Beware of the weed with pretty flowers

Recently when weeding in my garden, I realised a few things. First, many of the plants were putting far too much energy into repairing dead stalks and flowers. Second, the plants that were diverting energy to these tasks seemed to be strangled by weeds, using what diminishing resources they had on a truly worthless task. And lastly, I was talking to myself…or should I say, to my plants!

It was only when I became conscious of my mutterings that I realised I had lightened my touch around the wounded plants, talking more softly and carefully tending to them, ensuring they had enough strength by propping them up, feeding them and removing any scars and war wounds to allow the plant to fully invest in healing itself. It seemed like such an obvious thing to do, but it got me thinking.

Scones and secateurs

Last year, with absolutely no previous experience, I decided to tackle our garden. Off to Dobbie’s I trotted for some inspiration…and a scone! Having taken the advice of a gardener, I filled the boot with a variety of plants which would see our garden through all seasons, ensuring we would always have a beautiful sea of green and white to look at from the living room window. I was particularly happy with a gorgeous white hydrangea I had picked up. She was young and had been ‘pushed on’ a little for sale, but she (yes, “she”) was staked and had a frame to keep her in shape. This flower just needed some decent nourishment, a good water, and she’ll be fine, I thought. A few hours later and the job was done. The border looked great and my OCD had come in handy when spacing out the different plants, flowers, and shrubs.

Fast forward a few months and the flower was looking a bit peaky in comparison to her neighbours. The flowers which had bloomed early were browning, her base looked weak and she was a bit dishevelled. I took some advice and the consensus was clear – “make sure she’s tight to the stake and frame, give her a good water, remove any unsightly bits and she’ll be just fine. She just needs trained, give her time”. To be honest, she’s been a total pain in the arse, constantly struggling free of the frame and going off in all directions. Armed with gardeners’ twine and secateurs, I’ve kept her in the right shape, moving and positioning the new shoots so that she looks, and importantly, behaves in a certain way. I was told that by doing this over time she’ll learn to grow new shoots and flowers in the way I want her to. Again, persistence and time.

Monty Don I am not!

Fast forward to April this year and I had a mammoth task on my hands. Music on, hair tied up, wellies and gloves on, I was all set. Monty Don I am not! Everything was going fine until I got to my beloved hydrangea - she looked dead! Although she was one of the only plants to have remained completely upright through winter, she simply looked awful. She should have grown by now as comparable plants were starting to show new green buds and leaves. Feeling sorry for her, I removed all the weeds nearby, I loosened the soil, and I made sure she was adequately fed and watered. I also removed any dead flowers so she could focus on growth rather than trying to revive parts of her which served no purpose.

Then, without thinking, I removed the stake and the frame. Shit! As soon as I did, she had a massive wobble. I thought she was going to collapse, but then she seemed to settle. Not quite in the same shape but good enough for now. I was so tempted to put her back in the frame or at least stake her so she would stay upright. But I decided to give the flower a chance “let’s see how you do on your own, I’ll give you a few weeks”.

(picture of my little 'helper')

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The real problem...

As the sun shone through the first few months of lockdown in April and May, I was able to spend more time in the garden. One of my first tasks was to see how my hydrangea had fared unsupported. I couldn’t believe it – not only was she still alive but she was upright with lots of new growth her base was looking very strong.

Then it hit me - the stake. The one thing that was meant to give her strength was actually holding her back. The rigid frame had strangled her.

Those weeds though were a different problem altogether. The stake could be removed swiftly, but the weeds roots were so deep and bloody difficult to remove. The gloves came off, quite literally, and I set about slowly teasing them away from the plants roots. It might have seemed like a ridiculous task, but it had to happen.

We are all a product of our environment

Whether we like it or not, external factors influence the way we live our lives. We can do yoga, practice mindfulness, or simply tell ourselves that we don’t care or let these things affect us. But put simply, as human beings we’re hard wired to behave and react to external stimulus. Our environment shapes us from the moment we’re born, from our parents to our friends and then to our colleagues.

During my career, I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with people who feel completely broken and there’s normally always a metaphorical flower, stake and a weed in each story.

The flower

How many times have you started a new job with boundless positive energy, only to be suffocated under a structure, and with rules which stifle you? Working in recruitment we see it all the time. The initial rush of enthusiasm rapidly wanes as the new job or situation doesn’t ultimately make the person happy.

Perhaps you’ve been struggling at work, never really feeling motivated and seemingly under performing, even though you feel like you’re giving it all you’ve got, only to blossom in a different environment, sometimes very quickly and in a spectacular way. Ringing any bells?

Just as every plant is different, this is also true of each and every one of us. One company/team can be a perfect fit for one person and a terrible fit for another, and vice versa.

The stake

I’m not saying it was the stake’s fault that my hydrangea was failing to thrive. A stake is a stake and it’s sole purpose is to give structure and strength. But when it no longer serves that purpose and starts doing more harm than good, it’s important to remove it. Your direct line manager, your peers, a mentor. They can all have a massively positive effect on how you feel at work. Unfortunately, they can have a hugely detrimental effect too.

The importance lies in choosing the right stake, and the right frame, for you.

The weed

Weeds are a menace, a law unto themselves, and can act like a virus. You see this all the time in the workplace. I’ve known situations where one or two individuals have been the catalyst for an entire team leaving. Sometimes on the surface it looks easy to simply cut them off, but it’s not always that simple as they’ve grown roots around others.

At other times weeds are difficult to identify; after all, they often have pretty flowers.

But did you know that the definition of a weed is “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted”? You have two options here. Put up with the situation or remove yourself from it.

But let’s face it, it’s not always about work

Some of you will be reading this blog in an entirely different way. Perhaps you’re attaching the identity of the flower, the weed and the stake, to people in your personal life. I know, I’ve been there. I removed my stake (and a few weeds along the way) and although it was very hard at the time, it changed my life for the better.

Sometimes, when we’re in a difficult place we bury our heads in the sand and try to make do with what we’ve got. “I’m a lot better off than some”, I hear that one daily. Other times we’re so wrapped up in a bad situation that we can’t even see the real cause, and that’s when we start to project our feelings onto something, or someone, else.

In the world we live in right now, people are taking stock and thinking about how they want to live their lives. Getting to the root cause of your pain helps us, as recruiters, truly understand where you’ll be happiest. After all, that’s all we really want.