I have been going through a period of mourning for about a month now.
To be fair, it’s not been serious grief. I haven’t lost a family member or friend or devoted pet. But I have had to deal with the absence of a beloved daily fixture in my life: my favorite coffee cup. The handle snapped clean off when it fell from the counter to the kitchen floor. I could have attempted a repair, but I tossed it in the trash in a demonstration of irrational anger over the destruction of my “perfect” cup.
A good coffee cup is crucial to my enjoyment of my favorite beverage. It can’t be too small or I’ll need to fill up constantly. It can’t be too large, or the coffee will cool too much before I finish it. It has to have a large smooth handle that I can easily fit most of my fingers through. The opening has to be a certain circumference. If it’s too small then I feel like I’m using a doll’s cup, and if it’s too wide it feels like I’m slurping from a cereal bowl. The lip should not be thin like a tea cup, but neither should it be overly thick.
You can argue that I’m way too particular. I’m inclined to agree. It’s silly, even to me, but I feel that the right mug can be the difference between an everyday coffee break and a superior coffee experience. I have other mugs, nice mugs, perfectly acceptable in most ways – but not in every way. Not one of them seems to be as exceptionally suited to me as the one that broke. Is it all in my head? Probably, but I can’t seem to help myself.
I miss my old cup.
I hate to admit it, but I believe I am engaging in two different types of perfectionism here. The first is my search for the “perfect match.” It occurs to me that perhaps this trait isn’t uniquely my own. I’m not suggesting that other people have unrealistically specific expectations regarding their coffee cups, but that there is a human desire to seek perfection in life, to pursue a high standard that is both overly specific and often elusive. Many people, at one point or another, have drafted a list of qualities necessary for their “soul mate” or their “dream job.” The definition of ideal may vary from person to person, but the quest for our personal versions of perfect seems to be universal.
Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. I don’t feel it’s wrong to identify personal wants, needs, and standards, and then to seek them out. However, I also believe that single minded focus on perfection isn’t always conducive to happiness. When I am focused on the minutia of what’s wrong with something, I can so easily miss what’s right.
Is my coffee really less tasty in a different cup? No. It’s still the same delicious brew; it’s my perception of that mug’s inferiority that changes my experience.
My other issue with perfectionism was made evident when I tossed the cup out, not even trying to repair the broken handle. I’m sure it could have been affixed with a few drops of glue, with only a small hairline crack on the handle to betray that it had ever been broken. My husband suggested this, but I shot that idea down in a fit of pique – in short, I was too involved in throwing a temper tantrum to seriously listen to the suggestion.
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of Golden Repair. In this process, broken pottery is repaired by joining the pieces together with a resin that is mixed with powdered gold. Thus, the defect becomes a source of beauty. These repaired pieces are regarded as more beautiful than the original, more traditionally perfect object. Those who love the art of Kintsugi are not preoccupied with the lack of perfection. They are focused on the beauty of the repair.
Learning about this process makes me wish that I had salvaged the pieces of my old cup and attempted to repair it, instead of relegating them to the trash bin. I would not have filled the cracks with powdered gold, but maybe the repaired cup would have been just as satisfying to drink from in spite of any aesthetic deficiencies. I might even have come to cherish the flaws, and to see them as markers that made the cup distinctly mine.
How often in my life have I discarded something because it was not perfect? How many times have I sought a level of perfection in others that I don’t possess myself?
Maybe pursuing perfection isn’t the best option after all.