“Yellow! You need yellow.” Relaxing with my friend, Astrid, in my new garden patio along with an intimate group of high-school girlfriends and their spouses, I had asked her “what other flowers should I plant?” As a novice gardener, I thought she could guide my horticultural efforts. Expecting a concrete answer about plant varieties or continuous blooming techniques, I was surprised when she swept her arm through the air and recommended yellow, rather than specific plants.
Astrid was right—yellow flowers accented the purple, blue, pink, and white flowers I’d started to cultivate. The contrast make all the other colors more vivid. Cheerful and brilliant, the yellow blooms continue to bring joy to my garden every summer when they reappear.
Sadly, my dear friend, Astrid, passed away eight years ago. But her memory lives on through her yellow gardening guidance. A few weeks ago, I retreated to the garden after spending all day driving to northern Wisconsin to visit my 90-year-old mom in the hospital. The yellow flowers planted many years ago had burst into bloom and caught the sunlight that lingered on the longest day of the year. Astrid’s wisdom, optimism, and creative energy surrounded me at the close of this very long and stressful day.
The next day, I embarked on a trip that involved traveling through Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Minnesota. Everywhere I went … yellow flowers scattered the landscape—from roadsides and meadows to cultivated gardens and remote mountain trails. Yellow was everywhere; it dominated all other floral colors combined. Yellow eased my heavy heart as I worried about my mom who had been discharged and readmitted while I was gone.
A day after my return to Minnesota, I was again on roadways fringed with yellow flowers as I made my way back to Wisconsin. Sitting in her new hospital room, my mom, sister, and I gazed out the window at a hillside blanketed with yellow wildflowers, watching a doe and two tiny fawns frolic amidst the flowers. The yellow brought me hope and comfort, and it brightened Mom’s dreary hospital stay. Thank you, Astrid.
Journey to the Heart
David Hutchens advises business storytellers to consider how they might attach their stories to one of 15 Universal Plots that he outlines in his book, Circle of the Nine Muses. This story (somewhat) aligns with his “Journey to the Heart” plot, in which 1) business as usual is disrupted by the need for a more human response, 2) we demonstrate softer capabilities, 3) someone’s life is changed, 4) others are moved or touched, and 5) we see the world differently and bring those same human characteristics into other aspects of our work.
While my “Yellow Blooms” story is more ethereal than a classic “Journey to the Heart” story, the plot structures are similar. Instead of getting horticultural advice, Astrid challenged me to approach gardening more creatively—visually and abstractly. Her sweeping arm gesture inspired me to imagine my rock garden as a blank canvas on which I could blend colors, textures, shapes, and sizes to create the mood I sought. My gardening project was transformed into an ongoing adventure of painting through living, breathing, ever-changing plants. This more creative and spirited approach to gardening spilled into other parts of my life, inspiring hobbies like scrapbooking, as well as my professional work in storytelling and visual communications. While this episode didn’t transform others, it has had a profound impact on me.
Hutchens offers other—more concrete—examples of “Journey to the Heart” stories. The classic Dr. Seuss’ tale, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” reveals a universal truth around the transformational power of giving and forgiving. In the workplace, journey-to-the-heart stories might play out when co-workers rally around a colleague who is experiencing a health or family crisis. Or when employees support a customer who is struggling with a challenge or respond to a larger, community disaster.
What are your “Journey to the Heart” stories? How have they transformed you and others? How might you use these stories in your professional communications?