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Flower Power

How the simplest of gestures can spread smiles and disarm stress—in the workplace or on the road.

flowers in a vase

More than three decades of frequent air travel has taught me to prepare for pretty much anything. Flying can feel like an endless sociological experiment for how to create stress—flight delays, cancellations, bad weather, and jockeying with passengers for boarding positions and overhead luggage space. My travel goal is simple but often difficult: Get to my destination roughly on time, with my suitcase.

Over the years, I’ve adopted a few practices to mitigate the stress of business travel. Comfort items are tucked away in my carry-on luggage—noise-canceling headphones for the flight, a small speaker to listen to music in my hotel room, and a candle. But in the past year, I’ve upgraded my travel routine in a way that not only helps with my own health and well-being, but also—as I’ve discovered—puts a smile on the faces of fellow passengers and disarms airport and airline staff.

I travel with fresh flowers.  

People close to me know I love flowers. Each Christmas my husband gives me a commercial license for the San Francisco Flower Market. It is one of my happiest places—especially at 3:00 a.m. on “market days.” I am by no means a morning person, but few things bring me as much joy as being in the S.F. flower market in the middle of the night with people who are lucky enough to earn their living working with flowers.

A few years ago, a business trip coincided with my birthday. Floral bouquets from my family and direct reports were in my hotel room when I entered. Co-workers brought flowers to meetings—
arrangements of roses, lilies, hydrangeas and orchids. When I had to travel home, I regifted some but decided to create an arrangement to take on my flight to San Francisco. Discarding fresh flowers is hard for me, and so I started a regular practice of traveling with flowers, from single stems to large bouquets.

The reaction to my maiden flower travel adventure was pleasantly shocking. A TSA agent pulled out a separate bin to protect them. A seatmate created space to make sure the flowers were not damaged. My flowers lifted moods and sparked pleasant conversations with strangers.

Many people navigate the experience of air travel with their game faces on, ready to compete and argue over the limited and shared spaces. But traveling with flowers generated unsolicited help, kindness and smiles.

So how does one travel with flowers? A water and container strategy is critical. Most of my flowers fit right into the water bottle compartment of my carry-on bag. I fill the container with just enough water to keep them alive before security. Then I  dump the water before they go through the X-ray machine and refill it once I have cleared through security. Flight attendants often put them in a safe spot during the food and beverage service. Passengers often ask questions and share water-strategy tips.

Sometimes the flowers wilt, get crushed and don’t make the journey in one piece. I am OK with this, because what matters most is not the flowers themselves, but the role they play during stressful trips to remind us all to smile and enjoy ourselves and each other.

Business remains unpredictable these days. Simple things—a handwritten note, a thoughtful gesture, saying “thank you” or “great job”—can create an outsized positive impact on culture, productivity and performance. As a fellow traveler at Dulles airport said to me after asking to take a picture of my traveling bouquet, “Love life.” 

Rhonda Morris 8380 square final

Rhonda Morris is vice president and CHRO at Chevron.