Brighten Youth Education Centre



Educational success and the art of kintsugi


This is the time of year when a lot of people out there are waiting for things. They’re waiting on exam results, UCAS forms, US college applications, postgrad programs, all kinds of things. Yet within that excitement, there is bound to be disappointment. Not everyone out there will get the results they feel they need, or a place on the program they want. That’s why this week we’d like to share with you the Japanese philosophical approaches surrounding kinstugi, in the hope that it will allow you to contextualise potential failure and make a productive plan for future progress.

Kintsugi represents a Zen approach to ceramics in which damaged or broken items are repaired with great care, using gold and lacquer. No effort is made to conceal the damage. Instead, the beautiful cracks are emphasised. It is said to have originated in the 15th Century when shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favourite tea bowl. Cracks in kintsugi have a philosophical function, reminding us that over time, inevitable setbacks and accidents will occur, yet we must value that which is damaged, scarred and imperfect, starting with ourselves and those around us. Akin to the notion of wabi-sabi, which values that which is aged and unpretentious, kintsugi reminds us to modify our expectations of perfection in both our work and personal life.

In an age that batters on our consciousness with demands for novelty and perfection, it is more important than ever to examine our own lives in terms of kintsugi. Perfection is an illusion, and you are going to have setbacks. Refinement comes in how you deal with those setbacks. Grades not high enough? Ask when the next test is so you can begin preparing, or ask if your teacher with accept extra-credit reports. Failed to get a place at the university you want? Consider taking a year out to do some internship and perhaps resit some exams. Missed out on the internship you wanted? Start searching the Internet for some more. Feel like your friends are always enjoying successes that are denied to you? Think about your work habits, and why that might be, but ultimately recognise that the world is too big to compete with everybody and the only person you need to be better than is the person you are right now.

Holding yourself to an impossible idea of perfection, particularly in academic terms, is pointless. There is no perfection. Instead focus on what you are good at and enjoy. This is not an excuse to slack off, merely a way of looking at the world to enjoy better mental health and a more productive response to setbacks. Resilience is not something that’s taught to young people in any systematic way, yet we all know that it can be one of life’s most useful lessons.


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