Kintsugi: The art of embracing damage.

Is it possible to be more beautiful in the broken places?

Recently, I sent a message to my friend who was struggling, in hopes of lifting her spirits.

My friend had been feeling down. Defeated. Convinced that she wasn’t capable or deserving of success. I knew better, of course. I’ve known her more than half my life. I’ve watched her rise from an aspiring writer to international best selling author. Countless reasons, I could offer, as to why she’s more than capable and perfectly deserving of success.  With indignance, I wanted to shout at her, “You’re already successful! Do you know how many people would dream to live your life for even just one day?”

I had really good intentions that day. It was a thrill, in fact, to think that I could be of help to a hero. Here was little old regular me, being asked to Help…Fix…Repair…Heal…this amazing role model of mine, who happened to be struggling. Being able to nurture and support this person who has served as a model of excellence for me for decades. Here was my chance to make a difference!

And the way I chose to help this supersuccessful person to feel better? I denied her feelings. Not a good thing, turns out.

I countered every single negative thought she was having with a reason why she was wrong and “should feel great” or “ought to forgive” herself or “was being too hard” on herself.

Thinking I was helping, actually I was making it worse. I took away her right to suffer. In fact, I teetered on the cusp of shaming her for feeling down.

With all the best intentions, I missed the whole point. She was feeling broken and needed to let the pieces fall on the floor in front of her.

Realizing that I was making things worse by only focusing on the sunny side and by denying her need to feel broken and fall apart, I suddenly remembered a concept I once heard about the importance of being able to “fall into” pain rather than simply denying it. This concept, I was now remembering, was about honoring and highlighting the broken parts. Drawing attention to the damage, even!

So, what is this radical-acceptance-like process of honoring and even highlighting our failures and broken parts?

It’s called Kintsugi, and it’s a beautiful way of turning damage into beauty.

The Japanese practice of “kintsugi” is the art of embracing damage. Check out this Kintsugi video:

“Now you shall transform to a new level, my friend. Think wabi-sabi and kintsugi: the art of embracing damage!”

Now remembering this concept of being stronger in the broken places, I stopped my barrage of “happy thoughts” and apologized mid-conversation to my friend. I acknowledged that I’d been trying to deny the fact that she felt broken. I was trying to pretend the cracks weren’t there. I told her that I’d suddenly remembered this Japanese art of Kintsugi, and that I would send her a video to illustrate the concept right away. We ended the conversation awkardly, and I seriously questioned whether I knew how to be a good friend.

Pushing past my disappointment in myself, I sent her the Kintsugi video, hoping that she was still open to my support, even after I’d botched and Pollyanna’d my way through our earlier conversation. After I sent the note and video link, I started to question myself.

“Who am I to tell this highly successful and internationally recognized thought leader how to live?”

“Why do I always appoint myself as the ambassador of all that is positive?”

“What if she resents my message and sees it as patronizing?”

There I was, spiraling to all my places in my head where my own brokenness lurks.

Worrying about how my friend might feel after I’d missed the point with her suffering, I was spinning in my own broken parts, thinking…

I’ve spent my whole life embracing the broken, the not quite, and the almost…

  • Saving birds with broken wings
  • Fixing toys with broken parts
  • Cheering for the underdog
  • Coaching those who don’t yet believe in themselves
  • Coaxing sunshine from clouds

Just as my negative self-talk was reaching a fervent pitch in my head, the phone rang.

There was my friend, laugh-crying through the phone line, telling me how she finally felt understood. The video just spoke to her. Captured her. She told me how she felt connected to this concept of embracing damage. How she IS kintsugi. How this concept of mending the broken pieces with gold and proudly displaying them was exactly what she’d needed. It was a great moment, and not just because my friend was feeling better or because I’d been able to help her. It was a great moment because she and I were creating Kintsugi in real time. We were piecing back together a set of broken shards of a conversation and making the resulting product even better than when we’d started.

I knew on that day that I would never look at broken pottery in the same way again.

Now, whenever either of us faces a rough patch in life, or when things fall apart altogether, a single word helps us both begin to put the pieces back together and to anticipate an even more beautiful outcome than the original situation could have intended.


Embracing the damage. More beautiful in the broken places.


Get a Sponsor – Be a Sponsor


You might wonder what is the difference between a Mentor and a Sponsor.

MENTOR: A mentor is someone who helps you “in the room” – directly guiding, listening, coaching, and supporting you in your development.

SPONSOR; A sponsor is someone who helps you when you’re not in the room — indirectly championing your reputation, opportunities, and directly saying your name in the right moments to the right people.

So, you want a “Sponsor” to help you succeed in your career?

First, choose someone that you would like to speak on your behalf when you’re not in the room. Then, be courageous to ask them directly to be a sponsor!

Here are three things to request from your Sponsor:

  1. SAY MY NAME: “I would love for you to say my name when you see opportunities to highlight my value in your interactions with others.”
  2. TICKET TO THE GAME: “Would you be willing to bring me to your _____ meeting so I can see how you lead?”
  3. SHARE YOUR FAME: “May I ask you to lend your credibility/relationship with ______ to help me make a connection with him/her?”

Learning: A Strategic Advantage

Learn Your Way to the Top.

two man and two woman standing on green grass field

Photo by on

Are you looking for a secret sauce to give your organization an advantage in a dynamic marketplace? Look to learning.

The concept of transforming businesses by building a true learning culture is not new. But what is new is the wave of recent examples where companies like  Box, Vanguard, and Getty Images are maximizing productivity and innovation through training by fostering a digital lifelong learning and training ecosystem.

How do great companies drive business growth through learning?

Look out

Study the habits of successful leaders and what the companies they run are doing. You’ll see a theme in their focus on dedicating time and energy to learning as an integral part of doing business, In these spaces, training is not just a compliance-driven, LMS box-checking bolt-on that requires “time out” from work. Learning is a seamless, integrated function that not only supports the business, it IS the business.

For example, Getty Images uses “WeLearn Wednesdays” where their Chief HR Officer shares what he is learning every Wednesday by posting a photo of himself learning at his stand-up desk. He then urges everyone to enroll and spend an hour taking a course and share what they’ve learned.

Lead in

There is magic in the idea of enlisting “internal faculty” to help make innovation a part of how business is done every day. Taking time out to foster learning circles – small, cross-functional groups of business leaders who assemble to learn, grow and problem-solve together – pays for itself in multiple ways: better ideas, better engagement, better solutions.

A learning culture creates a strategic advantage that serves as a force multiplier.

According to ‘Creating a Culture of Innovation’ by ‘,’ and ‘Six Ways Leaders can Build a Culture of Innovation’ by ‘talent culture,’ two leading voices for 21st century innovation, creating an innovative culture requires a workplace that allows for the following five conditions:

  1. Dedicating time for creative projects
  2. Rewarding innovation and divergent ideas
  3. Empowering employees to make decisions
  4. Allowing for failure
  5. Measuring what matters most

I would argue that each of these five conditions can be enhanced with a focus on learning —- allowing and encouraging your team to explore and grow through learning.

Want to transform your organization through Learning?

Check out this compelling “open letter to business leaders,” written by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmonson and Chan Zuckerberg Initiative VP of Learning Bror Saxberg. They create a compelling case to make learning a corporate priority: