds confidence and self-esteem, and instantly makes our imperfections less annoying. Other important thing is ability to forgive ourselves not important mistakes. And, if it doesn’t affect our lives in long-term, it’s definitely not important. Also we shouldn’t worry about things we can’t control like temporary wardrobe malfunction. This is not rocket science, just simple habits that we can develop. However, we must care enough to start the journey…

Meghan 15 December 2015 - 12:03 pm

This article discusses an idea that I believe to be very relevant in today’s society especially with younger age groups as well. The media displays images that young teens believe to be “ideal” or “perfect”, but I think it is important to realize not everything will be perfect. It is essential to be able to move on from this and embrace what is going well in life. The example of the story of Cybill Shepherd clearly demonstrates that imperfections exist and that’s ok. I believe it would be interesting to see how many examples of situations such as that one can be seen today versus the 90’s when that cover was released.


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