Reflections on Flower Petals

Having recently become quite concerned with determining the color of my parachute, I’ve decided to discuss here the process of working through Richard N. Bolles’ so-called “Flower Exercise.” For those who are unfamiliar, the Flower Exercise is a seven-part series of worksheets and thought experiments designed to help one determine various elements of themselves that might be relevant in a job search. Personally, as someone who derives a frankly troubling amount of joy from self-evaluation, this process was a dream for me. Having the chance to daydream in a productive manner was a genuine blast and an informative dive into my own thought processes.

If I had to nitpick (which I do), I would note that many of the “petals” prove most useful to those who have a solid foundation of occupational experience. While I would not describe myself as inexperienced—I worked teaching and tutoring jobs for nearly the entire duration of my time in college—I’ve found that many of the questions being asked of me were not directly applicable to the work experience I’d accrued. For example, the second petal, in asking me to identify “my favorite working conditions,” proved challenging to answer because the bulk of my previous work environments were either virtual (I taught on Zoom for over two years) or in a space where I was spending such little time that I could hardly form an opinion (as a by-appointment tutor for a somewhat niche field). Similarly, I struggled with the fifth petal, which asks about salary range. My current lifestyle as a student (and, more specifically, a student who is lucky enough to receive financial assistance by way of scholarships and parental support) has an expiration date that looms ever nearer. When I enter the work force, my expenses will shift dramatically as I grow more financially independent, so the calculation for the low end of the salary range felt rather arbitrary. Even still, I’m loath to hold this against Bolles, as my relative ignorance for certain sections of the Flower Exercise seems to speak to its staying power; that is to say, I could absolutely see myself redoing this in a couple of years once I’ve learned more about myself as an employee.

Outside of those small gripes, I found this process to be very insightful. The way Bolles asks his Flower Exercisers to consider the geography of their job hunts felt reminiscent of the way that I approached my own process for determining where to live after graduation. I knew I didn’t want to live in Charleston anymore, so I thought about some of the most important factors that would dictate how I’d feel about a certain place, and ultimately decided to move back to Denver, Colorado for the time being, though I will also be looking for work up the road in Fort Collins. Someday, I may look to move back East again—specifically to Boston, as listed on the sixth petal—but in the meantime, I’m excited to be closer to my family and start the next chapter of my life in my hometown. And although I had considered the geographical piece a lot on my own, Bolles’ system for outlining and organizing proved enormously helpful in sorting out my thoughts.

The petals that provided the most new insights for me, however, were the first, fourth, and seventh. Beginning with the first petal, I found learning about the Holland Code and how to interpret those results to be deeply fascinating. I’m curious to see if thinking about future opportunities in these terms—that is, trying to determine which letters a prospective employer would be most interested in engaging—will help me navigate the job search. The fourth petal helped me cultivate another concrete skill: being able to identify and represent my own competencies. Having to narrow down a long list of “favorite knowledges or fields of interest” to five was a challenge, but I came out of it feeling much more clear about my priorities, which will be enormously useful in evaluating employment opportunities. Lastly, the seventh petal was useful in a much more abstract way. Being able to categorize and distinguish between nine different arenas for my life’s purpose forced me to really decide which elements were most important to me—and as someone who looked at eight of the nine possibilities and said, “hm, that sounds important,” this was no easy feat. While I ultimately settled on what Bolles calls “The Heart” and “The Will or Conscience,” I found that these are the principles that have been subconsciously guiding me through life. For all these reasons and more, I look back on my time completing the Flower Exercise very fondly and would recommend it to just about anyone.

One Response to Reflections on Flower Petals

  1. Prof VZ April 6, 2023 at 12:54 pm #

    Great balance here, and I’m glad the skills and values piece of this exercise mattered most. I find the latter most challenging as well, but it is sort of nice to be prompted to refine that inner sense of what we value and how that might related to what we want to do in the world. I’m also glad the Holland material provided some insight, and that you have some ideas about how you might also apply it strategically as you deploy or emphasize specific aspects of your broader profile that are most relevant in any given situation. We think of this in terms of skills and experiences quite often, but not often enough in terms of dispositions. This is also nicely framed for an outside audience–introducing us to the broader flower enterprise and its context rather than just launching in. Well done!

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