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The art of excellence-ing

Kintsugi is an ancient Japanese art that involves repairing cracked and broken pottery with seams of precious gold.[1] The gold accentuates the appearance of the pot at the same time as bringing the broken pieces back together, making it while again. Although the pot will never look the same, its gilded cracks and flaws now form a fundamental part of what it has now become.

The metaphor may be less than subtle when it comes to comparing a broken pot mended with gold to a fallible person using their mistakes to evolve, but it is no less powerful for that. We are all unique, formed by our own experiences, character traits, relationships with others, goals and dreams. If we strive for an unblemished life with no cracks or unexpected mishaps, we are destined to be disappointed. If, rather, we work towards living the best life we can in the face of the unexpected ways our journey can twist and turn, we can start to believe in the value of facing up to and embracing our own imperfections.

The trick is not to give into our cracks and chips, but to look for ways that we can fill them with gold.

Nobody’s perfect

We all start out as a newborn baby, fresh, new and ready to have life’s experiences imprinted upon us, but we don’t stay that way for long. Despite our own good intentions and those of people around us, we receive knocks and cracks along the way as we grow from infancy into adulthood. Some are more serious than others, but each one will have something to teach us about ourselves and the way we are living our lives. At the very least, they are invaluable in teaching us that, however hard we try to make it so, nothing is perfect.

According to Grant Soosalu, ‘perfection is the enemy of excellence’[2]. In other words, if we concentrate solely on avoiding mistakes and mishaps and bemoaning our lot when they do, inevitably, occur, we don’t have enough time to work on being fit for our intended purpose, achieving what we set out to do, striving to be excellent and living up to our values.

The same goes for forgiving imperfections in others. If we become too fixated on the world around us living up to our own expectations of perfection, we cannot see the instances of hope, optimism, courage and determination that people exhibit every day. We become bitter and unable to forgive mistakes and this can manifest itself physically too, making us feel ill and less able to succeed ourselves. Forgiveness goes hand in hand with accepting that nothing can be perfect all of the time. It’s what makes us pick up the metaphorical pot of liquid gold and set about painting along the cracks of our lives, Kintsugi style.

You are what you read

If ever there was something intrinsically opposite to the concept of Kintsugi, it’s the modern-day obsession with social media, TV and the need to appear perfect on screen at all times. The minds behind social media algorithms and TV scheduling are adept at using psychology to guide us in the direction they want us to go to help keep their click rates, viewing figures and popularity ratings as high as possible. They don’t want us to see the cracks behind their presented vision of perfection, and this can place huge stresses on us all to act likewise in our own lives, which of course, is impossible.

TV and the media also bring added stresses of feeding us endless footage and updates of the worrying things happening all around us. COVID-19 being a good case in point. Studies conducted during the initial lockdowns of last year showed that levels of stress and depression rose dramatically amongst those watching a lot of TV news or reading endless newspaper articles about the pandemic[3]. Many people couldn’t escape the doom and gloom and lost hope in their own situations as a result, making it harder to cope. It is far harder to work towards ‘excellence’ when we are trying to cope with new and unsettling times.

That’s not to say we should switch off the TV and throw out the newspapers entirely. We can still log on to Facebook or Instagram to while away a few spare moments, so long as we don’t take it all too seriously. The trick is to think carefully about how much time we are using to engage with TV and social media and the messages we are allowing ourselves to become entranced by. To actively avoid stories and opinions that can threaten our mental health and block us from thinking clearly about who we want to be and how we want to behave.

If we are to strive towards excellence, we need to be more discerning about what we read and how we react. We must stop taking things at face value and start looking more deeply into how what we are exposing ourselves to can benefit and enrich our lives. We need to read more positive things and open our minds to learning more about the world around us, and why it is a pretty amazing place to be.

Live your life

French-born diarist and novelist, Anaïs Nin once said that, “life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”[4] This could be expanded upon to include “…one’s courage and desire to work towards excellence”. Courage brings the human spirit alive, it’s a fundamental part of the mBraining theory that the brain in our gut guides our  self-preservation and identity.[5]

Only by having courage can we break out of our normal routines and explore new opportunities for excellence in personal growth, love, travel or self-fulfilment. After all, every adventure must start somewhere and if we are too busy worrying about not being perfect and being consumed with worry over what we read or watch on the media, we will not have the space, energy or motivation to strike out from these concerns and actively work to make our lives more excellent.

Once we have listened to our gut brain and felt a renewed sense of courage and appetite for trying something new, the other two brains in our head and heart become involved, bringing creativity to come up with new ideas to be excellent and desire to follow them through.[6] All good ideas stem from someone somewhere taking the plunge, striking out and using their creativity, motivation and courage to make them a reality.

After all, someone in Japan picked up a brush at some point in the past and dipped it into the pot of liquid gold to begin the process of Kintsugi for the very first time. If you can let go of whatever’s holding you back from pursuing excellence, there’s no reason why you, too, can’t begin a similar process. Enjoy the ride!


[1] Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/326qTYw26156P9k92v8zr3C/broken-a-pot-copy-the-japanese-and-fix-it-with-gold. Accessed 28 April 2021

[2] Source: ‘Loving Your Life’, by Grant Soosalu, 2015, p23

[3] Source: https://theconversation.com/how-the-media-may-be-making-the-covid-19-mental-health-epidemic-worse-153616. Accessed 28 April 2021

[4] Source: ‘Loving Your Life’, by Grant Soosalu, 2015, p109

[5] Source: https://www.gayleyoung.co.uk/mbraining/mbraining-how-do-you-make-a-gut-wise-decision/. Accessed 28 April 2021

[6] Source: ‘Loving Your Life’, by Grant Soosalu, 2015, p110

Post Author: Gayle Young

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