Phillipian Commentary: The Importance of Imperfection

In the last week of break, my days mainly consisted of two activities: singing karaoke and playing songs on my sister’s ukulele. I undertook both activities out of desperation to do something new. Within the safe confines of my house, I opened the karaoke mic my friend gave me for Christmas and searched song after song on Ukutabs. Despite my known inability to sing, I kept belting and strumming day after day. It was liberating—not because some new talent was being unlocked from within me, but because I felt profoundly imperfect.

At Andover, there seems to be a master for every discipline: the most brilliant musician, the strongest athlete, the smartest student, and so on. It can be discouraging to feel inferior, and you may ask yourself, “Why am I here?” In an attempt to keep up and prove you belong, you relinquish the activities that “don’t matter”. But in a place where everyone seems to be striving for perfection, there is so much at stake. We are in a race to improve our grades, beat our fastest times, receive solos, and land leadership positions. What we forget about are the activities we can do without fear of losing something. In a high stakes environment, we all need no-stakes activities to fall back on.

You probably have mindless activities that you do when you need a break. For example, my friends and I watch Gossip Girl every Friday after class. We find a library study room, airplay a couple of episodes, and eat PopCorners. After a long week, this time together is something we all look forward to. 

But no-stakes activities don’t have to be mindless. They can be little things that we put time and care into. For my sister, it’s going to The Nest. Over the course of last year, she came home with nine pillows, ten coasters, and a tortilla press. There were no expectations—she simply made them for her own enjoyment. For me, playing the ukulele and singing had no stakes because I was terrible, and I had no expectation or desire to improve. We all have these imperfections: the guilty pleasures we know we’re incompetent at.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t strive to improve at what you love. The things you want to improve on are not your imperfections. They are your greater passions and aspirations. Your imperfections are the things you do because you don’t feel the need to improve, but you care about them anyway. Joy doesn’t have to come from mastery, and oftentimes, it doesn’t. I enjoyed my impromptu music career because I embraced my incompetence. I didn’t have to prove that I was good—I knew I wasn’t.                             

Andover can feel like a stage where we always have to prove our worth. We need moments where we feel safe to step down and take off our mask. But not all of us feel comfortable to reveal our imperfections, and when we do, we often do so with the intent to achieve some greater form of perfection, like social acceptance or validation. You can say a bad joke or sing off-key to make your friends laugh, but you make it look like you’re not trying. The second you show that you’re trying, you suddenly have something to lose. It’s not easy to admit that you care about something you’re bad at. The more invested you appear to be, the more unacceptable it is to be bad at what you’re doing.

These imperfections—the ones where we think we have something to lose—are not so easy to reveal. We show them to a handful of people or keep them to ourselves. As I was playing the ukulele, I thought to myself, “Would I still be playing if I knew other people were watching?” The simple answer was no. As much as I love to belt till my ears bleed, the fear of judgment is a formidable opponent. 

However, the part of me that disregards this fear is what has allowed me to forge meaningful connections. I owe it to my imperfect self for allowing me to slow down and just breathe. We shouldn’t care about what other people think, and we shouldn’t worry about losing our dignity. But it’s also up to us to forgo judgment. When someone needs a no-stakes environment, they should not have to feel the additional burden of what other people think. They are not seeking validation, but rather a sense of ease. So don’t give them something to lose—we all need to let out our silly side once in a while.