As a clinical herbalist, I’m constantly learning lessons from plants. I’ve learned how to identify toxic areas just by noticing what grows there. I’ve learned how certain plants can actually help others thrive just by growing near one another. But the most profound lesson I’ve ever learned is that your poison is probably actually your greatest gift.
Many of the most poisonous plants can actually be some of the strongest and most lifesaving medicine in the right situations. Deadly belladonna has been long used to treat debilitating tremors in Parkinson’s disease, while dangerous foxglove is widely used in pharmaceutical form for the treatment of congestive heart failure.
In fact, the entire field of homeopathy is based on the notion that all poison is actually beneficial medicine at very low doses. So, if the worst weakness is actually the greatest strength all throughout nature, then why not for us people too?
Our culture has very strict guidelines for how we deal with strengths and weaknesses. From early on in life, we learn that all of our abilities fall into one of two categories — those that are useful, and those that aren’t. Our strengths and our weaknesses. And there’s a very simple strategy for success in life: maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
But who’s to say which are strengths and which are weaknesses?
Take me, for example. I’m easily stressed, incredibly sensitive, and prone to anxiety. Those are by far my worst weaknesses — the things I’m constantly trying to compensate for. At the same time, I’m quick-witted, incredibly empathetic, and a creative thinker. In both cases, we’re talking about an overactive nervous system. However, in one context it’s viewed as a weakness, while in another it’s viewed as a strength.
All abilities are inherently neutral; it’s the context they’re in that determines their worth.
If you’re looking to sit down and enjoy a nice cup of evening tea, belladonna probably wouldn’t be your first choice. But, if you’re suffering from debilitating Parkinson’s tremors, it could be absolutely life-changing. If you’re working in a high-stress environment, that overactive nervous system probably isn’t all that helpful. But, if you’re in a relaxed, one-on-one setting, it just might be your greatest asset. And it all depends on the context you give yourself.
Any weakness can be an overwhelming strength in the right context. In fact, the worst weaknesses are often the most powerful untapped strengths, just in the wrong context. If a certain characteristic can screw up your life that badly, imagine what it could do if you knew how to use it.
Think of how your current context is playing to your strengths and weaknesses, so to speak:
- How much stress do you have in your life?
- How supportive are your relationships?
- How does your diet make you feel?
- How much do you love (or hate) your job?
- How much time do you make for yourself?
- How is all of this turning your abilities into strengths or weaknesses?
The most natural thing in the world is to be yourself. No plant out there ever tries to be anything else. We just all need a context that fits our natural state to turn all of our weaknesses into strengths.
If you gave yourself the right environment for even your worst weaknesses to thrive, imagine how much different your life would look. Imagine how easy life could be if all you had to be was yourself.
And don’t just take my word for it. This lesson’s happening all throughout nature. Just ask the plants.
Mike Iamele is the Boston-based author of Enough Already: Create Success on Your Own Terms, which takes a critical look at the dysfunctional pressures of modern success and leads readers through a powerful journey to create a new kind of success on their own terms. He has a bachelor's in communication from Northeastern University, and went on to receive his certification in herbal studies and a health and wellness coach certification from The Boston School of Herbal Studies and the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, respectively.