With the exact same excitement and certainty that I started 2h flowers, I am ending it.
I first wrote these words in an email to someone close to me and it was the first time I really meant it. After that I started saying it out loud here and there, testing it, hearing the words in my own voice. I told my dentist (he was a regular client), I told friends’ mothers at a recent beach BBQ (I’d done the flowers for each of their daughter’s weddings), I told a neighbor who had witnessed the coming and going of flowers every day.
Each time I told someone I smiled brightly and maybe even added a ta-da hand gesture. A new answer to the old how’s-the-flower-business question: “I’mmm… ending it!” (warm smile emoji, waving hand emoji)
I watched each person process what I was saying. Their responses didn’t mirror my own enthusiasm. An immediate “But…” was usually the first thing that popped out. “But… you love what you do!” “But… you’re so good at it!” “But… it’s your dream job!”
But… what if it’s not.
This note actually has little to do with flowers and a lot to do with what I learned in the process of starting and running a business that sells them. My experience may counter the outward appearance that I was happy to support. I want to share the full story now because I believe false perceptions of reality are increasingly prevalent and increasingly damaging, particularly in our social media driven world. It’s my hope that these words might be helpful in some small way.
So, saying all this out loud has been a strange thing. Lately, the move from “corporate life” to the self-started “dream job” is an increasingly popular topic. As we all search for more fulfillment and meaning and happiness in our daily lives, this elusive dream job is the coveted golden egg and, according to the outside world, I had it! Each day there’s a new article or blog post about another amazing self starter who walked out on their stuffy desk job to have it all. They tell brave tales, their stories are inspiring. How could I already be on the other side of all the glory? Corporate job, no thank you. Dream job, nah? In a whisper I wonder, am I even allowed to say I don’t want it anymore? Is it greedy or flippant or a mark of failure to want to walk away?
I’m happy to understand that, no, it’s not any of those things. I wavered in my knowing at first, uncertain of what the nagging voice was pointing to. Was I not trying hard enough? Was I not focused? Was I afraid of some unknown? Was I unequipped? I asked myself these questions many, many times over the past year. Rather than an intense passion for flowers, I started the company to fill a gap in the market. Still, I did love flowers. The business was successful. What was I doing wrong? I repackaged, redesigned, reprioritized. I focused on my happy clients, the positive feedback, the ever-growing demand. Still, I struggled. Why didn’t I feel endlessly proud of something I had worked so hard for? How could I not be fulfilled by this thing, all dressed up as my dream job, that had become such a big part of my life?
I recently read an article where the author suggested that beyond the inclination of fight or flight, there is another option when we’re feeling challenged. The option to heal. She spoke of it in reference to relationships, but I think it can be applied to anything meaningful that challenges us. There was a time during this past year that I was hellbent on fighting to keep my head in the game, to reinvigorate myself, to drive my business forward. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was fighting against, but I grasped at all the surface things I could think of to push onward. I took an extended vacation, I made a bunch of mood boards, I connected with new clients, I pushed my own creative limits.
When these efforts didn’t resolve my uncertainty, I was frustrated by not understanding where I was getting hung up, not knowing what was keeping me from wanting to move forward. I had always been very driven and goal oriented, but I felt helpless. I didn’t know where else to look for answers outside of myself. At that point I wanted nothing more than to close the doors without warning, take flight, leave it all behind. I didn’t know why I was stuck. I definitely didn’t want to stay in this place, feeling like I was failing, especially when I didn’t even know at what exactly. I didn’t want to let anyone down, but I felt anxious to free myself.
I’m grateful to the small part of me that recognized that fleeing would dishonor everything I had built, everything I had learned and had become thanks to this business. I needed detachment of some sort, but didn’t want a bitter ending. I’m grateful that following an aptly timed, though unexpected, break-up, I was prompted to look inward to take stock of what was going on. I chose the route of healing. Through this process I came to have a much clearer understanding of my strengths, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities, the things I want and value, the things that make me feel fulfilled, the things that make me who I am.
