I concede that I may be a little biased, but I think my dining room table is among the most beautiful pieces of furniture I have ever seen. I love its rich colors, varying textures, and—most of all—its unique backstory.
While you may be able to find tables at Pottery Barn or Crate & Barrel that are similar in appearance, none of them possess an accompanying backstory like mine.
In the book Building Good Teammates, I write about my unusual childhood. My family ran a hotel in the Allegheny Mountains that was built to resemble an ocean liner. In its heyday, the S.S. Grandview Ship Hotel welcomed the who’s who of the world’s rich and famous.
Charlie Chaplin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Greta Garbo, President Calvin Coolidge, and many others partied on the hotel’s famous wooden decks during their stays.
Sadly, the hotel fell into disrepair and burned down in 2001. But before its demise, I managed to salvage several boards from the ship’s main deck and used them to build my dining room table.
We recently had people over to our house for dinner. One of our guests, Ben, who is of Japanese descent, was particularly fascinated by our table.
A sign hanging in our dining room lists the names of famous people, including those mentioned above, who have “walked on our table.” The sign is intended to be a tongue-in-cheek way of prompting further conversation about the table’s origins. Ben didn’t seem impressed by nor interested in the sign. He just kept smiling, stroking his hand across the top of the table, while softly repeating, “Wabi-sabi.”
I didn’t understand what he was saying. To me, it sounded like “wasabi” or “white sake.” I felt inclined to tell Ben that we weren’t going to be serving either of those at diner. He laughed and then repeated himself again in a slow, over-enunciated, elongated manner: “No, waaaaabbbbiiii-sssssaaaabbbbiii.”
He explained that wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that translates into beauty being found through imperfection.
The deck boards, now more than 100 years old, used to construct the table are riddled with hundreds of nail holes, nicks, cracks, and stains, all of which contribute to the table’s rustic beauty. Without those imperfections, the table wouldn’t be nearly as striking.
The concept of wabi-sabi applies to the art of being a good teammate. Apart from their unwavering desire to serve the best interests of their team, good teammates are not perfect. They have flaws, shortcomings, and weaknesses. And they sometimes make mistakes.
Their beauty, however, is found in their ability to own their flaws, overcome their shortcomings, work on their weaknesses, and evolve from their mistakes.
Good teammates embrace their imperfections and the imperfections of their fellow teammates. Bear in mind that embracing an imperfection isn’t the same as tolerating behaviors that are counter to the team’s culture.
Artist Leonard Koren described wabi-sabi as appreciating “the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” Koren’s description captures both the resilience and continuous evolution of good teammates—individuals who understand that which does not kill can not only make you stronger but can also make you beautiful.
As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.
(*By the way, the above photo is a close-up of the boards on used on the top of my dining room table. The overlaying symbols are the Japanese characters for wabi-sabi.)