Allowing Imperfection - Christine Kane

“Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
-Julia Cameron

How many activities do you think about doing? How many things would you love to try but stop yourself because you don’t know how to begin? Do you avoid fun or adventurous things because of the pressure to do them well? If so, you might just benefit from a tactic I use quite regularly: Allowing imperfection.

Lessons from Imperfect Camping

My husband and I love camping. Even more than we love camping, we love the idea of camping. Two summers ago, some friends gave us all of their camping equipment. Tents, stoves, tools – the works. All we had to do was get sleeping bags and a mattress pad. We talked and talked about how great it was to get all this free stuff.

Then – we didn’t go camping.

Both of us hike a lot. Also, we live in one of those outdoors-y, rafting, climbing, “my extreme outdoor sport can kick your extreme outdoor sport’s ass” regions. So, I think we were both intimidated by the whole thing. It felt like pressure.

So, at the beginning of this summer, I blocked off a weekend. I made reservations at a campground. I called it the “Imperfect Camping Weekend.” It made my husband laugh. He was on-board instantly.

Imperfect Camping meant that we could go to a campground, even though the extreme outdoors-y types in my head were saying, “What a wimp! You should be in the wilderness!” Imperfect Camping meant that we could leave our site and go get a lighter if we forgot one. Imperfect Camping meant that we got along much better because we didn’t have to do it all perfectly. It meant that we ordered out for pizza on the second afternoon because we were hungry after our hike and didn’t have the energy to light the grill so early in the day. Imperfect Camping meant that we actually went camping, rather than just talking about it.

In other words, it was more important to do it than to do it well. Lots of things are like this.

I meet young musicians who obsess about getting their songs perfect before they’ll allow themselves to perform at an open-mic night. I tell them that open-mic night is where you’re supposed to suck. We’re all lousy at open-mic nights. That’s the whole point! Same thing with Toastmasters. Same thing with presenting your first free workshop. You have to start somewhere!

The “Used-to-Be’s”

One of the best reasons to allow imperfection is when you’ve got a case of the “used-to-be’s.” The used-to-be’s are the stories we tell ourselves: I used to be so much better at this. I used to be so much thinner than I am now. I used to write every single day and it got so easy! And on and on we go – all the while never starting the very thing that might move us beyond our stuck-ness. The “used-to-be’s” are a trap.

I have been so busy with road trips and new experiences this year that I got off schedule with my work-outs. So this week, I began Imperfect Work-Outs. This meant that I stayed on the elliptical only about 15 minutes. It meant that I only did one set of reps with my weights. It meant that the committee in my head was shouting, “You used to be so much better at this. You used to go 45 whole minutes on that elliptical!” (And on and on.) I continue my Imperfect Workouts while these voices shout – but at least I’m doing them.

This applies to blogging, too. Every blogger has written posts that get lots of attention. Like this one. Or this one. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that every post has to be that way. This trap can make it impossible to write the next post. You might find that you’re contorting yourself so that you’re writing for the attention – and not for the writing. So, practicing “Imperfect Blogging” keeps me writing posts that are not always trying to answers life’s great questions. (Like this post!)

Why Does it Work?

Allowing imperfection a form of setting intent. When you begin a project and lower the bar – or better yet, remove it altogether – then you’re free to create in the moment without any grade or standard. Ironically, this allows for such freedom and joy that you might end up doing a great job. (Or at least having a great time.)

When your demand for perfection is there from the start, then your attention isn’t on the activity itself, or in the joy of being with your partner. Your attention is drained in the perpetual “how’m I doing?” analysis.

For instance, in the camping example, if I had pushed us to “GO CAMPING,” then my standards for what camping is “supposed to look like” might have taken over. Rather than enjoying camping – I might have been thinking, “We’re not doing so good. Look at those people at the campsite next to us! They’re so prepared! And I forgot to pack the lighter! And we had to waste all that time running to the store to get one!” This would probably lead me to nit-pick my husband – and make us both stressed. Then we’d be even more resistant to going camping again – which is something we both love to do, even though we’re not great at it!

An Imperfect List of Things You Can Do Imperfectly

– Imperfect Vacations (Vacations can be pressure. Especially with all the magazine pictures of couples at spas looking so peaceful and at ease in their hot tubs. If you’re nervous about planning vacations, allow for “Imperfect Vacations.”)

– Imperfect Writing

– Imperfect Dinner Parties (This is great if you’ve never hosted a dinner party – and the pressure to be Martha Stewart keeps you from having people over. Start with your kindest friends. Let them know in advance that you’re hosting an “Imperfect Dinner Party.” They’ll probably love you for it!)

