The majority of us tend to prefer sweeping our past mistakes and the shards of shattered dreams under the rug or else into the metaphorical dustbin where they remain out of sight and out of mind. A failed class, an embarrassingly bad job interview, or too many personal projects started and abandoned are commonly the subjects of blithe forgetfulness or wilful repression lest we find ourselves being reminded that at times, we fail in spite of our best efforts or are downright hapless and hopeless. Despite the discomfort, however, we should face that fact and turn back to look at our errors, especially if we want to move forward, grow, and improve our skills or in our areas of expertise.
In Japanese philosophy, there exists the concept of kintsugi (金継ぎ), a term that is literally translated as “to join with gold”. The word is often used to refer to a style of ceramics in which the pieces of previously-shattered bowls, pots, or cups were reassembled and re-glued with lacquer mixed with gold powder. The rejoining process blatantly draws attention to where the object was once broken, with brilliant gold running through the cracks. While it isn’t physically feasible for us to make our previous mishaps look as beautiful, we can attempt to achieve a similar effect by seeing each one as a learning experience and instead of discarding them, we should strive to treat each mistake with respect and care.
As a philosophy, kintsugi advocates for the acceptance of the imperfect and while we ought to do the same, we do not have to be complacent with failure. What we can do is re-examine our mistakes, sharp, painful edges and all, and determine what went wrong in that particular endeavour. Was that job interview a flop because you became nervous and fumbled when you were asked that question? Did you neglect those personal projects and goals because you simply made too many excuses? A critical and impartial eye is necessary when you choose to foray into the prickly mess that is evaluating your flaws, whether situational or personal. At the same time, kindness is just as crucial — while it’s tempting to be harsh on yourself, relentless criticism without a plan of action in mind only leads to even more self-doubt and unhappiness. Instead, devise a few possible solutions to avoid similar instances from happening in the future and even if it strains against our inclination towards perfectionism, to tolerate the fact that you have, do, and will make mistakes again. What’s changed this time is that you’ve hopefully gained the insight to move forward with all your broken pieces.