Someone wrote to me asking if self-improvement is an endless pursuit to become perfect? He wrote, “Are we to keep trying forever?” He was alluding to the fact that if we keep working on ourselves forever, finding faults in us, when will we actually enjoy life? Is life meant to be a drag? Are you supposed to keeping seeking room for improvement? To think about it, it is a beautiful question.
Personally, I do not believe that you need to fit into someone else’s framework of perfection. Besides, aiming for perfection is often a matter of personal choice, an individual preference.
Perfection is subjective; what is perfect for you may not be even half-decent for the other person.
The goal is not to fulfill the world’s criteria of excellence, but to fill your own life with grace, bliss and compassion. These are the ingredients of a virtuous life, and such a life is as perfect as it can get.
Long, long ago, there was a poor but noble man. There was no source of water nearby his home. So, every day, he would go down to the river carrying two large pots hanging from each end of a stick that rested on his shoulders.
These pots were made of metal, and one of them was so worn out, that three years ago, a crack, almost a hole, had formed in it. As a result, it looked more like a percolator; drop by drop, it leaked constantly. The other vessel was in perfect shape, though. Every day the man would fill both pots to the brim, and every day the cracked pot would only be half full by the time he reached home. Once home, he would promptly transfer its contents into an earthen pot.
The cracked pot felt guilty. It wanted to serve its master, but it was helpless as there was no way for it to fill the crack – to plug the hole. The perfect pot looked down on the cracked pot, for it was aware of its own superiority. There were times when the cracked pot felt jealous of the perfect pot, but it mostly felt helpless and depressed. No matter how hard it tried, it only ever reached home half-empty.
One day, when the master was by the river, it said, “I’m a pathetic pot. I’m so sorry, for I’m unable to do my job. You fill me up every day and carry home so much weight, but I never reach there still full, like the other pot. Please forgive me. I’m so ashamed of myself. You deserve a better pot, a perfect one, and not a cracked pot like me. Please sell me to the smith. Let him end my miserable and useless life. You’ll get relief too.”
“Useless?” the man spoke compassionately. “I wish you knew how proud I am of you. Who doesn’t have flaws? I do too. If I could afford it, I would have had you repaired a long time ago so you wouldn’t feel like this today. But then again, in our flaws lies our divinity.
A sense of flawlessness is no more than a viewpoint, often an arrogant one, in fact. Have you any idea how much you’ve helped in beautifying this place?”
“Me? Helped?” the cracked pot exclaimed,“…in beautifying?”
“Yes! I would like you to observe your side of the track when we go home today.”
The man began walking home, and the cracked pot realized that on one side of the path, specifically on the side it was on, there were flowers, beautiful flowers, all the way. Butterflies were hovering around them; bees were buzzing on some, there was a lovely fragrance in the air.
“A while ago, I planted a new variety of flower seeds. I figured the water dripping from you could easily provide nourishment to the seeds. And now look! Not only do we have beautiful flowers, but the bees have carried the pollen far and wide, and we have more and more of these flowers blooming everywhere. These ones attract bees like anything, and there are more natural beehives in the village now than ever before. If not for your so-called flaw, it would not be possible to have this beauty, fragrance, and utility that we have today.”
I hope you like the story as much as I did when I first came across it. In our flaws are already sown the seeds of perfection. Rather than aiming to be somebody else, instead of aspiring to be some perfect pot, it is far more essential to put to use both our strengths and our limitations. If you are honest about your cracks and are willing to see where they may add meaning to your own life, a whole new world of possibilities opens up.
There is no such thing as absolute weakness or absolute strength. They switch roles based on context and need. A sturdy stick may be useful for walking support, but it is a supple one that you need to make a bow. What is strength from one perspective is weakness from another. No matter how cracked one is, they still have a role to play.