Wabi-Sabi – Embrace the Imperfection


Wabi-sabi - Embrace the Imperfections

I find that when we name or label something, we can store it in our mind easier and use it to draw from when we need it.  It gives us a simple way to refer to something and make sense of it.  I have a new word now to make sense of flaws and appreciate them … Wabi-sabi.

I was watching King of the Hill the other night and Bobby Hill used the term Wabi-sabi to turn a flaw and imperfection into a good thing.   Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese term that captures the idea that imperfections can make things perfect.

According to Wikipedia, Wabi-sabi is beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” and it embraces authenticity by acknowledging “nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

I like that — embrace imperfection and find the beauty and authenticity in it … now that’s keeping it real!

Photo by inajeep.


  1. I love the Wabi-sabi concept. The only problem is how does someone know how and when to improve? If everything is perfect there is no point in trying.

    I’m going to try to answer my own question. 🙂

    We have to seek after joy and that means challenging ourselves to make mistakes and be ok with that. We can’t seek after complacency otherwise we become bored.

    The natural tendency is to move and solve problems, so we need to move toward this desire, but Wabi-sabi it the whole time. Because as long as we are trying we need to enjoy our progress.

  2. @ Karl — Well put — “Wabi-sabi it the whole time.” A friend of mine put it to me as “selective intolerance” to choose where to improve. Improving + embracing is a pattern that works for me.

  3. Interesting – a nerd self-improvement guy telling folks to embrace their flaws.

    I understand where you went with this, but while I share your articles with almost everyone I talk to – I’ll be leavin this one out. Some folks already embrace their inner-failure-man too much! 🙂

    Karl – nice comment. I do suppose that realizing that nobody is perfect helps us be humble. And embracing some faults could keep us our of depression. We accept some faults while working on others…but still. I’m keepin today’s post to myself. 🙂

  4. Bobby Hill using the term wabi-sabi . . . now that is funny 🙂 I have a book about writing the wabi-sabi way, which was really helpful to me. Being willing to be imperfect and to appreciate the imperfection is a freeing concept.

  5. You reminded me my mom once told me something along the line that Japanese artists leave some “imperfection” in their art to make it authentic, by design. Well, striving to imperfection is another extreme that only can be compared to… perfectionism 😉

    I think in our language it is “Perfect is the enemy of good enough” – Voltaire.

    Wabi Sabi!

  6. My usual jocular lament is, “Why must I suffer so for the inadequacies of the rest of the human race”. Seriously, wabi-sabi is far more constructive & thoughtful than saying, “Nobody’s perfect”. Wabi-sabi implies empathy & wisdom. I like it. I’ll use it. With a nod to @Mike Rissen, I’m going to go embrace my own inner wabi-sabi man.

  7. Embracing imperfection…Mantra of my life. As I embark on this new journey as a single woman…I feel for the first time that the person I’m looking for will love completely me as I am…perfectly imperfect…

  8. @ Mike — Wabi-sabi isn’t a people-thing — it’s more an art thing. If you follow the link you see the common examples are bonsai, poetry, Zen gardens … etc. One of my favorites books is my grandfather’s desk copy, with his hand-written notes — it’s flawed, but the touch of human makes it perfect. Bobby Hill used the Cindy Crawford example to show how her mole didn’t take away from her beauty.

    If you apply it to people, then the whole is more than the parts, and perfect is in the eye of the beholder.

    @ Jean — That sounds like a *perfect* book 😉 Writing is a great example where the imperfections give it that authenticit touch.

    @ Alik — You’re right, imperfect by design seems a bit inauthentic or fake, and extreme. Voltaire is the man and he’s got a way with words.

    @ Jimmy –Your precision nailed the point — empathy + wisdom … beautiful.

    @ Dawn — I used to fit myself to jobs, now I find the jobs that fit me — it’s more enjoyable and more sustainable. I think that’s true in relationships too. Best wishes on your new journey.

  9. Beautiful! We are never perfect or “finished” and to think so would make us miss out on a lot of great moments.

    Wabi-sabi I like. Wasabi — not so much, I am not a spicy food person. 🙂


  10. Thanks for explaining the concept of Wabi-sabi. I have seen it recently in several places but didn’t know the meaning. None of us is perfect. I need to be balanced somewhere in the middle of striving for perfection and being complacent. We all do. Striving for perfection used to be a way to beat myself up if I didn’t do something perfectly. Today I allow for my imperfections. I look at challenges as coming with lessons and blessings if I take the time to look. I don’t want to be a perfectionist or to be complacent about life. Neither one is good for me.

  11. I LOVE all things Japanese, including all their verbal nuggets of wisdom. You have all seen the square watermelon I am sure! 🙂
    Thank you for the most beautiful photo!

  12. I grew up with all perfectionists and I married a perfectionist and have one child who is also a perfectionist….It has left me with a constant feeling of not being enough – ever…doing my best was hard to define.

    Now when I am told to work up to being totally relaxed for at least 1 hour a day, I am trying to do it perfectly. Easier to say that to do for me

    Thank you for sharing this

  13. @ Jannie — Right on — Hallmark moments happen along the way. I actually like the burn of Wasabi — I’m a Wasabi-holic 🙂

    @ Patricia — I think the real key is nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

    @ Farnoosh — I know what you mean. Someday I should do a roundup of some of the most interesting terms and concepts. There are so many gems.

    @ Patricia — I actually think perfectionism is good if you can find the balance, just like anything else. I think you can balance it out by taking snapshots in time, savoring the moments, and celebrating your wins along the way. “Good enough for now” is an important practice — since missing time windows is far from perfect.

    I think it’s important to know how to use the “Relaxation Response” when you need it, but you might want to check out the book Overachievement: The New Model for Exceptional Performance, by Dr. John Eliot. He’ll make you rethink whether relaxing is really the answer … and he’s got some of the best skills around for being your best.

  14. Hi JD .. Imperfect was one of two words that took me to being here .. something that happened just under two years ago .. it doesn’t matter everything we do is imperfect, but if we do .. we move on, we learn, we grow and we can succeed – probably imperfectly too .. The concept of Wabi-Sabi .. I hadn’t heard these words before ..

    I love them … “embraces authenticity by acknowledging “nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.””.

    Thanks for bringing me back to where I started learning about blogging … more on my blog in a few weeks .. Hilary

  15. Insightful post here J.D. When we can embrace all parts of ourselves even the imperfection a sense of calm and peace of mind begins to emerge deep within our spirit.

  16. @ Hilary — Sometimes just the right words share an idea so well. Othertimes, it’s nice when just the right idea, finally has words.

    @ Baker — It’s another example how focus and what we magnify, reduce, or ignore changes everything.

  17. Thank you for the book recommendation – I am going to EWU graduation this weekend…and not taking a computer – see if I can relax !!!!
    I will be back 🙂

  18. JD, you mentioned a super-valuable concept, “good enough for now”. I’ve been searching for the Japanese word/phrase for that concept for a long time. At a non-profit development conference long ago a presenter told us about the idea. She said it was an approximate translation from the Japanese and gave us a word which I remember (phonetically) as “tor-ee-AY-zu”. My pronounciation could be wrong since I haven’t found it yet. Anyway, I wonder if you might know the word I’m talking about? Thanks!

  19. @ Graham — I don’t know the word you’re talking about, but it sounds like a great word to know. If you come across it in your travels, be sure to share.

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