Orchid or Dandelion – Pt.1 – Which are you?

This is the first in a sequence of posts for which I have titled “Orchid or Dandelion” but becomes more about the former throughout the series and includes other concepts also. So let’s begin.

I watched a short talk between Russell Brand and Dr Tom Boyce on Youtube titled with “Are You An Orchid Or A Dandelion” for which I’ll include a link at the end of this post. I’d never heard of ‘Orchids’ or ‘Dandelions’ outside of the plant world before, and I suppose I guessed it was one of these Introvert/Extrovert things again, or where you psychoanalyse yourself to come up with an acronym that you can label yourself with and advertise to others (quietly, if an extrovert or the acronym calls for it).

I wasn’t far wrong, and quickly realised, from the explanation Boyce was giving, that I was an Orchid. The basic idea, I think, is that different children (for the topic seems to be focused on them) handle stress differently, with some not being all that affected with moderate amounts and doing well in life (Dandelions, which can grow in a variety of places), while others are more deeply affected by stress and need to be more carefully nurtured (Orchids, which need careful attention in order to grow).

The short talk with Brand was about Orchids and Dandelions as children, but, following the realisation of which category I found myself in, made me question two things:

  • Can an adult reverse the effects of growing up as an Orchid?
  • How can you/I thrive as an Orchid?

In seeking answers to these and other questions I quickly found myself on a longer video of Boyce [link below], this time giving a lecture, which reveals he had written a book on the topic of ‘Orchids and Dandelions’, for which he started off this hour-long talk by reading the Introduction from.

To get a few criticisms off my chest about that talk first, I will say the reading of the Introduction was too long and the length of time the various slides stayed on screen was too short; I got frustrated when each on flashed up and back off the screen before I’d had time to absorb it while Boyce was still pointing things out (screen capturing is your friend here). The final point is that Boyce, in these two talks at least, focusses on how we can help children, rather than how we can help ourselves as potential Orchid adults – something I address (I hope and in some way) in these few posts on my blog.

As for the lecture by Boyce I picked up a fair amount from it, confirming again that I was indeed an Orchid from this slide:

Dandelions vs Orchids

I think it’s fair to say that my childhood had a fair amount of stress, beginning with the early death of my dad and later my grandad. Neither of these things seemed to bother me on the surface and during the day, but when it came to bedtime and I was left quietly alone with my own thoughts to finally ponder things, that was, as I can remember, a different story.

I remember a brief time at school where I was actually a troublesome child and I recall being taken aside and having a talking to, basically about me needing to get back in line. In hind sight I think this was around the time my grandad had died and I think the teacher was taking this into account. This was a strange experience because soon after I changed schools due to moving house and from then on anyone that would meet me would find it hard to imagine me misbehaving in school; I was always smartly dressed, well spoken, and seemingly a hard-working student. That was my outward persona. The truth is that I struggled with focus and when it came to concentrating on something mentally challenging in class I really struggled, and when it came to homework I often left it until the last minute, would say I’d done it only so I could go outside and build dens, and then at the last minute do the bare minimum and rush through it just so I wouldn’t get into trouble.

I think that first telling off at school stuck in the back of my head for years to come and instilled me with a fear of ever getting into trouble again. I can’t recall if it was a harsh telling off; I think it was more a face-to-face honest, lay it down in front of me, kind of talking to, but still, I do wonder. It’s obviously a memory that has stuck with me, plus I’m an Orchid.

Back to that struggling attention with mentally challenging tasks, I not so long ago heard of a term on the radio called ‘maths anxiety’. Ever heard of it? I hadn’t but as an uncited claim on Wikipedia it is said that “the first math anxiety measurement scale was developed by Richardson and Suinn in 1972.” That radio show came about following some recent Cambridge University research [link below] and lead me to jot down the following points of interest:

  • Maths anxiety is perhaps a form of self-punishment
  • Of feeling like a failure
  • Leading to a lack of confidence (perhaps in other areas too)
  • Did you struggle with times tables?
  • Leading to bad behaviour
  • The importance of “every-day maths”
  • Something boring vs stressful

