My six-year-old Siena just finished her school year, and on the last day of school, her adorable little Waldorf school in Sausalito held a performance to showcase the musical talents of the children.  Six-year-olds who had only been playing the violin for six months played their instruments.  Two youngsters played the harp. Eleven-year-olds sang risky, fabulous, brave solos (Adele’s Rolling In The Deep! Whoa…) Seventh graders rocked the guitar, the drums, and every possible orchestral instrument while playing Taio Cruz’s Dynamite.  And the whole school – kindergarten through seventh grade together – sang a capella.

It was precious.

As we all danced, clapped, sang along, and celebrated the musical talents of each other and our children, I noticed one precious thing that separates this nurturing Waldorf school from how I felt growing up. Nobody expects anyone else to be perfect.

They Didn’t Perform Perfectly

Some of the children missed their notes on their instruments. Some sang off-key. Some failed to hit the high notes. Some forgot the words or missed their cue.

And we just clapped louder because we were so proud that they were brave enough to risk it, up there in public, on stage where everyone could witness their imperfections. We were more impressed by the courage it takes to put yourself out there than we were by the remarkable abilities our children possess.

Somehow, as a child, I never felt like I had permission to be imperfect, much less that anyone would ever celebrate my imperfections. I didn’t have a Tiger Mom pressuring me to be perfect, and the public school I attended was excellent. I don’t remember any knuckle-smacking or public shaming of me if I was ever imperfect.

But I didn’t grow up feeling like my daughter does, that it’s more important to sing loudly than to sing perfectly, and that’s it more important to play the game than to win.

The Russians

The day after my daughter’s performance, I found myself sitting in a circle of hot, twenty-something Russian men, while they passed around my guitar and lustily sang in their native Russian. They were not self-conscious about how perfect they sounded. Perhaps it was fueled by the beers, but they didn’t seem to care if their performances were Grammy worthy. They were just reveling in the opportunity to sing their songs in community with the rest of us, who applauded and begged for encores.

Unlike some gatherings, where people seem shy to let their voices be heard or resist making the music that lives in their hearts, these Russians were really living. With their music echoing against the backdrop of the sun setting into the Pacific Ocean, it was a beauty to behold.

What If The World Celebrated Courage More Than Perfection?

What if all children were raised to seek achievement, but not to attach to it? What if our teachers pushed the boundaries of our talents and intellects, without shaming us, degrading us, or punishing us if we performed imperfectly? What if we were encouraged to go beyond the realms of our comfort zones, to push the envelope so far that we’re bound to be imperfect because we’re risking so much? What if we could learn a few lessons from the hot, young Russians?

When I was a child playing the violin, I remember being told that I shouldn’t perform the piece I really wanted to perform because I hadn’t nailed it yet. Instead, I was told to play the piece I had perfected – the boring, trite, overdone Suzuki piece every violin student had played because it was easy to perfect.

I didn’t want to play that piece. I wanted to take a risk. I wanted to try to nail the tough piece on stage, in front of hundreds of people. But my teacher wouldn’t let me. “You’ll look bad,” she told me, but I now wonder if she really meant “You’ll make ME look bad.”

Are You Willing to Risk Being Imperfect?

Do you push the envelope? Test the limits of your abilities? Go beyond the safe zone?

Do you value and celebrate courage in others, even if they’re imperfect? Do you celebrate yourself when you’re brave enough to put yourself out there?

Tell us what you think.

Pushing the limits,

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  1. Amy Miyamoto

    First congrats on the move Lissa! It is so interesting what you share about growing up feeling like there was no room for imperfection. I had a similar experience and also did not have overly pressuring parents. I gather there may be something more collective at work because many of my girlfriends have expressed similar feelings over the years.
    My girls also attend a Waldorf inspired charter school and the environment you describe was very much at the heart of our decision to send them there. I look forward to more fire and light from you over here at your new web abode!

  2. Lissa Rankin, MD

    Thank you Amy! Funny how we put this pressure on ourselves. It can be exhausting!

    Welcome to the new site and thank you for being one of the first to comment!
    Much love

  3. Amy Miyamoto

    It is a delightful honor to be one of your first commenters.

    P.S. There is some serious gold in “them there” “Renaissance Soul” hills!!! I know -I am one as well. I will have to connect with you more on this topic… I predict it will continue to play an increasing role in the many dramatic shifts we are seeing across the culture! Fun times indeed for living and loving fearlessly!!! 😉

  4. Vivella

    Hi Lissa, your new website is wonderful, so much to read! I just want to thank you for the daily Pilot Light I receive, you have no idea how much it helps and what it means, particularly when life has been more full of ‘downs’ than ‘ups’. At times when days have been particularly challenging, it can often be the only inspiration and hope, and I have been wanting to tell you for a long time that what you do means SO much to some of us.
    Wishing you love and light!

  5. Suzy Carroll

    I love it! Clean, easy to navigate, comfortable, cozy and beautifully represents all the value you offer to the world! Congratulations!

  6. Lissa Rankin, MD

    Thank you all, and especially you Vivella, for reminding me that what I create touches real, live hearts. May your Inner Pilot Light always shine bright.

    And I’m so glad the rest of you are here! Warms MY heart to see you here in this new space.

    With love

  7. Janice

    Brava Lissa! I love the new site. Looks great m feels fresh and expansive…yay, happy dance for you.

  8. Julie

    Love the new site – I love when I find sites that are so similar to something that I would have designed, it always makes my heart smile 🙂

    I love this post, I remember feeling the pressure to be perfect as a child too, and I didn’t get it from my parents. I’m sure it carries over into my adult life – UGH! So happy to hear that there are schools that are encouraging children to take risks- Yay!!

