Did you know that in my twenties, I was pretty sure I’d own a flower shop? I’d worked in one all through college, often logging 30 hours a week and sometimes 60 if we were doing a big wedding or it was Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day.
I loved it. The aching back, the perpetually green fingernails, the cut-up hands, the stench of stems rotting in water in the back of the fridge…ahhh, it was bliss.
Flower shops are HARD fucking work. But I loved everything about it. I started as a peon, de-thorning roses and lugging buckets up and down stairs, then slowly learned how to be a designer. As graduation loomed, and the owner of the shop grew more and more exhausted, we even talked about me some day taking over her shop.
Ohhh, I wanted it so badly. I LOVED this place. It was a little boutique of unbelievable beauty. We turned out reams of beautiful, whimsical, gorgeous arrangements dripping with berries, fruit and pinecones peeking out, wild vines trailing. It was like English garden meets Brambly Hedge with some haute couture sprinkled on top. Oh, how I wanted it to be mine.
Weirdly enough, I actually had a backer who was willing to front me the money.
I knew the biz inside out.
I knew all the customers– in fact, I’d even been inside their homes to help them plan parties and dinners. I was 22 and technically I had zero business savvy, but I wasn’t afraid to learn, to work hard, and I did have some pretty intense entrepreneurial instincts.
It was so close I could taste it.
But then things went sideways, and my beloved shop– that kingdom of beauty and wonder and whimsical branches and tufts of moss– was taken over and turned into a horrible cheap cartoon of itself. Suddenly it had fluorescent lights, carnations, stuffed bears and balloons. It was hideous, and horrible, and I was heartbroken.
And plus, it was graduation and I had NO idea what to do.
So I went to work for a big prestigious foundation, again as a peon, and wore stockings and heels and was pretty miserable but learned some interesting things.
And then I became a beatnik for a while, and worked in a bookstore, and then as an actress, and then– well, I had some adventures. But all that time, I had this strange invisible skill:
I could do flowers.
Those big looming topiaries that hang over fancy tables? I can make those.
Those big trailing bouquets that brides carry? I can make those too.
I can twist garland, and make head wreaths, and do boutonierres and funeral arrangements and dinner table centerpieces and tussy mussies.
It’s like being able to speak a language no one knows you can speak. (for instance, Japanese.)
This skill just sat in me, unused. It’s been years since I’ve done wedding flowers, even for a friend. The only outlet for my flower love is the jars of flowers I keep sitting around my house.
The reason I’m telling you this is precisely because it never occurred to me to do it before.
Someone in one of my programs wrote that she was having trouble getting her flower arrangements to look right, and it was costing her all this time and money but they still looked kind of lame. She wondered how I got my flowers to look just so.
And I started to type, “Um, wait, you know I used to be a florist, right?” ~even as it dawned on me that of COURSE she didn’t, because I had NEVER TOLD anybody.
I’m telling you this story because if you’ve ever looked at my pictures of flowers on Instagram and felt discouraged, you should know that I’ve put thousands of hours into learning how to make flowers beautiful. So cut yourself some slack.
But that goes for EVERYTHING you see on Instagram, or Facebook, or at that cocktail party. All those things you see other people doing effortlessly? You don’t know how it got that way for them. They probably didn’t just wake up knowing how to renovate a home, or dress beautifully, or take gorgeous photographs.
We all have a back story. I bet you have something that you do so with such grace and ease that it makes your friends a little bit crazy jealous. Maybe people look at you and wonder how you get all the dishes on the table for dinner all hot at the same time, or how you’re able to multitask, or how you’re able to keep your cool under pressure. But maybe you were a line cook for two years, or you grew up with 12 siblings, or you worked for a psychopath that one summer.
It’s like Anne Lamott says: you can’t compare your insides to other peoples’ outsides.
You should have seen some of my first arrangements– they were TERRIBLE!
We all have something that other people admire because we make it look easy, but it’s not actually that it was easy– it’s that we’ve put in the time and gotten good at it. And the good news about that is that if you WANT something to become effortless, you can make that happen for yourself.
And if you want your flowers to look good, here are my top 3 tips: buy a bunch of the same flower ALL in the same color, cut them half as short as you think they ought to be, and plop them in a mason jar. Done and done!