Luckily, a life shake-up is not required to gain insight. It can be yours just by making a choice to look. Look at the things that make you feel reactive or resistant or shutdown. See what’s underneath those feelings. Feelings, while we’re often keen to push them down or ignore them, exist to teach us something. They surface in order to point out where we need to heal, to let go, or grow. They come up as we go on living our lives to be like, “Hey! (face with waving hands emoji) Hey it’s me, (insert your favorite dreaded feeling)! There’s something going on under here, why don’t you have a look so I don’t have to keep rushing in to ruin your day!” When the feelings are pleasant, like those of fulfillment or contentment, they can show us where we’re doing something that serves us well and act as reinforcements. Particularly when they’re less than pleasant, it’s easy to brush past the feelings, shoving them aside or tucking them away. In our day to day life, most of us are likely quite good at distracting ourselves from our true feelings by being soooo busy or tirelessly dedicated to the job that we may not even like. Many of our peers may be doing the same thing so it can be hard to recognize that we’re ignoring the things that want to be felt. Many of us (myself included) have been trained to push those intrusive feelings aside, focus, work harder, be tough.
What’s tough is actually facing these things that want to be felt. Most of us are very good at bottling up, suppressing, ignoring, masking, distracting – all the effective tactics. And it all works for a good while, but oh, the energy it requires. Facing that deep down stuff that’s barely seen the light of day can feel a little terrifying. The good news is that once you’re aware of what keeps popping up and you give it a little attention, it’s likely you’ll only have to face it once. You can address it, hang on to that awareness, and let it go, moving on. As hard as we search for detours, the only way out is through. Once you move through it, that old insecurity gets moved out of the dark, dingy bin of neglected feelings and into the light of day. It no longer has to take up precious space or energy day after day after day and it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll ultimately feel better. Feeling feelings actually makes you feel better!
In facing some of my own long-neglected feelings, I discovered that the challenge I was facing was very personal to me. Looking back, I see that I got stuck because I wasn’t valuing my work. I came to realize that because my daily work didn’t feel representative of all I wanted to do, I was often left feeling unfulfilled. I was proud to have built a business and truly loved being able to make things that made people happy, but I felt like something was missing. I spent endless days working tirelessly for years. On the outside I had many happy clients, flower-carrying muscles, a Fitbit with off-the-charts-steps, newly developed allergies to cut flowers, and double hernia scars to show for my labor. On the inside, I often felt exhausted and empty. Because my work wasn’t satisfying my inner wants, I had a very hard time during my “off hours.” I wanted to be able to relax and reward myself for the hard work I was putting in, but I was restless, never quite feeling like I’d earned it. Since I only was able to see all of this recently, I had spent quite a bit of time struggling with the idea that I should be very proud and happy while carrying feelings that said otherwise. On top of that I worried that the quest for happiness might be a little indulgent. Maybe it was supposed to feel this way? I didn’t realize the damage I was doing as my self-esteem and outside relationships suffered. Because I hadn’t yet made time to stop and acknowledge what my body and spirit really needed, I was able to push past the red flags.
All along I was so focused on trying to control how I felt. I thought I could will myself to be satisfied or fulfilled. Once I finally let go of that attempt to control, my true feelings had room to surface. Unexpected? Yes. Even better? Feels like it. I definitely didn’t expect it to be my job – one I’d created – that was holding me back, but finally I had clarity. Finally I was able to see what it was that had me stuck all that time and see what I was really wanting for myself. If I hadn’t gone through the process whole-heartedly I probably wouldn’t be where I am now. I didn’t get to this place out of fear of failure or lack of commitment or boredom or indifference. I got to this place because I took a chance to get to myself. In doing that I was able to see a big part of me that was waiting to be let out.
Looking back I see that there were signs all along that pointed to this ending. As we all know, most things are crystal clear in hindsight. As much as we like to think we can cheat it, timing is everything. While the signs may have existed, I wasn’t yet equipped to read them. I suppose that’s the tricky part. Until we’re really ready to know something and apply it, we’ll keep moving forward, ignoring or rejecting those messages. You might be ready a week later, it might take a year. Sometimes we just have to trust the process.