  9. Ellen

    I love this post! To add to your enchantment with the Russians, I’m living down in Ecuador and I’ve got to say, when I first arrived (years ago) I just loved the way everyone would sing – regardless of talent or perfection – and how everyone else loves it! It’s not uncommon at all during social gatherings for someone to take out a guitar, flute, etc and everyone to just join in. On the eve of Mother’s Day it’s customary for sons to serenade their moms outside their windows. It’s just so fun (and freeing!).

    On another note, I’d like to second Vivella’s comment above. There have been mornings when the Daily Flame has brought me to tears…and other mornings that it’s lit my fire!!! I thank you! ♥

    Lissa, I love your new site. All the best to you!


  10. Lissa Rankin, MD

    Many thanks. It warms my heart to see you all over here, and I hope you’ll continue to find inspiration from, The Daily Flame, and whatever else I put out into the world.

    Super grateful,

  11. Ranay

    Congrat’s on your new site!

    You are an awesome healer in many ways…..Thank you!

    I don’t comment often, just have to say “The Daily Flame” puts a smile on my face at times! (As that little glow rises up again 🙂 I can feel the embers!

    Very Happy for You!! Owning Pink is Awesome too!

    Your’re an Awesome Doc!
    Keep up the Great Work(s)!

    (And…yeah! “Awesome” is a favorite word of mine right now hehe!)

    All my best!

    Love and light,


  12. Linda

    This article brings up a lot of emotion for me as I was that protege piano student (my mother’s wannabe pianist) and I was never allowed any imperfection in my music. I no longer play nor do I sing and just the other day I was realizing how long it’s been since I sang, and I’m a fairly happy person.

    Thank goodness that I had had this experience when my son showed musical promise. I remember his first audition and I stepped waaaayyyyy back. The good news was, that the school he was applying to didn’t allow the parents into auditions anyhow, but reflecting on the perfection that was put on me around my music, I decided to not do that to my son. He no longer plays his guitar, but I know that it’s not because he was shamed into perfection and that one day when he decides to revisit it, he will because he wants to and will have a past of non-judgmental praise.

    In the meanwhile, I’ll continue pondering when and where I might engage myself with my music again. Yes indeed, it would have been a perfect world without the expectation of perfection, but what’s the sense of all of that? You would not be you, nor would I be me.

  13. Lissa Rankin, MD

    Ranay, Lovely to hear your awesome voice here! So glad the Daily Flame touches you.

    And Linda, I do hope some day you will play the song in your heart again…

    Much love

  14. Sofia

    OMGosh, Lissa, this blog post couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for ME. I have an 8 year old daughter who has been playing Suzuki Violin since she was 5. She’s AWESOME, and I am not saying that because I am her mother, she just has a natural talent for it, a great ear and NO FEAR to perform in front of others!!! She so does not get that from me. I have 10-12 years of violin lessons under my belt and when her Suzuki teacher asked if I would perform a duet with my daughter two years ago I nearly passed out, but I did it because I didn’t want my daughter to develop the same fear I have of not doing it PERFECTLY. So two years later she is in Violin Summer Camp, having a blast, learning to play with an orchestra, a little frustrated because she hasn’t learned to read notes, yet, but can play the music because after a few days of hearing it ~ well, her ear is that GOOD. So what do I spy as I am waiting for her to get out of camp on Tuesday, but a flier for a camp for Adults to play in ensembles ~ Amateurs.

    You asked . . .

    Are You Willing to Risk Being Imperfect?

    Do you push the envelope? Test the limits of your abilities? Go beyond the safe zone?

    And now I must ask myself how much do I love playing the violin and wish every single day that I could play with my h.s. orchestra again or find some small group to play with???? This is my chance, isn’t it, Lissa?
    The universe is speaking to me through you in an undeniable way!!! So I put a call out to the woman who is running the camp to chat it up with her and find out if you can be as Amateur as I am, but in my heart I already know the answer, of course it is for me because it is so BEYOND MY SAFE ZONE . . .

    Most Gratefully & Willing to risk being IMPERFECT,

  15. Cindy @

    I loved your post Lissa,
    I have two daughters in the Calgary Waldorf School – 11 years now with one year left. It’s been an incredibly nurturing experience not just for them, but for the parent community as well, a learning experience for all of us. Thank you for your sharing.

  16. Lissa Rankin, MD

    You must MADE MY DAY! You go girl! Grab that violin and play it- perfectly or imperfectly- with the whole heart of a fearless child, just for the joy of your love of music.

    I’m super duper proud of you!

    • Sofia

      Just an update. I sent in my registration and check for Adult Violin Camp! No, turning back now, scary . . .

  17. April

    beautiful piece, lissa
    (thank you!)

  18. Mary

    Lissa, I’m so happy that you started your new website to showcase yourself! I am always inspired by you and your courage. The website is wonderful, congratulations! And, as always, your articles seem to come at the exact right time for me! I have been putting off starting my life coaching practice until…. There is always some new until. Even though I know I don’t need my MFT license, which I’ll be getting soon anyway, I don’t need to okay of my supervisor (although I love her and she is thrilled with it), I don’t need my program to be perfect, and I don’t need to worry about whether anyone will show up or not. I need to trust in myself to put myself out there, or I will never start. What a waste that would be! On Monday I have a business meeting, and I am going to be brave and put myself out there, perfect or not!

  19. Lissa Rankin, MD

    Sofia, YOU GO GIRL!!!!
    So proud of you!
    Much love


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