On wabi-sabi and imperfection

In the age of social media-led instant gratification, there’s a near-universal urge to seek perfection, permanence, and certainty. These desires, while seemingly worthwhile on the surface, often lead to a spiral of dissatisfaction and suffering.

Against this backdrop, the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi offers a refreshing, much-needed, perspective. It invites us to live simply, find peace in the impermanence of things, and embrace what is flawed and incomplete in nature, life, and oneself.

Instead of the pristine and the untouched, it treasures the worn and the damaged. Much like an old, well-read book with frayed edges tells a richer story than a new one off the shelf. This perspective echoes a profound understanding of life: everything we try will have some marks of failure, everything we achieve will remain somewhat incomplete, and everything we cherish will eventually decay and disappear.

Internalizing this philosophy goes against many of the societal scripts we grow up with. I’ve had my fair share of experiences chasing more and more in the pursuit of perfection, poorly measured by external indicators like money, power, or status.

But more recently, I’ve somewhat unknowingly sought out experiences that embrace the imperfect, the transient, and the incomplete.

The imperfect: If there’s one thing that I learned from trying to start a startup, it’s giving up on the myth of perfect. Successfully taking something from 0 to 1 requires many iterations, pivots, and speed of execution. Attempting to define perfect in a constantly changing world is a liability. Even though edgi as a startup ultimately failed, I’m grateful for this lesson. I’m glad I was involved in the process of building something imperfect than not building anything at all.

The transient: I used to be envious of people that have 5 and 10-year plans. I no longer feel that way because making long-term plans is in direct conflict with my core value of adventure. I had failed to recognize this in the past. Now when I think about where I’ll be in 5 years and what my life will look like, I feel very comfortable saying “I don’t know.” Life goes through many seasons. For now, I just want to enjoy this one.

The incomplete: Living nomadically and adopting a life on the move can be accompanied by the desire to explore every new location in full. But rather than striving to conquer each place, we’ve found joy in letting go and not over-planning. We don’t feel compelled to see every landmark, but rather immerse ourselves in some of the genuine experiences each place offers, usually in the form of food.

Ultimately, wabi-sabi isn't just a concept; it's a way of life—one that offers an antidote to the relentless pursuit of conventional perfection. It’s a call to find beauty in the ordinary, welcome life’s unpredictability, and cherish the transient nature of our existence.

So take a moment to appreciate the flawed, the momentary, and the incomplete. Take a moment to appreciate life.