An old Chinese parable illustrates the point that what we view as our own personal flaws may be to others great sources of power, strength, and inspiration.

An elderly Chinese woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck. One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walk from the stream to the house, the cracked pot arrived only half full.

For a full two years this went on daily, with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.

After 2 years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, it spoke to the woman one day by the stream. “I am ashamed of myself, because this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to your house.”

The old woman smiled, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot’s side? That’s because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path, and every day while we walk back, you water them.”

“For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to decorate the table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be this beauty to grace the house.”

There are all sorts of tradeoffs like this in life, where what seems to hurt in one way may help in another.  For example, even some horrible diseases have their unexpected benefits:

  • Sickle-cell anemia – While most people who hear about sickle-cell anemia assume it is simply a horrible disease to be eradicated, it is actually a beneficial mutation in areas where other, more dangerous diseases are common, as it protects the person against Malaria, which infects hundreds of millions of people a year.
  • Cystic Fibrosis – Caused by a mutation of the CFTR gene, recent research indicates that this mutation actually protects against typhoid fever, a disease that was once a deadly problem across Europe, keeping this mutation from being naturally weeded out of the gene pool due to the survival benefits that came with it.

So if even those can be helpful, pay attention to yourself and see how what you see as stumbling blocks might be unexpected stepping stones.