The pink-haired, sweatshirt-wearing person who was sitting near the back started her question during the Q&A with… “I understand the value of being authentic”, but then paused to ask, “what if my authentic had shameful stories…”. She mentioned AA, and wondered aloud… “what good are my faults”.
The question reminds me of a term a friend, Wendy Clark shared about flaws, flawsome…used to describe something that is awesome because of its flaw. Or what Leonard Cohen said about brokenness: “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.
We understand these ideas in theory, but when it comes to ourselves, it’s hard — if not impossible– to embrace. We are quite often ashamed at these experiences.
Which is why we ask others the question, “can I actually be me, even as I am ‘flawed’?”
The bio-scientist who said she hid her deeply spiritual yogi part of herself, lest her scientist peers think she’s “soft”. The engineering type, whose librarian mom taught him about how much access to information enables social equality, doesn’t talk to why he cares about building non-proprietary storage solutions (lest his industry reject him). The banker who has a ground-breaking idea to serve those who are gouged with 5–10% surcharges at check-cashing places refuses to share her idea with her peers because it would reveal she had grown up poor.
Some of these aren’t things I can name as “flaws” but was how people shared them with me. (Some of this is internalized hate, judging ourselves by cultural norms when it’s the cultural norms that need to change…but that’s a story for another day).
We all want to be seen for ourselves, to add our bit to the world based on what only we see. To be fully authentic and valued for it. But we also fear sharing ALL of who we are, lest it isolates us from our peers.
So, we resist our flaws and faults, and resist sharing these stories…because we can’t see how the “flaws” serve us, (or our teams, or the world, for that matter).
I Give You Your Faults
This week, Wrinkle in Time’s movie adaptation will be released. As a book I read and re-read while growing up, I can’t wait to see what Ava Duvernay does to bring the book to life on the big screen. One passage I regularly return to is this:
“To you, Meg, I give you your faults.”
“My faults!” Meg cried.
“But I’m always trying to get rid of my faults!”
“Yes,” Mrs. Whatsit said. “However, I think you’ll find they’ll come in very handy on Camazotz.”
I almost referenced this specific passage to the answer the question of the pink-haired attendee.
Because the dialogue offers us the clue: “I think you’ll find they’ll come in handy”. Mrs. Whatsit was saying Meg’s flaws DID matter, and it was up to Meg to understand how to draw meaning from them. And she does. She uses her flaws to be a warrior.
And that’s why I think we resist our faults.
Not because we hate them perse, but because we don’t understand how to draw meaning from them. Your onlyness comes (partly) from your wounds. It does not heal it, but makes sense of it. Your flaws can give your life it’s meaning.
Indicates What You Most Seek
I have already shared with you that I got kicked out of my house when I was 18 years old. Not because I was trying to avoid an arranged marriage perse, because I had accepted that as a fait accompli by age 5. But I yearned for an education and my family was unwilling to include that request to the groom, so I pulled a stunt to negotiate with my mom, using the line, “I am the product” and thinking there’s no way that could go wrong.
But, it boomeranged back to cause me to lose everything. Everything — home, family, community — all gone in one quick poof. Though it is likely that the groom would have ultimately granted my education request, I didn’t want to risk it. I just …couldn’t. I was, to name a big fault of mine, impatient. I was also deeply aware that education is one major scaffolding that lets one set the direction of one’s own life.
My fault — impatience — also showed me what I seek, that equal footing. I didn’t want to wait because I didn’t think I should have to. And from that I have learned this many years later that I am willing and even able to challenge the status quo for that chance to have the same footing as others who are able to set the course of their own life. And it’s my life’s work today, to see if equality can happen not at a snails pace but in time to active the lives of so many alive today. My impatience for fighting for something is something I deeply wish I didn’t have, it causes friction with others I sit with, who are willing to “let it happen naturally” or think it’s a small problem.
What Could It Be?
So that is what we can ask ourselves:
If this flaw is there for a reason, what could that be?
Th flawed experience of drug use can be about pain-numbing because work sucks (it’s not a secret that 87% of people hate their jobs according to the latest surveys). So perhaps the audience member could help organizations and their leaders with their pain of work sucking. She could it from the deep understanding that most organizations are set up to put the fire out of people, not to fire them up. Or hide from their failures and flaws rather than using those stories to build a connection with customers. One’s faults can be put to use, to serve others.
So, like Mrs. Whatsit did to Meg, I do to you. I give you your faults, and I ask you…what could be the meaning of them for you and your work? Leave your response in the comments below.
If your life has meaning, it’s because you have defined the meaning of your life. This is your work to do. But it’s you when you do it, you’ll become a force of change.
(This post originally appeared on Medium. It had a different story in the version posted March 8. It turns out, I got many of the original story details wrong, and hurt the person I was inspired by. I’ve privately apologized to him, and publicly apologize here.)