– Imperfect Meditation

– Imperfect Yoga

– Imperfect Sex

– Imperfect Hiking (This works if you only have a few hours and you have to find a simple trail which might not be as astounding as another trail you did a month ago.)

– Imperfect Scrapbooking

– Imperfect Cooking

– Imperfect Bowling (One of my personal favorites.)

There are, of course, some things that might not be good for allowing imperfection. Brain surgery, piloting a commercial jet, and skydiving come to mind. 🙂

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  • Amylia Grace

    I am reading this waaay later than the above commenters, but that’s okay; everything in our own (im)perfect timing, right?

    I love this post. I love imperfect camping. I have heard the Cameron quote before but it really resonates with me right now as I embark upon my first semester of grad school for my writing–a dream I’ve oft held close like my grandmother’s cards during Sheepshead (“Breast your cards,” she always said)…well I’ve breasted my dreams (that sounds pervy) for 31 years and am ready to be a writer, even if it means doing it badly for a while. I love it enough to do it badly. Wow. Never thought I’d say that and mean it, but it’s true.

  • Leisa

    and don’t forget Lowell George and Little Feat who said “love is a perfect imperfection..”

  • Pete DeWind

    With great regret, I just had to call the Old Town School of Folk Music to say I couldn’t use the tickets for tonight’s show in Chicago that I had bought on-line a few weeks ago. It’s my wife’s and my 16th anniversary, but she couldn’t get off work tonight. I did tell the ticket person today, though, to offer the tickets for free to whoever might be able to use them. So, whoever gets seats Main Floor Left Row HH, Seats 12 through 14, I hope you enjoy the show. My wife and I have seen CK many times in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin at the Cafe Carpe, and I saw her in October 2006 in suburban Philadelphia (tried without success to have the host Starbucks shut down their cappucino machine, which was irritating her, by offering $50, but the answer was no, “not for any amount.” Geeeez! We love you, Christine!

  • Michelle

    I’m adding Imperfect Foreign Language Speaking. Recently returned from France, I realize my French was definitely imperfect but often started a connection with another person. In a few instances they took pity on my un-mastery leading to a complete stranger guiding me through a museum to interpret the signs! I learned that being willing to be imperfect also led to asking for help, improving skills, and learning new things!

  • Angie

    You’re so honest, that’s something that is lost in our everyday lives and it shouldn’t be. I’m trying the camping thing, wish me luck, first time. It will be a breaze, considering we’re camping in a friend’s backyard. Ha. Is that perfect or what? Just kidding. My daugher looking forward to it, fun. we both love your songs.

  • Traci Hunter Abramson

    This was so funny to read, especially since I’m trying to rewrite a book that got kicked back to me because my main characters are “too perfect.” You gave me a whole world of new possibilities. Thanks!

  • Josi

    Holy cow, did I need this or what? Great post, great reminder. The only time people expect us to be perfect is when we act as if we are, so why set ourselves up? Love it.

  • Christine Kane

    hi all, thanks for your comments and additional thoughts to this post! and yes, i had an amazing time in san francisco!

  • Pippa


    What a jewel to discover your blog ~ thank you so much for sharing. And I think that you *have* answered one of life’s questions with this post. If we can learn to do things imperfectly, we will live so much more freely and happily. Isn’t it true that life is just so much richer when we are more relaxed about it?


  • Kelsey

    I agree with those who’ve already added imperfect parenting to the list. It feels like there are so many ways to wrongly parent, but trying to make everything perfect is the worst. I think parents who claim or attempt to be perfect can make their kids really crazy. I try to remind myself that we all just do the best we can, some days go better than others, and as long as my daughter knows I love her something is going well!

  • Caren

    After I separated from my husband, and was learning how to take responsibility for my life, I felt SO overwhelmed with everything – it wasn’t like I thought it was going to be. I called a friend, and was saying, “I can’t DO this! I just can’t DO it!” and she lovingly said, “You *are* doing it. It isn’t perfect, it might not look so great – but you *are* doing it.” Imperfect living! Instant peace.

  • elaine1

    Christine – Great post. I love this idea! The feeling that ‘imperfect’ is actually ok… It’s kind of a work in progress, enjoying the journey…and letting go, rather thanbeating yourself up because it’s not perfect!

    How was the concert? Hope you had a great time!

  • lisa

    hope you had a BLAST on the west coast, Christine~
    and thanks for this blog reminder.

    i have a handmade “imperfection encouraged here” sign for folks to see as they step into my home/studio.

    may we all dance with our imperfections!

