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Perfectly Imperfect: 5 Real Stories of Vulnerability, Struggle, and Triumph to Inspire You

In Japan, there’s a concept known as wabi-sabi.

Not to be confused with our favorite sushi condiment, wabi-sabi is a celebration of the value of imperfection. It sees the cracks and flaws as something to be treasured—rather than something to fix or address.

definition of wabi-sabi the beauty of imperfection

I first encountered wabi-sabi during a search for interior design schemes for my home. But I quickly discovered that this idea of celebrating imperfection extended to more than just an ornately repaired bowl or a chipped wooden table. It resonated across everything. Work, personal and professional relationships, health…I could see the value of wabi-sabi everywhere.

Let’s be honest: we’re obsessed with being perfect. 

This chase for perfection can be toxic. It causes us to act out of a place of fear in everything we do, whether it’s public speaking or the need to say and do the right thing in front of others. And left unchecked, it can lead to even bigger mental health challenges like imposter syndrome, anxiety, or depression.


Here’s the thing though: We’re NOT perfect 

Nobody—not you, me, or anyone else—is absolutely perfect. Not by a long shot. Not even the person you know who always dresses on point, appears unnecessarily intelligent, and is good at every single thing in the world.

We all have made mistakes and will continue to make mistakes. We’ll say the wrong things, do the wrong things, disappoint people, and disappoint ourselves. It’s all part of being human.


When you recognize that nobody is perfect, it’s insanely liberating. It takes the pressure off needing to be the best and never failing—giving you the courage and space to grow, create deeper and more meaningful relationships, and embrace more experiences. 

So, in celebration of all things imperfection and wabi-sabi, here are five stories of people who embraced their vulnerability, mistakes, and flaws—and emerged much stronger for it.


Brené Brown and the power of vulnerability

I can’t talk about imperfection without mentioning Brené Brown. 

A researcher and a storyteller, Brené delivered a game-changing TED talk in 2010 about the power of vulnerability which has since been viewed more than 58 million times. In her talk, Brene speaks about how her desire to research human connection led her on a personal path to embrace her own vulnerability.

Raised in a “suck it up and get it done” family, Brene spent years trying to outrun her imperfections and outsmart her vulnerability—causing her to try and make everything in life certain and definite. When she started conducting her academic research, she set out to understand and quantify human connection in tangible terms. To organize it into a “code” for everyone to see.

After speaking to thousands of people, Brene had folders upon folders of stories about connection and disconnection. But only one variable separated the people who had a strong sense of love and connection and those who struggled for it: the former believed they were worthy of belonging. 

When she dug even deeper, she found two common threads in the first group:

  1. They had a sense of courage and bravery, and 
  2. They embraced vulnerability.

As someone who had rejected vulnerability her whole life, this led Brene to have a “little breakdown” (her words, not mine). She spent the next couple of years trying to understand her personal struggle with vulnerability and quickly discovered that she wasn’t alone. 

Everyone out there was trying to hide their vulnerable side. 

They were scared to ask for help. Scared to show weakness or imperfection. Scared of not having all the answers. And this fear was leading to a society where people blame others, try to fix every flaw, act out of fear, and avoid pain.

What became even more apparent to Brene is that in numbing our vulnerability, we were also numbing ourselves to joy, gratitude, and happiness.

This led Brene to completely change the way she thought about vulnerability. She challenged her perceptions and, instead of rejecting imperfection, embraced it—and called on others around the world to do the same. Unsurprisingly, her story of vulnerability has resonated with millions around the world and led countless people to change their thinking, from Oprah to Tim Ferris. 

To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen … to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee—and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult—to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, ‘Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?’ just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, ‘I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.’ And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough. Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, ‘I’m enough’ … then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

Brene Brown

Imad Elabdala’s story of resilience and vulnerability

Like so many of us, Imad Elabdala was taught that we should want to be better—and that to become better, we have to set goals, focus on our skills, make use of our strengths, ignore our vulnerabilities, achieve our goals, and become happy. But his story of triumph is the exact opposite of that tale.