The truth can be hard. We may run from the actual truth because facing it is inconvenient or terribly hard or sometimes heartbreaking. We may also run from things that are dressed up like the truth. The key is getting to yourself and asking the tough questions without letting your ego get in the way. The ego is very, very good at fighting for what it wants, but it gets dissolved when you listen to your heart and understand exactly what it’s asking for.
Not everything that comes into our lives is meant to be there forever. Some things come in to our lives at a time we need them most, to teach us something or help us grow, or to prepare us for what comes next. Sometimes they’ll come back to us in a different form, from a new perspective. Sometimes they don’t. If we can consider that things happen for us rather than to us, we can see each milestone or growing pain as a benefit. Each challenge we face is actually a nudge forward. It’s a chance to try again, to do slightly better next time, or to meet a part of ourselves we haven’t even known yet. For me this process was an incredible education. And, since I cashed out my 401k to get started, it cost about as much as one, too! My accountant really didn’t want me to do that, but it was worth everything that I put into it and more.
When I first started writing this I struggled a little with how it might sound when I shared it. If, despite my positive speech, it would be perceived as failure just the same. Still, I decided I wanted to share anyway. I don’t think success is necessarily synonymous with sticking it out or staying the course. I believe we can claim success when we’re able to honestly evaluate what we’ve done and where we’re at. Quitting can be seen as a positive thing if we’re leaving behind something that was bad for us – smoking, for example, or a toxic relationship. Quitting can be seen as a negative thing if it appears to be done out of fear or maybe before thoughtful time and effort has been put in. I have experience in quitting both ways. I’m not proud of the moments I quit because I felt challenged. Rather than summon the strength to stick with something that would have ultimately been rewarding, I bailed. If I could have a redo of those moments, I’d take them, but since I don’t, I’ve learned from them. This time I quit something that wasn’t helping me to be my better self. It might have looked prettier on the outside if I stayed in it, but carefully deciding to release something in order to grow feels like a personal success. Is there anything you feel like you want to release in order to grow?
This actually isn’t the first time I’ve had this experience. After 7 years working for a corporate fashion brand, I knew I was ready to apply myself in a new way, I just wasn’t sure what it would be. I had a great job and it supported me well, but I was craving more room to grow and craved an outlet where my rebellious tendencies could be a benefit. I went on a handful of interviews for jobs that were pretty much clones of the one I already had. I realized that probably wouldn’t solve anything. I was wanting to move forward, but was still very much attached to the job (and financial security) I had. One day when I felt ready to throw open the proverbial doors to what might come next, I decided to purge my space of all the physical things I’d accumulated (and no longer needed) over all those years. I thought maybe if I cleared away the things that made me feel physically tied to that space, I might create room for some movement. When I finished, I couldn’t even move the giant box I had dumped everything into. One of the few items that remained was a glass vase. I thought I might order myself some flowers to celebrate this exercise and decorate my now-sparse desk. At the time I struggled to find a florist I wanted to order from (now there is so much talent!) – someone that created organic-feeling arrangements at a reasonable price. In that moment I thought maybe I could be the florist that I was looking for. I also thought, “Wow, that sure worked fast…” I started making plans for the business that same day. I left my job by that Labor Day and launched the 2h flowers website the end of that September.
Sometimes just setting an intention can change the way life starts to unfold. If you’re craving a change, start by shifting habits that make you feel stuck or disempowered. Clear away physical things that don’t serve a purpose or make you feel happy. Change your view – this could be as small as shifting your commute routine or walking a few extra blocks to have lunch somewhere new. It’s so easy for us to be in autopilot. Do just one or two things that wake you up and make you notice what’s going on around you and more importantly, inside you. Reality is only the present moment. It’s not the past and it’s not the future. If your reality isn’t making you look fondly on the past or excitedly toward the future, find a way to impact it. Every passing second is a new chance. Now more than ever we’re overworked and overstimulated. It’s as though there should be a new 2016 word for multitask because the original definition feels like a massive understatement. Still, we all have the same amount of time. Each of us has the exact same 24 hours each day. (Or as I just saw on Instagram, “You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyonce.” So there’s that.) It’s entirely up to us what we make time for. Slowly we’re starting to move in a direction where we focus less on how many things we can do at once and more on the quality of time spent on those choice things that really serve us. It’s not always an easy decision to make, but certainly one worth doing thoughtfully.