  • m

    would like to add imperfect dating and imperfect housework…

  • Linda Adams

    Hi Christine! Nice to meet you!
    I got a link to your blog from another musicians’ group. I LOVE this post! Thank you so much for reinforcing what I already knew somewhere in the back of my head. Funny thing is, I just got done posting to another musician-friend about “GOOD ENOUGH” and not letting perfectionism stop you. Beautiful and true thoughts you have here.

    I read recently about the struggle between feeling complacent and feeling overwhelmed. One one hand, you feel too confident and do nothing, and on the other to feel under-confident (“I’ll never do it all”/”I’ll never do it right”)–and do nothing. The key is to find the balance somewhere inbetween–that keeps you DOING.

    Oh! And I’d also like to invite you to JPF while I’m here. “Just Plain Folks,” the largest musicians’ organization in the world–40,000 members worldwide (and it’s all free!). They have a great message board and a lot of other terrific resources for artists.
    Hope to see you there!

    Thank you for this post!

  • Colleen

    I live a very imperfect life. What a wonderful awakening to find out that its ok! It seems I rush around constantly trying to do, and coming down on myself constantly because I KNOW Im doing it half assed. Hey, but I am
    DOING…Hmmmm…you just made my day! Christine, I love you and your lyrics.I’ve been following you for years. Ive got a little bistro coffee shop in Walhalla,s.c.( Common Grounds) Coffee on me if your ever in the area!

  • Cyd

    Christine, I found your blog while searching for some guidance in the way of gratitude and intention. Your blog entry, 10 Ways to Set a Powerful Intent, was just what I was looking for! What a blessing to find your inspiring words and discover your beautiful music as well!
    Thank you! Thank You! Thank You for being!

  • Personal Growth

    a nice view of doing things i think that i ought to do it someday.

  • Christine Kane

    thanks everyone for your additional thoughts!

    ann – i’ve been known to paint rooms twice if the first color just wasn’t right. it’s time-consuming, yes. but it allows me to find my way with my own style and design…

    and anne – i remember being in a yoga class and really struggling with all my voices in the moment and all my comparisons and standards — and i had a great awakening about the practice of it and the imperfection of it. and it made the class so much lighter. it was a great letting go.

  • Anne Libby

    Christine, I used to have a yoga teacher (Anita, from Coney Island) who always said, it is a “yoga practice” not a “yoga perfect.”

    (She also used to say, in a brilliant old New York accent, “You can’t do the pose with your face.”)


    Thanks for this perfectly imperfect post.

  • Adam Kayce : Monk At Work

    You’re awesome. You know I’d say that, though.

    This is a great post, making a great point. I can’t tell you how many years I struggled under the weight of my own self-imposed perfectionism, trying to escape the clutches of being the Virgo son of an uptight mom. Anyhoo…

    BTW, a friend of mine (Camela Kraemer) was at a recent workshop with you, and she raved about meeting you… thought you’d like to hear.

  • Julie

    Fabulous post. I need to get back to my imperfect to do list. Thanks…

  • Suzanne

    Christine, Thanks for such great messages! I love them all the time, but this one speaks especially to my heart. I LOVE being imperfect! It’s so much more fun than trying so hard to be perfect. My favorite quote is “There is Glory in a Great Mistake” (Nathalia Crane). And that’s pretty much how I live my life. It’s like taking a drive without a destination – the mistakes – or imperfections- make it so much more interesting.

    Thanks again! Can’t wait till your back in Chattanooga!

  • Tim

    I love you period…at least the essence of you that is so exquisitely revealed through all you do, especially here at the ‘blog’!!!

    This post, was ..well, perfect. It’s true… its not that we are perfect, that matters, but that we are aware we are being perfected. You remind us all we are perfectly ‘imperfect’ and its OK!!!

    Thanks Christine!

  • Andrea Hess | Empowered Soul Blog

    Great post, Christine! I’m a huge fan of “good enough” vs. “perfect.” Otherwise we can get lost in the futile pursuit of perfection. One of my new favorite quotes: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” – Pablo Picasso.

    I would add imperfect pottery to the list. I’m in a throwing class, and I’m just happy if my creations turn out to be approximately round! But it’s grounding and centering and a wonderful way to connect to the earth …


  • Ann Herrold-Peterson

    Thanks!! I get stuck on imperfect decorating. Projects can go on for months, even years, of indecision knowing that I’m not an interior decorator. I keep thinking someone else knows better what might look good in my house. So maybe this is about trying things with the freedom to change things that don’t work out. The other issue is getting ideas from others, but then being willing to declare my preferences. After all, it is my living space.

