Editor’s Note: Grace Ueng is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003.  Her great passion to help leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential combined with her empathy and ability to help leaders figure out their “why” is what clients value most.  Grace writes a regular column for WRAL TechWire. 


RALEIGH – I recently discovered the fascinating art of Kintsugi.  The cracks in this form of pottery are filled with gold to create an even more beautiful and unique offering.  The broken piece is made whole again.  In my happiness workshops, I teach that perfection is not a good thing.  The ancient art of Kintsugi celebrates imperfections.  I see this art form as similar to a positive mindset shift, through visualization and other positive psychology techniques, one can be made whole again and even more beautiful than before and the new whole becomes a reason to celebrate rather than to focus on a missing piece.  

Asian Melanin and Dermis 

Asian women have a tendency to develop hyperpigmentation because they have more melanin than Caucasians. Having blemish-free, pale skin has been considered desirable by Chinese women dating back to the Han Dynasty. I have hyperpigmentation on my face and for years my mom would ask what treatments I was using to “fix” my complexion. I realize she was critical only because she cared. As her dementia progressed, she would ask me less often. In her last years, I would “rejoice” whenever she would bug me about my imperfections. I knew her concern came from a place of love.   

Grace Ueng (Photo by Christer Berg)

These days instead of fretting over these imperfections I accept them as a part of who I am. 

I also celebrate that Asian skin has a thicker dermis and therefore more collagen and elastin, so we will age more slowly!

Failure and Blind Spots

I tell my coaching clients that failure can be a good thing.  Just as Kintsugi fills in the cracks to create something more beautiful than the original, what we learn from our failures makes us much stronger. We do not realize our full potential until we go through dark times.  I have found that to be incredibly true after getting through the challenges of my depressive episode last year and returning back into the light. I am now able to share more empathetically to broader audiences and am able to help more people become happier, and therefore better leaders.

All of us have blind spots and so when we break, we are usually caught off guard.  Gaining visibility to our cracks or weak points and knowing how to fill them in, is what makes us stronger.  Figuring out these areas takes intentional investment and openness. That investment can be made by working with a coach or assembling your own personal board of directors. Being vulnerable and open to talking about our challenges is critical to optimizing positive outcomes.  This not only helps in our healing, but also helps others to open up to gain benefit too, which completes the virtuous cycle of increasing well being and happiness. 

Asian artwork that is broken and fixed by Kintsugi is considered inspirational and Zen-like. Beauty is revealed in broken things, and often the reformed artwork increases in value due to its unique and more exquisite outcome.  Embracing your personal challenges and working through them can create many of the same elements in you.  

I was so nervous!

The CEO of a client organization told me this week that some of her leaders said apologetically to her,  “I was so nervous!” after presenting at their latest board meeting.

I believe that it is important to be a little bit nervous before a performance or a talk.  This happens because you truly care.  Channeling your fear to your advantage will result in a winning outcome.

As we learn to accept our flaws, we also can learn to cherish things more.  The Kintsugi process of traditional restoration takes several months to build back the resilience that once was.  In putting together fragments of ourselves, we should embrace and celebrate a big accident, and have faith that we will be reborn into a leader with even more resilience. 

Gift and Leonard Cohen

I’ve been thinking of what special gift I could give my partner’s daughter for her birthday.  She just graduated high school as valedictorian and will be entering Princeton this fall. I wanted to give her something very special to take with her.  

I studied many possibilities and selected a unique Kintsugi gift in hopes that having a piece of something once fragile, made strong and even more beautiful will be a source of meaning as she embarks on her college journey. 

Songwriter Leonard Cohen perhaps said it best, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”  

May we all continue on this road to discovery. 

About Grace Ueng

Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003.  Her great passion to help leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential combined with her empathy and ability to help leaders figure out their “why” are what clients value most.  

Grace’s core offerings are one on one coaching for CEOs and their leadership teams, facilitating workshops on Personal Branding, Happiness and Vulnerability, and Speaking Success, and conducting strategic reviews for companies at a critical juncture. A TEDx speaker, she is hired to give keynotes on Happiness and Mental Wellness.

A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles at five high growth technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. She started her career at Bain & Company and then worked in brand management at Clorox and General Mills. She is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School and holds a positive coaching certification from the Whole Being Institute.

Grace and her partner, Rich Chleboski, a cleantech veteran, develop and implement strategies to support the growth of impact focused companies and then coach their leaders in carrying out their strategic plans. Their expertise spans all phases of the business from evaluation through growth and liquidity. 

Rich’s oldest daughter, Rebecca, is entering Princeton this fall, and has just received the gift of Kintsugi. We look forward to her letting the light shine in!