We all have so much more going on than most people will ever know. We have talents and skills and dreams. Often those things are masked by our daily uniform, suppressed until we find the time or energy to let them out. If those are the things that make you who you are and not the title that’s letterpressed onto your business card, find a way to let them out. They don’t have to become your job, but ideally will be supported by it. If your job drains everything you’ve got so that you can’t enjoy life beyond it, that’s something to look at. Misery does love company and we’ve been largely trained to believe that being miserable most of the time is the way it goes and that it’s an indicator of success, even! If your friends are miserable and your coworkers are miserable, you’ll find camaraderie in that and it will be a lot harder to want to instigate change. For five years I didn’t know what work/life balance felt like. I was working, thinking about work, or feeling like I should be thinking about work almost constantly. Being in this place impacted how I felt about myself, made me detach from the hobbies and things I once loved, and was detrimental to my relationships. On the surface I carried on, but I knew this wasn’t how it should be. To be clear, there is very hard work that you do for the sake of something you believe in or love. That work, while it will make you exhausted, will ultimately energize you, positively impacting other areas of your life. On the flip side there is work that may also be hard and that you do for any number of valid reasons, but it sucks the life out of you leaving no energy for anything else. If the latter sounds familiar, ask yourself if you’ve pushed away things you love out of commitment to something you don’t. If so, how you can clear some of those negative things away to make more space for what you love?
It can be really easy to sit and wonder why nothing is changing for us, why talking about being miserable or keeping our head down and pushing along isn’t enough to create a shift. Sometimes all you have to do is actually want to make a change and say it out loud. It might feel scary to say that big dream thing out loud, but if it feels like the truth, you’re ready to realize it. Connect with people who inspire you or have gone the way you’re wanting to go. As much as misery loves company, happiness and fulfillment love company, too, and will be the very first to help pull you up. If you want to be miserable, you’ll attract that. If you want to find something that’ll make you feel alive, you will attract that. If you say you don’t want to be the thing that you are, change it. Sitting in a stagnant spot is far more demanding than working toward something that makes you happy.
Once I made the decision to move away from 2h, I started talking about the excitement of the unknown. I had set up only a small window of time where I could remain excited in the unknown. Then I’d need rent money. In talking about where I was at, I attracted an opportunity that aims to fulfill the wants that had been calling to me. If I never said how I felt out loud, this person may not have been prompted to share with me. This isn’t about magic or law of attraction, it’s just how things work. If you want something, say so. Talk about it. Believe it. You will find a way to have it. Whether you believe you can or believe you can’t, you’re right either way. It’s entirely up to you.
Money, of course, is a tricky subject. We need it to live. We want it to support the lifestyle we’ve created – whether it’s just a girl and her cat or a whole family. There is something to be said for the financial security that comes with certain jobs. The assessment here becomes most personal as each of us considers what we ultimately value: free time, a regular schedule, opportunity for growth, a role that really drives us, a company that let’s us be who we are, an outlet to make a positive impact, or tons and tons of cash money. We can each look at the pie slices that represent the different categories and see where we might be willing to give up some of one slice for more of a different flavor.
Wanting to make a change to the way your values are structured doesn’t require anything drastic. Marching into your office tomorrow to quit the job you hate and to tell off your grouchy co-workers probably isn’t the way to go about it. (I’m going to go so far as to say it’s definitely not the way to go about it.) You can start just by setting an intention and opening yourself up to the possibility of change. You won’t know what’s out there and trying to come to you if you don’t open yourself up to it. Both times I made large shifts I thought carefully for six or more months. I’m not saying it has to take you that long, you might be ready to make the jump, just be thoughtful about your priorities. If money is a priority, wait to build a cushion that feels reasonable to you. If security takes a backseat and it’s freedom and an overall life shake-up that you crave, then by all means GO FOR IT. If you’ve spent time recently feeling less than alive, why?
