Imperfection - Circular Polarizer
Image by Richard Cocks

Have you ever reviewed a piece of your work and shuddered afterwards? Do you get mad when one person criticizes something you invested a great deal of time on, even though dozens of others laud the effort?

Typos, incomplete theory, lack of experience, poor timing, fear of public speaking, a bad decision; just some of the many flaws that can “taint” work. It’s worse when flaws are beyond your control; vendors, friends, etc. You have to live with it.

Elusive perfection can drive you crazy.

Welcome to humanity. Flawed, troubled, imperfect, some learning, some not… We all screw up.

Imperfection is one of the most humbling aspects of life that will continue until it is over, and our ashes are spread across the earth. It is something we all must suffer. This maddening pain can only be relieved by embracing our personal imperfections. There is no escape.

All projects must end, every single one of them with some flaw, some aspect that can be improved. Rare is the perfect effort.

It’s best to look at what could be improved, be happy with what went right, and learn from the experience. Sometimes we must suffer the same mistake again. That may be our journey. This is the stuff of millennia of philosophy, theology, and human storytelling. It is not a unique phenomena; rather, a quandary every human being faces.

Salty Criticism

Sometimes criticism can sting like salt in a wound. Imperfection confronts us.

But can we simply say that our efforts are definitively in the right? It is unacceptable to simply say, “No, that type of criticism is invalid.” It may really be incorrect. But then again, time may reveal that critique was spot on. Our experience (or ego) at that time did not permit us to see it.

Wrong or not, criticism is a reality of the human condition, and the more public and well known you become, the more you will receive. But even the most humble of workers and family members suffer from the bruises of criticism. That’s why when in disagreement, it is often best to state our point of view – factually to the best of our ability — and move on.

The great fight is not worth it. In essence, take it with a grain of salt. Learn what you can. In time, things may make more sense. Or the critic was simply wrong.

This sector is one of opinion with many degrees of opposing views. If everyone agrees with you, you’re not talking to enough people. But it is important to remember that every single one of us — critic, critiqued and observer — are flawed. Imperfect.

Depending on how you view flaws and criticism, imperfection simply is. Or it is simply painful.

What do you think of imperfection?


  • We all struggle with imperfection. Some of us on deeper levels than others.

    It’s part of life, it never ends. We need to just deal with it and move on. Forget the failure, remember the lessons. Mind you, it’s much easier said than done.

    • I have been struggling a lot with this as of late.  I just read the Spirituality of Imperfection, and it helped release me a bit, got me to a place of acceptance. Sometimes I wish I wouldn’t fight internally like that.

  • The lesson I MUST live, because I preach it to my children, is, “We are all learning people.” My entire growing up was hinged absolutely–by those who set standards for me–on perfection. Since I never achieved it, I never was rewarded. I had to find some way to live with being a Flawed Human, and actually, there was the answer right in the question. The whole point. The authentic definition of humanity. (I’ll spare a big theological and philosophical jaunt here.) When it comes to advice and criticism, I’ll listen, and I’ll decide, and I’ll own whatever I do. Maybe someday when I grow up I’ll have successfully achieved the whole idea I sat down here. ;)

    • Hmm, I think I’d be open to that theological/philosophical conversation some day, Julie.  Cheers!

  • I embrace imperfection. It is more interesting than perfection. There’s movement, change, and passion in it unlike perfection which seems to be frozen.

    • A rough stone gets dumped in the water, and becomes smooth over time as the water moves over it. It never becomes a perfect round circle, but it gets better with time. :) Love that classic analogy.

  • Seriously considering hugging you if we ever cross paths (don’t worry, this is temporary and will pass). I so feel what you are saying here (and from the link, I figure that you can guess why). I learned a lot about criticism today. How to give it, how to take it and how to feel damn imperfect on either end of that spectrum. Thankfully, being flawed is something I’ve always been comfortable with and working to improve is always something I am going to work on. Thanks for this, it was a shot in the arm and some sound insights on a day where I was struggling with the very subject.

    • When you kick a hornets nest, it is safe to say that you will likely be stung. Been there done that as you can tell from the link below yours.  Keep in mind the top tier has no interest in or incentive to change. That doesn’t mean your criticism was invalid. I think it was spot on. 

      I am sure you got worse on the back channel then the sad comment or two from the A-List follower that I read in that post. I am also certain that rolling in the mud with pigs is never a good idea. They like it more than we do.

      I rarely waste time calling these guys out anymore for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they have lost me.  I don’t believe in them or what they do anymore.  And I won’t waste my time on them.  It took a long time to get there.  There are so many other worthwhile things to do.

      I wish you luck, my friend.

      • Never one to worry about getting stung as long as I learn from it (which I totally did today). Honestly, I walk away proud of the underlying message and disappointed in the fact that I didn’t communicate the problem well. The message was undermined by the rock that was tied to it. 

        The back channel was certainly interesting (learned a hell of a lot there) as were the comments. I actually respect the hell out of Matt for defending his friends, especially once he dropped the hyperbole and really got into his points (some of which were damn valid).

        I’ve never minded a mess, hell my head has always been one. There was some good debate and some even better conversation. Now it is time to brush it off and do better next time :)

        It was a growing up kind of day and your post put a lot into perspective. Thanks again!

  • Talking with a friend this afternoon about how difficult it is sometimes to actually own the things you’ve done.  When you are very much used to taking some form of criticism from *somewhere* and always having been just short of someone’s standard of perfection (or achievement) it can become difficult to recognize when the achievement or a certain high standard of not-perfect has been reached.  We are all imperfect, but some of us are more comfortable with imperfection than we are with owning the achievements we’ve reached.  (just a slightly different view…)

    • I tottaly agreeing with you accept the thing about achievement its seems not so hard!)

    • Sometimes our personal past can be appalling. I agree with the latter statement and often get there myself.  I also think it is the imperfections we see in ourselves that we become most critical of in others…

  • I know I have a fear of success which I am trying to work through. I am getting better trying to narrow down what I want my career to be and how to get there.  But I am a decade late and on cue with the technology and modern day marketing techniques but sometimes I wonder what could have been with the decade I feel I lost due to fear and other things.  Changing the path is a challenge and worth it but fear is always there.  Plus, the people who would have been around in the lost decade could have seen me succeed where now they are gone. 

    • It’s never too late to start over. I know I wasted 10 years of my life, and got poorer grades than I was capable of and went to a lesser university where I wasted my time partying. I got a second chance to better with a post graduate education at Georgetown and graduated with honors.  It was a miracle I even got in, but I made everything I could of it.

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  • In a world full of perfect things fancy cars and iphones, imperfection in human’s is a beautiful thing. Being able to look at my wife and myself and know we are uniquely imperfect brings a calm over me. It enforces that who we are, is our heart and soul.

    Look at the person next to you on the train or in the park and look the imperfections, does it feel calming? Imperfection is what makes life unique, without imperfection the world would be a cold place.

    • It is what we maddingly love in our partners for sure.  The blemish is the beauty.  Great point, Michael!

  • I have always struggled with this. In recent years, at the urging of a friend whose advice I make it a practice to take, I’ve started purposefully trying to live with more imperfection in my life. It started by trying to allow mistakes in my knitting to exist, rather than ripping out vast quantities and hours’ worth of work because of one tiny error that no one else would see. 

    It sounds like a small thing, but I really credit this practice with opening up a lot more room for creativity in my life. It is a coincidence that since I’ve been working on allowing imperfection to exist in my life, I’ve managed to write two full book-length manuscripts? The only way to get a final draft, after all, is to work through the awful messiness of the first draft. By allowing myself to trust the process, and to accept imperfections as a vital part of the process, I’ve arrived in a place that I never imagined I would. And I’m not done yet. 

    My six-years-ago self would be appalled at the level of imperfection I am cool with now. But then, she would also be gobsmacked at how great my life is these days, too. So what does she know?

    • There comes a point where you have to let things go. I, too, struggle with this. Imperfection strikes at your core. It can paralyze you.  Getting things done requires a more fluid approach to improvement. And experience shows that by trial and error I do get better.  Thanks for your comment, Beth!

  • Geoff, you’ve stirred an excellent discussion. Thanks for going out on that limb and touching upon a struggle (I expect) we all have. As a person who has pushed myself hard – and then harder – from as far back as I have a memory, I can relate to your post and to many of the comments. 

    Thank you also to one of your followers / commenters, J. Pippert, for the simple message, “We are all learning people.” 

    I now have a new post-it note message on my desk that says the following —(courtesy of you, Geoff) 

    “A rough stone gets dumped in the water, and becomes smooth over time as the water moves over it. It never becomes a perfect round circle, but it gets better with time.”

    • I think I first heard that years ago. It has helped me enormously as I have come to terms with personal flaws.  They have gotten better, but they still exist. For sure.

  • As my boss says, don’t let perfection get in the way of pretty good.

  • Perfectionism often stands in the way of accomplishment. I know this first hand. I struggle with this in a major way but am learning to be a person that accepts myself first and looks for ways to improve. Dwelling in past mistake can be paralyzing, and worrying about the mistakes of others can take years off of your life.

  • I have a tee shirt that says, “F*ck you if you’re perfect”.

    Sums it up pretty nicely. ;-)

    The minute you think you’re perfect is the minute you stop growing. And the minute you defend – or get your friends to defend – your imperfection and use lame excuses, is the day you start to dwindle as a person.

    Great stuff, sir.

    • Ah, yes, a personal journey over the past few weeks got me to this post, and here I am.  It is better on this side. Super hero, no. Real and living, yes.

  • I always try to distinguish the difference between criticism and cynicism. Criticism is good. Cynicism is worth ignoring (unless you directly caused it). 

    Personally, I always look at perfection is something to strive for but not really obtain (as perfection becomes its own imperfection as it tends to lack humanity and humility). In recent years, I’ve embraced imperfection because pursuing it too aggressively can be paralyzing like many have said.

    Another great spark with this post, sir. 


  • I really can’t stand imperfection, quite frankly. I mean, why did I put in all that time at Mt. Olympus if this is my only reward??

    Seriously though, my entire job is about perfection. For those who might snark that agencies are far from the perfect realm, in fact, everything we do for our clients *must* be flawless. A flaw means that we did not do our job. That means if a product has a trademark when it should have a registered mark, we flubbed it. If there is not a dot over an i, we flubbed it. Sometimes the details we slave over seem silly, but when your entire body of work is based on how you product and how you proof what you produce, you must sweat every single detail.

    Of course, one of the great curses of the human race is that it is the perfectionists who most hate imperfection. Those who could care less are perfectly fine with their imperfect human nature. What a bummer :)

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