Are you always trying to achieve more? Submerged in the everyday agony to accomplish everything in possessions, relationships and career achievements, you try so hard to be perfect, that you forget to embrace the moment. This is why the Japanese philosophy is here with another life lesson: Wabi Sabi.
abi-sabi offers an escape from the modern world’s obsession with perfection, which adds to stress and anxiety, and accepts imperfections as all the more meaningful – and, in their own way, beautiful. Whether personal or professional, the concept is teaching us to embrace the imperfection of life.
What is Wabi Sabi?
The concept was first seen in the 15th century as a reaction to the lavish and ornate art styles of the time. The term “Wabi Sabi” originates from two Japanese words:
- “Wabi,” which means simplicity and humility. Wabi emphasizes spiritual richness over the vanity of materialism.
- “Sabi,” which means the beauty that comes with age and wear. Sabi invites us to see that beauty is hidden beneath the surface of what we actually see.
Combined, they describe the aesthetic of finding beauty in the imperfect, the impermanent, and the incomplete. Its aesthetics include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and the appreciation of nature.
Although Wabi Sabi emphasizes the beauty of imperfection, asymmetry, and irregularity in natural materials, such as wood, stone, and ceramics, the term has evolved into a broader philosophy that can be applied to many aspects of life.
A well-known example of Wabi Sabi
Think of a bowl that has been dropped onto the floor and broke into pieces. What would you do with it? You’d most probably throw these pieces away. However, derived from Wabi Sabi, the Japanese concept of Kintsugi says the pieces of broken pottery should be glued back together with liquid gold. This will give the bowl its original shape, but with visible golden “scars”. This is what Wabi Sabi stands for: there is beauty in broken things because scars tell a story.
How does Wabi Sabi apply to business?
- In the business context, Wabi Sabi can provide a refreshing perspective on the pursuit of perfection and the constant pressure to be flawless by encouraging business leaders and employees to embrace imperfection and appreciate the value that can be found in authenticity.
- Wabi Sabi refers to avoiding the temptation to overcomplicate things or chase after the latest trends. By focusing on what truly matters, businesses can create a more meaningful and impactful presence in their industry.
- Wabi Sabi in a business context means valuing the unique skills, talents, and experiences that each employee brings to the table, even if they don’t fit neatly into a specific mold or set of expectations. By embracing imperfection and diversity, businesses can create a more dynamic and innovative workplace.
Wabi Sabi and mental health
Wabi-sabi has been evoked in a mental health context as a helpful concept for reducing perfectionist thinking. From this perspective, it can be a valuable tool for promoting self-acceptance and reducing the anxiety of constant perfectionism. Applying the principles of Wabi Sabi to everyday life can help reduce everyday stress and burnout.
In addition, Wabi Sabi also emphasizes the importance of mindfulness and living in the moment. By focusing on the present and appreciating the beauty of imperfection, Wabi Sabi encourages people to slow down and appreciate the small moments in life.
Finally, self-compassion is an important element of wabi-sabi, as it encourages individuals to be kind and compassionate to themselves, especially during times of difficulty or struggle. This can help improve self-esteem and reduce stress.
Wabi Sabi at work: Lessons for business leaders
While the concept is mostly known for providing a line of aesthetics in interior house design, the idea of finding beauty in the flaws can be applied also in the workplace:
- Embrace imperfection: Instead of striving for perfection, people can focus on doing their best with the resources and time available to them. This can help reduce stress and increase creativity, as employees are not afraid to take risks and make mistakes.
- Appreciate simplicity: Wabi Sabi offers a great line for simplifying processes and procedures in the workplace. This can help reduce waste, increase productivity, and reduce distractions. Encourage employees to find beauty in the simple and ordinary things in life, such as a handwritten note or a cup of tea.
- Value authenticity: Authenticity is a key component of Wabi Sabi. Encouraging people to be true to themselves and their values can create a sense of honesty and transparency in the workplace, which can improve communication and build trust among employees. This is a great way to psychological safety at work, the key ingredient of successful organizations with high retention rates.
- Instill sustainability mentality: Wabi Sabi is fully aligned with nature. Encourage employees to consider the environmental impact of their work and to find ways to reduce waste and conserve resources. This can include using sustainable materials, reducing paper use, and recycling.
- Create a calm and peaceful workplace: This can include incorporating natural elements such as plants and natural light, using calming colors, and creating quiet spaces for meditation or relaxation. This can be at the office environment, as well as at home as a working environment.