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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Life Lessons From Plants

These days, it seems that the start of any hobby is a few Google searches away and the willingness to consistently devote time to it. I’ve recently taken an interest in indoor plants and propagating outdoor succulents. For those who aren’t aware of succulent propagation, there are two main methods of spreading them.  One method is to simply collect leaves and place them on top of damp soil. You then place the soil near a window and wait between 6-8 weeks until the leaves start sprouting roots. The roots eventually form into new baby succulents and the “mother” leaves (that the roots originated from) shrivel up and fall away. At this point, the new tiny succulents can be planted and grow on their own.

The second propagation method involves cutting a small piece from a bigger succulent. The piece should ideally have a few healthy leaves. After the stem is cut from the original plant, it’s best to wait 2-3 days to give time for the incision wound to callous over and dry up. After it’s dry, the stem can be planted. The wait time before planting is required to ensure that the succulent doesn’t absorb too much water when it’s planted. Too much water is the most common way to kill a succulent.

With that said, please do your own research before deciding to propagate or care for a succulent. I am not a professional and these are just quick lessons from my own limited experience and research.

Propagating using leaves

Propagating using the stem

This experience of caring for succulents and attempting to propagate them has taught me a very hands-on lesson in patience. All of us intellectually understand that being patient is a desirable characteristic in professional, social, and personal settings. We understand, in theory, what are proper ways of leading our lives. For instance, we know that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions or make quick assumptions, we understand the importance to keeping our cool during emotionally charged situations, we realize that we should ideally make decisions with our future wellbeing in mind, and we conceptually grasp many other life lessons. Unfortunately, in practice, we often times do not accept these valuable lessons and change our behavior accordingly and live in a more responsible way. It’s unclear why this is the case. I have experienced this shortcoming in my own life and I have observed it numerous times in others as well. In my own experience, what allows me to accept an idea in practice, and not just intellectually, is going through a unique and powerful experience that forever changes my perspective from that point onward. For instance, if a particular individual is not fond of saving money and having an “emergency fund” to rely on, the experience of nearly getting evicted from their apartment can finally push them towards changing their behavior. This particular individual potentially understands the importance of saving money in theory and at an intellectual level. However, this life lesson will not truly sink in until he experiences the real stress and intense worry of nearly being evicted. If someone is not affected at a deep emotional level, they are unlikely to make any real changes in their life.

Plants have also taught me the importance of accepting and being comfortable with uncertainty. For instance, if a plant is doing poorly and it’s potentially going to wither away, there are certain steps that you can take to save it. You can water it more (or less if you have been overdoing it). You can fortify the soil with nutrients. You can try keeping the soil as dry as possible if there is a fungus growing on it. There are many potential solutions available depending on the nature of the problem. However, none of these interventions are a guarantee that the plant will survive and thrive once again. You have to accept the very real possibility that the plant is going to die no matter what. This was a difficult lesson for me to accept because I (and I assume many others) am used to identifying problems and implementing solutions that are very likely to work. This is the nature of many routine problems we will face throughout our lives. However, sooner or later, we come upon a problem that refuses to yield and it’s not clear what can actually be done to fix the issue. This is especially relevant for emotional and mental problems. There are steps you can take (such as seeing a therapist, practicing meditation, addressing stressful relationships, etc...) to address the issue but none of the solutions are guaranteed to make the problem go away. They simply have a chance of making you feel better and there are no certainties or guarantees. This final point, accepting the absence of certainty, is especially important for dealing with life’s most difficult and terrifying problems. As farfetched as it sounds, working with plants (or gardening) can help with accepting this crucial lesson.

A recent annoyance also taught me another important lesson. A few coworkers and I recently created a succulent garden in the outdoor patio of our 9th floor office. We tried to plan for every potential problem but we still failed to foresee one major dilemma: pigeons. We quickly realized that our young plants were being attacked and destroyed by pigeons. It has been difficult for me to cope with this disappointment since I had spent so much of my time and effort on this project. This had been a project that was close to my heart. I was emotionally invested in it. This latest problem is teaching me an important lesson in humility and unpredictability. No matter how extensively we plan ahead, there are going to be problems that arise and completely take us by surprise. Even after visiting multiple gardening stores and nurseries and seeking advice, no one had mentioned the possibility of birds destroying the plants. This experience is also teaching me to accept the potential loss of something I’ve worked very hard on. Even if we care immensely about a particular project and we work on it as properly as possible, this does not guarantee success; it simply increases the chances of success. The success chance will never reach 100% and become a guarantee. This is another difficult life lesson to understand and internalize.

Ultimately, you can find yourself agreeing with numerous ideas on how to lead a rich and meaningful life. However, most of the lessons we encounter will often times not truly sink in until we go through a powerful experience that hammers the point home and we can feel the change in our emotional cores. Once emotions are genuinely engaged, real behavioral change has a chance of sprouting.  


  1. This is a beautiful post, thank you, Sir!


    1. Aww thanks! I think you will enjoy the upcoming entry too! It involves plants as well. I need to wait a few months to get the right pictures though...


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