Have you heard of “Rose, Thorn, and Bud”? It’s a framework for reflecting on your thoughts, feelings, and experiences by identifying an example from each of three categories: positive moments (the roses), negative or challenging ones (the thorns), and whatever you’re looking forward to doing, learning, or exploring (the buds). I was thinking about this framework recently as I was preparing a talk for Career Day at my daughter’s school, because it seemed like a fun way to discuss the mix of high points, challenges, and ongoing learning and testing that comes along with owning a small business, especially as a solo entrepreneur.
But I wanted to make it a little more on-brand for Magnolia Bough, and I wanted a more nuanced way to talk about the hard parts of what I do. So I tweaked it! And I’m sharing my version with you in the hope that you’ll find it helpful as you ponder what’s nice, negative, and next in your own life.
I hope especially that this post, without engaging in toxic positivity, encourages you to make the most of the least pleasant parts of your days, whether that means learning from them or, sometimes, just waiting them out with the confidence that better things lie ahead.
Blossoms & Buds
My version, as you probably guessed from the title, is “Blossoms, Beetles, and Buds.” Most of the changes I made are pretty superficial. Yes, I used plurals; I find it hard to focus on just one moment at a time, and honestly I love making lists. I replaced “rose” with “blossoms” in keeping with the image of the magnolia tree, and I kept “buds” because it works fine with that image.
But . . . Beetles?
So why bring beetles into it (aside from my love of alliteration)? Well, magnolia trees don’t have thorns, and I like consistency in my metaphors. But there’s more to this change. We tend to think of thorns in mostly negative ways; after all, that’s why the thorn stands for a challenging or even upsetting experience in the original framework. Thorns hurt. They make it harder to enjoy a rosebush’s beauty up close. They can make us bleed. Granted, they are important; they help protect the plant. But using the thorn to symbolize our difficult moments suggests mainly that we have to resign ourselves to taking the bad along with the good. And while that’s sometimes true, I don’t think it’s a very illuminating way to think about our challenges.
Not Meant to Bee
To be completely honest, when I gave the Career Day talk, I replaced “thorns” with “bees.” Even though bees can startle or sting us, they also pollinate plants and make honey, just as hard experiences can both make us uncomfortable and spur us toward better work and sweeter victories. So this blog post was almost called “Blossoms, Bees, & Buds.”
And then I got curious: do bees in fact pollinate magnolia trees? As it turns out, yes, but not as much as beetles do; actually, magnolias predate the existence of bees! So I’m going with beetles here. Even though I’m sad to lose the metaphors of bee stings and honey, the main point is really that the beetles—scary or unpleasant as they may sometimes seem—help make sure there are more magnolia trees and thus more buds and blossoms.
There are several reasons I like thinking of challenges as beetles instead of as thorns. For one thing, beetles can also inflict pain: a few types can bite humans. And in that regard, beetles make as good a symbol for our hardships as either thorns or bees do.
Generally, however, beetles don’t really harm us, and we usually recover easily from their bites. It’s fair, I think, to say they tend to look more menacing than they are, especially when we see barbed legs or elaborate mouth structures up close. In the same way, facing a challenge can be intimidating in the moment. But the perspective offered by a little more time or distance often reveals that our fear was worse than the reality. Or we might see how that challenge pushed us to grow or enticed us to learn something valuable, just as there’s more to a beetle—wings, beautiful colors, an interesting shape—than the pointy bits.
Perseverance & Resilience
Similarly, although beetles do significant damage to some plants, magnolia blossoms are hardy enough to withstand the insects’ sometimes inelegant feeding practices. I like thinking of this fact as a type of how I can balance the highs and lows of my work and my personal life, nurturing the joys and pleasures so they don’t get swallowed up by the problems, challenges, and discouragements that inevitably arise.
Patience, Productivity, and Growth
It can be difficult, however, to see challenges from these perspectives while we’re in the thick of them. And sometimes our difficulties last longer than we’d like; perhaps their resolutions even lie beyond our control. Here, too, the beetle in the blossom is a useful metaphor. Fascinatingly, magnolia flowers enclose overnight the beetles that visit them to feed. This action gives the little creatures time to shed the pollen they carried in and pick up new pollen to carry away, and it thus promotes the cross-pollination needed to produce healthy trees. Likewise, when a difficulty impinges on a good experience, we can look for the ways in which that difficulty encourages growth. And if we have no way to resolve it immediately, we can wait with the confidence that change will happen and that we can act on appropriate opportunities as they arise. In these ways, we can perhaps not just withstand but also embrace some of the challenges we encounter.
Perspectives on Positivity
The risk, of course, is allowing this approach to spill over into toxic positivity. Let me be clear that I’m not advocating for minimizing the truly terrible: abuse, other trauma, tragedy. And I’m not suggesting that we need to embrace all our challenges right away; it’s important to acknowledge the unpleasant, even icky, feelings—like disappointment, fear, and sadness—that they bring up. In fact, those feelings are sometimes the “beetles” we need to accept before we can experience greater growth and health.
What I am advocating for here is approaching our day-to-day struggles with authenticity as well as confidence: the confidence that they won’t last forever, that we can handle them well even when we’d rather not have to handle them at all, and that they can lead to good things even when the challenges themselves feel anything but good. And in the end, I think one advantage to picturing the things that bug us (sorry, not sorry) as beetles rather than thorns is this sense of dynamism, change, movement.
Onward we go, then. What buds do you want to see bloom next for you?
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If you’d like to wear jewelry that commemorates a struggle you’ve had or a challenge you’ve overcome, take a look at the Hawthorne Collection, Vol. 1. Hawthorne’s works tend to combine darker themes with more hopeful moments, and many of the pieces in this collection reflect that complexity.