When that term, maths anxiety, fell on my ears and was explained I knew full well what it was, or at least the feelings it had inflicted on me all those years ago back in maths classes, and now I finally had a label for it. It’s hard to explain the sensation I would have when I was in not only maths class but also others such as French lessons where I also struggled or was faced with something similarly mentally challenging. I think the sensation starts in my chest, or perhaps in my stomach, but I feel it in the centre of my brain when it’s something mentally challenging. It’s like there is a flow of fuel going in there to provide the solutions, but things don’t fall correctly into place for those solutions to be forthcoming, leading to a tumbling sensation in the brain. It’s kind of like when you’re trying to remember something, like a word or a name, and that thing is just out of reach.

There were a few ways around this that I unintentionally implemented such as appearing as if I’m trying my best only to really give up. Giving up can actually work for something that can’t be recalled in that moment because the subconscious will often continue to work on the problem and reveal the solution at some random point in the not too distant future, but this doesn’t work for focusing on things you haven’t yet learned.

Looking back it makes me ‘appreciate’ why so many fellow students misbehaved in those difficult lessons; it was a way for them to escape from the mental burden that they were being subjected to, perhaps to the point of being told to go out of the classroom (more on this in a moment). I wasn’t one of those students who misbehaved (too much fear I suppose), but I likely took advantage of the escapism and the blame for lack of progress being on others. I also think enjoying learning is the key vs getting stressed out because “you have to learn” something; but how do you re-frame this perspective?

Reward is also important. I think my ‘reward’ was wrong because it came in the form of escaping outside to play with friends and build dens, which was achieved by essentially avoiding doing my homework, or saying I had none, or that I had done it already while I really planned to do it later; all of which seem to have been fatal for various things that I might now want to learn or things I need/want to get on with. This, I think, is not too dissimilar from misbehaving students being given a means of a escape by being told to leave the classroom, which, when this action and response is repeated, could be perceived as a form of ‘reward’.

The frustrating thing was, and is, I found maths to be quite fascinating. From a young age I had a fascination with numbers and looking for patterns and order in such things (I like order and routine) and today I still read books that are laced with such mathematical jargon, like ones about quantum mechanics, which pretty much goes way over my head but I like to absorb them even if I can’t fully understand it all. I wish I could.

It wasn’t all stress and frustration for me at school though; I excelled at graphic design and computer technology, and did okay in other areas. It was only those, which I felt were mentally challenging and stressful subjects, where I really struggled, and later on when I took my good subjects up the academic ladder and they became mentally challenging I again found myself wanting to escape. When it came to college and university I was left more to my own devices and I struggled even more; “self motivation” seeming to be the thing I needed to master.

Sometimes “fight or flight” kicks in when you are in a position to do neither and the feeling goes unnoticed, and untreated, such as when you are stuck in a classroom. I recognise now today in adult life my tendency to “flee” from or avoid things that are either a mental challenge or deemed to be a stress. It might be some DIY at home or work on my model railway that has hit an unforeseen hurdle and instead of me persevering (because often it is only time and patience that will overcome it) I escape to get a cup of tea or get a bite to eat. I might go out on my bike or at worst sit in front of my computer all day and seek solace there in the form of a video or two on Youtube or someone to chat to, I might even be writing on my blog to avoid other things I want to achieve.

In my next post on this topic I will look into ways we can indeed thrive as an Orchid.


Are You An Orchid Or A Dandelion? – Boyce and Brand discussion

The Dr Tom Boyce lecture

The Orchind and the Dandelion book

Recent Cambridge University research into maths anxiety



  1. I’m more of a corpse flower. But when I get utterly outside of my comfort zone, like the end of the world scenarios, I become a cockroach lily.
    In other words, I have these thresholds where little to medium stress is OK, moderate to heavy is utterly overwhelming. But beyond that? I’m cool as a cuke.

    • Indeed, Dr Tom Boyce talks of an Orchid/Dandelion spectrum. I find end of the world scenarios ‘interesting’, but if I binge on the topic for a few days straight then I think it burns me out/overwhelms me. I think some stress is good for spurring into action, but too much and we shut down.

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