Bloom Where You Are Planted

I recall the first time I encountered the phrase bloom where you are planted. I was grocery shopping and saw a greeting card with the phrase on it, surrounded by a beautiful garden of flowers. It spoke to me not only on an aesthetic level, but also on a deeper, emotional level. So, being the sentimental woman I am, I bought the card without hesitation, and without any intention of using it as anything other than a reminder. And perhaps as a framed decorative element perched on a living room shelf in my future home.

As time passed, I tucked away the phrase in the recesses of my mind, intending to fully embrace the principle, but never quite committing to it.

A recent conversation with a friend got me thinking about the principle again. Immediately, my mind went to the year and a half I spent as a resident in Washington state. If there’s any ideal illustration of blooming where you’re planted, my experience did not meet that criteria. Not even close.

I moved to DuPont, Washington from the delightful little mountain town of Crested Butte, Colorado, where I had lived—and thrived—for two years post-university. The love I had for my long-distance boyfriend (now husband) and the desire I held to be close to him led me to trade the Rocky Mountains for the Puget Sound, bluebird skies for unfathomably gray days. I overflowed with excitement for about two seconds upon my arrival, seeing the electrifying reds and yellows of the autumn trees—colors I’d never seen in all my Southwestern days. And then the rain set in, and my beloved departed on his ritual military training periods, leaving me jobless for the first two months in the depressing, never-ending rain with no friends. Having come from a place where I’d had such a sense of deep community, I soon felt lost, confused, angry. I’d traded my ideal life of hiking, biking, skiing in the wildflower- and snow-blanketed mountains for this?!

And thus began—and remained—my Washington residency.

In that year and a half, it seemed like I shed more tears over losing a place and community I’d called my forever home than I’d spent crying over an ex boyfriend I had in college…with whom I’d broken up multiple times over the course of our college career (cue my college anthem: T-Swizzle’s Never Getting Back Together on repeat).

Confusion. Tears. Anger. Frustration. Rinse. Repeat.

I knew nothing in Tacoma, Washington would ever compare to how it was in my beloved mountain town. I couldn’t walk to work, nor would I be almost guaranteed to run into at least three people I knew on my way around town each day. I couldn’t see my dear friends, summit mountain peaks, experience the highs and lows of life with the people I loved. So I shut myself off from the possibility of anything positive ever happening in Tacoma and looked forward to that sweet day when I could leave that godforsaken place. My new experience quickly became tarnished with my unwillingness to bloom in the rocky gravel I found myself in—and perhaps even buried myself in. I put up walls, shut God out in anger, wallowed in self-righteous pity. Not to mention, I was miserable at work, coming home at least once to twice a week in tears.

Now, I am undoubtedly in a better set of circumstances. I’m back in Colorado, a place that has felt familiar since my childhood camping and horse showing days. I have a job that I love, and—dare I say—look forward to each day. Not to mention, there aren’t any routine emotional breakdowns. Hallelujah! However, with 20/20 hindsight, I’ve come to realize four essential things about the phrase, that apply in daily life, whether you find yourself in the worst or the best circumstances.

Thriving is Not Circumstantial

Blooming where you are planted isn’t circumstantial. Rather, it demands that circumstances be erased from the equation. Whether you find yourself lodged beneath a slab of concrete or on a fertile hillside, there are always opportunities to embrace the season you’re in. Sometimes, it may be more of a scavenger hunt to find the glistening moments of joy (something my husband and I call hunting the good), yet it is always possible. Even if those joyful moments are along the lines of, “I made it through another day at work without crying!” In all reality, the antidote to those crappy seasons is filling up on gratitude for what you do have.

After all, if trees can grow on rocks with no soil, so you can bloom between the gravel.

Thriving is a Choice

As we can all see from my story, I made the conscious decision to dislike Washington. And so I did. Self-fulfilling prophecies are a thing.

But imagine if you entered a season you weren’t thrilled about with curiosity and excitement about what you might discover along the way. What if our what ifs weren’t defined by the catastrophic, worst-case-scenario possibilities, but the best-case-scenario possibilities? What if we were open to great things happening, despite our less-than-ideal circumstances? That, in and of itself, opens our lives—and perceptions—up to more positivity. We can’t receive joy if we don’t open our doors to its knock.

I’m not suggesting to delude yourself when your situation is truly terrible. We do have the choice to opt out of a bad situation, and have the responsibility to do so in harmful circumstances (e.g., relational abuse, unethical work atmospheres, etc.).

When I got laid off from my job this spring, it was my worst (work) fear come true, albeit maybe a little less dramatic than I’d imagined it would play out. Whereas I would go into catastrophe mode thinking about what would happen if I lost my job before my termination, I found myself amazingly still alive (!!!!!!!) when the day was done. Though I had felt utterly crushed and ashamed, I had, in the end, survived my worst case scenario! Sure, it’s hard to spin a work termination into a feel-good possibility, but even the worst case scenarios usually aren’t as horrible as we imagine they will be. If anything, they’re a waste of mental and emotional energy that would be better spent focusing on hunting the good.

No Season is Perfect

What I’d failed to acknowledge in Washington was that life in Crested Butte was far from perfect, though I recalled it in nearly perfect light. There were times in CB when I felt utterly depressed, disconnected, alone. There, too, were seasons of sadness and confusion. The whole reason I moved to Washington, after all, was because I didn’t want to live apart from Nathan—I missed him so much, and at times didn’t even know when I would see him next.

There were also many, many highlights to living in Washington. Though I might not have had the same kind of community as in Colorado, I made some incredible friends that I hope will remain in my life for the years to come. I got to see Mount Rainier in all its glory, hovering above the horizon on my way to and from work on those rare and glorious clear days. The overall experience might not be positive, but to ignore the beautiful moments would be to deny the reality of the excitement of buying and renovating my first home, spending nights around the table playing board games and drinking rose G&Ts with dear friends, walking two miles from my home to the shore of the Puget Sound with my husband in tow, exploring small port towns on the Olympic Peninsula and hiking at Mount Rainier National Park.

You Can’t Compare Seasons of Life

Each season of life is its own animal. It’s like comparing two siblings—one in STEM and one in the arts—and saying one is more or less talented than the other. It just doesn’t work that way. No matter where you are in life, there will be triumphs, moments of joy, grief, sadness, failures, and blessings. To let life pass by in the “bad” seasons is to rob ourselves of the opportunity to grow. Because though it can be easy to relish the seasons of euphoria, the challenges of the difficult seasons bring to life strengths we never knew we had, and self-awareness of where we can improve. And that is something to cherish.

The one commonality each season has is that it requires us to actively participate, and to be grateful for what we do have. There just might be a day when you long for the comforts, community, memories you had in the “bad” seasons.

Bloom where you are planted vitaleigh

My encouragement for you in reading this is that you would come to know what it looks like to bloom where you’re planted, right in this moment, and to hold onto that sense of contentment.