  • Christine Kane

    everyone has to click on michelle’s name so you can look at her blog. it’s the best blog graphic ever!

    (and michelle – imprefect spelling too! 🙂 )

  • Michelle

    I love this post. I have just taken up golf lessons and am really enjoying them – am I going to send a shout out to IMPREFECT golf…because really can golf ever be perfect? Playing golf and being outside really opens my mind and I always seem to come up with at least 5 good writing prompts or journal/story ideas while I am ever so badly hitting the ball…but having fun!

  • Christine Kane

    hi all – i’ve been on a plane all day. and now, yet again, i’m at another apple store waiting for the genius bar (anne and barb – this is a 5 haven – you should really experience the genius bar.) and i’m playing on fun computers. thanks for the comments. and yes, anne, you have to be perfect at allowing imperfection, and really beat yourself up when you discover that you’re not doing a good job at allowing it! and lucy – even though i’m not a mom, i watch my friends go through that same “perfect mom” syndrome. so let’s hear it for “imperfect motherhood!” (the kids will love you for it!)

  • fivecats

    Imperfect Writing strikes a chord with me. I’ve been reading a lot about the overwhelming anxiety most writers face when staring at a blank page (or screen) but I’m still having a hard time with letting myself be less than perfect on paper on the first try.

    Thanks for being yet another voice in the chorus telling me it’s okay to let go.

  • Tammy

    Christine- I love your blog! I have been catching up on your previous posts for a few weeks now, and just stumbled upon Collusion Parts 1 and 2. I love the idea; I’m working on my own problem with collusion, but today’s post reminds me that it’s a process, and no one can be perfect, we slip, we fall, we resolve to try again. I find your writing and your ideas very inspiring. I am a huge fan of Julia Cameron and morning pages too, Anne Lamott is another one who really pushes to get your work done and allow your writing to be imperfect (we know the kind of first drafts she encourages, huh?).
    Keep up the great posts!

  • Christine DeCamp

    Thanks, Christine! This is just the message to get me going on my new & imperfect blog writing!
    Another Christine

  • lucy

    The timing of this post was great for me, Christine. I have been preoccupied with worry about my daughter’s 5th birthday party this weekend. (There’s a lot of perfection-pressure in parenthood.) I feel like this might be a message to me to relax. I’ve been reaching for some external idea of perfection, but it feels so much better to dial it down and make it a goal to just have fun.

  • Anne

    Love this post, particularly as we went camping last weekend (and had lots of fun while realizing there is a list of things we should get for next time – which might just turn out to be this weekend), and more particularly because the rest of it is a bit of a sticky point for us ‘5’s – I’m with you there Barb. hmmm….do you have to be perfect at allowing imperfection? 😉

  • Whitetshirts

    We also need to add imperfect quilting, imperfect teaching (my students like it best when I don’t profess all-knowing brilliance), imperfect spelling, and imperfect writing.

    Thanks for helping me remember that perfection, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. No one I have ever given a quilt to has picked out my mistakes.

  • Colin

    Another ‘Colin” out there, eh? The Rev. Bubba Munroe don’t skydive…I’m not to be confused with someone courageous. Imperfect is my mantra.

  • barb

    I had to laugh, I hope with you. brings back memories of the Pisgah Inn story.
    thanks for reminding us “5’s” that imperfect is okay and is really more fun than perfect. better stories, like leaving the tent supports at home and getting to Florida and finding out you didn’t have them. barb b

  • MK

    I love that you listed imperfect bowling. My dad is a masterful bowler – he bowls in leagues at least 3 mornings a week and goes to the state tournament every year – bowling is a big deal to my dad. The cool thing is that he LOVES me to go bowling with him even though I suck, umm I mean I’m imperfect at it. We joke about putting those bumper things in the gutters for me – you know the ones that little kids use. (He never actually lets me do it dang it, although sometimes he will bowl left-handed for me.) Thanks for this great post and for reminding me that I should make a bowling date with my dad. xo

  • Susanne

    Well, I also strive for: imperfect parenting, imperfect commenting on blogs, imperfect housework, imperfect crafting, and imperfect improvising. In fact, all four songs that I wrote came out of those improvisation sessions. I also often work out without wearing the appropriate outfit because changing clothes often stops me from working out at all.

  • Colin

    Actually, I was a very imperfect skydiver for about five years. I’ve never been good at anything that required the least amount of coordination or manual dexterity. Skydiving was no different, and all I really had to do was fall. I always figured that any jump on which I made it to the ground at something less than full speed and walked back to the hangar without assistance was a successful jump.