Imad arrived in Sweden as a Syrian refugee in 2013. A trained engineer, he expected to slot perfectly into his new life and hit the ground running. He had a great job, traveled to exciting places, and discovered new experiences. On the surface, everything looked rosy. Yet, in the evenings, he would suffer panic attacks—a result of PTSD from his experiences from the war in Syria.

To deal with his trauma, Iman knew he would need to spend time with a therapist and potentially take months off work. However, he still struggled to let go of the perception that showing vulnerability and admitting his struggles was a weakness. He put on a brave face during the day and night, but started studying psychology and therapy techniques at night to implement them on himself. 

This approach worked, and a year later, he overcame his PTSD and achieved balance. But he didn’t stop there. In his willingness to accept and embrace his vulnerability, Iman wanted to help others do the same—especially refugee children, many of whom probably didn’t have the same access to tools and knowledge he did. Eventually, Iman would found Hero2B, a non-profit that aids young refugee children to overcome challenges with mental health and build a healthy outlook.

Sir Richard Branson’s tale of overcoming the odds

I’m not the only person who’s a fan of Sir Richard Branson, and for good reason. The British billionaire has had just a few successes in life, including founding the mega-successful Virgin Group, making the Time 100 Most Influential People in the World list, and being the third oldest person to fly to space.

But what I didn’t know was that Richard Branson has dyslexia.

When Branson was in school, he struggled to follow what was going on. He dropped out at age 15, and went on to create multiple businesses before founding Virgin Records in the 1970s. As his business grew, Branson learned to focus on his strengths, admit his shortcomings, and delegate tasks to others. This meant owning his flaws and trusting others to do a lot of the reading, writing, and accounting while he focused on the creative and strategic side of the business.

Surprisingly, this has been a huge part of Virgin’s success. Branson would have others read the company’s marketing materials back to him, and he would only keep those that he could understand quickly. This meant that everything Virgin put out was sharp, easy to understand, and highly memorable. 

Even though he’s continually adding to his meteoric list of achievements, Richard Branson still remains open about his weaknesses. He isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and puts his imperfections on the table, using them to make his team stronger by hiring people who complement his abilities.

sir richard branson imperfection quote


Tina Fey’s ability to turn mistakes into opportunities

Who doesn’t love Tina Fey? There are many reasons that Tina Fey is so likable, but one of the biggest is the fact that she’s so vulnerable and open about her flaws.

Tina Fey started her career as an improv comic, which meant she had to get used to slipping up on a public platform. Rather than try to nail every joke, she embraced mistakes as part of her comedic persona—and has publicly said that some of her best jokes have come out of mistakes.

In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world’s greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox. 

—Tina Fey 

Even her 30 Rock character, Liz Lemon, embraces her imperfections and navigates life with a clumsy vulnerability—and Tina Fey won a Primetime Emmy for it. And let’s be honest, if the Emmys are celebrating imperfection, I’m here for it. 


Lizzo’s journey of self-love

Lizzo is one of the biggest artists of the moment. However, that doesn’t mean that she’s perfect. In fact, the musician has been extremely candid about how her rise to fame has been a double-edged sword—particularly on social media.

Like anyone in the spotlight, Lizzo has received her fair share of haters on social media. People have commented on everything, from her music to her makeup and her body. Rather than try to be stoic and put on a happy face, Lizzo openly admits that these comments hurt—showing that even the most confident among us struggle as well.

I’m putting so much loving energy into the world, and sometimes I feel like the world just doesn’t love me back. It’s like it doesn’t matter how much positive energy you put into the world, you’re still gonna have people who have something mean to say about you.


She hasn’t let this stop her, though. Lizzo keeps giving back good vibes and celebrating body positivity in any way she can—whether that’s creating infectiously catchy tunes, or a reality show about her hunt for curvy backup dancers for her next tour.


At the end of the day, perfection doesn’t exist

It’s just this idea in our heads that tells us what we “should” be while causing us to ignore all the beautiful things around us. When we constantly chase an unattainable standard of perfection, we miss out on a whole plethora of experiences, opportunities, and connections that make up this wonderful thing called life.

The next time you start beating yourself up over a mistake or worried about having a few hairs out of place, stop. Be kind to yourself, and let the little (and big) mistakes go. Believe me—you’ll be better off for it.