A highly successful CEO recently shared with me his mother’s advice that has stood him in good stead from humble beginnings all the way to the executive suite:  “bloom where you’re planted”.

This phrase has stuck in my mind because it raised a dichotomy that I needed to resolve, one that struck a bit close to home.

On the one hand, to bloom where you’re planted is an empowering message.  It invites us to be committed, resourceful, and creative in reframing whatever situation we find ourselves in such that we can succeed and excel.  An analog to psychologist Viktor Frankl’s observations as a concentration camp survivor that we always have a choice and can find meaning no matter what the circumstance.  Choose to bloom.  Right where you are planted.

On the other hand, I fretted that “bloom where you’re planted” implied a “taker” mentality; that we must accept our lot in life, and go where we are told to go.  As a child of immigrants who came to America to pursue a better future, it worried me to allow others to plant me somewhere rather than finding the best place to plant myself.

The aspect that hit closest to home is someone once told me that I had had an “amiable career”, amiably accepting the roles I was given and going along with what the corporation wanted me to do.   So, had I been a “taker” for two decades and would it have gone better if I had been more of a “maker”, proactively going after what I wanted (if only I had known what that was, but that’s another story)?

Perhaps the way to reconcile these two seemingly opposite interpretations is this:

  • We owe it to ourselves to seek the best soil for our unique set of abilities and interests, which means experimenting with different work settings and not just being a taker of whatever comes along.
  • And the best way to approach each experiment is with a “bloom where you’re planted” attitude — a constructive and go-for-it mindset.  It’s the only way to get a true view.  Then, see if you like the outcome.  Stay if you do, and find new soil if you don’t.

As for my amiable career, even that has turned out better than expected, and maybe amiable – like the interpretation of “bloom where you’re planted” – is in the eye of the beholder.