It’s not easy to get to the things that feel meaningful to us, but isn’t it worth it? Can you really answer that question with a no?
There is SO MUCH GREATNESS in you and you deserve to feel alive. A decision to want to have more, be more, do more is one that’s filled with fire. Use that. Fight for the thing that challenges you. The you that wants to make a change will work its tail off to make sure that you’re alright. This you will show you parts of yourself that you never knew were in there. This you will be scrappy and creative and resilient and tireless and will teach you more about yourself than you’ve ever known.
Feeling the tensions of a trying time in our society and world, I understand that the idea of soul searching may come off as being a bit indulgent. I considered it myself and certainly, struggle and need are relative terms. I will argue that at a time where it’s easy to feel helpless against the discord, we can all make an impact at the human level, by focusing on ourselves. It is not indulgent to seek happiness and purpose and fulfillment for oneself. When a human achieves those things with a true understanding of who they are, where their flaws are, where their strengths and weaknesses are, and can proudly stand in it all, they then have the power to impact another human. When we act from the heart, with love, we’ll be drawn to other people who are doing the same or who want to do the same. Together we’ll grow stronger adding more and more people to this positive force. We’ll be able to hear each other and show each other things we might not have otherwise seen. Even if we don’t agree with one another we can form an understanding. Uncovering the things that make you a whole person will benefit your children, your partner, your friends, strangers, your dog, your work, all the things you love. And that is not indulgent. It’s also not easy. Most worthy work isn’t easy and I think that knowing yourself might be one of the most worthy things one can do because the benefits will radiate to everyone. You don’t care about anyone else? Even at the most selfish level, it means feeling pretty damn good about yourself.
I get that the idea of being outwardly “happy” makes most of us roll our eyes – especially if we live in New York – but if no one had to know… wouldn’t it feel, like, kind of nice? And please, I’m not suggesting dropping the subway scowl or dressing in any color besides black (or grey, because it’s summer), but maybe try it and let me know how it goes. I don’t want to be the only (happy) one…
Ok, I know that was A LOT of words. I looked at cutting back, but my intention in sharing is the hope that some part of this story might connect with someone that’s feeling something similar. We’re all at different stages and have different stories, but the core concepts are universal. If you’re currently facing the same challenges, I’d love to hear about it. If you’ve already figured it all out, I’d love to hear about it.
Now before I lose your attention…
Thank you to all who have sweetly and persistently inquired over the past few months while I’ve been holed up working on a special project. I had the opportunity to redesign and build the curriculum for a floral course that will be offered at one of New York’s online institutes. I love flowers, I love what they bring to a moment, I love the gesture of giving them, I love finding them, putting my hands on them, tending to them, watching them, and photographing them. I will continue to love doing those things and will work on select projects on a limited basis. Beyond that, I’ve been offered an opportunity to challenge myself in a host of new ways, moving forward with a focus on helping others come together for a common cause. If you want to follow along, I’ll be sharing on Instagram as @kellyacobb and, again, I would love to hear your own story or questions or thoughts at kellyacobb(at)gmail(dot)com.
From a full heart, THANK YOU for everything you’ve done for me, taught me, allowed me to be a part of. For entrusting me with your love notes and I like you notes and forgive me notes. Thank you for inviting me to bring beauty to your wedding days and the many, many occasions in between. Thank you for your own thank you notes; I never took them for granted and each time I received word that my flowers made someone happy, it truly brightened my day. It was always that feeling that kept me going.
Thank you to the people I love that supported my dream to do this and who showed their support by stepping in when I needed extra help. Those stars who willingly hand-delivered flowers in rain, snow, and 90 degree heat, who kept me company on sleepless wedding prep overnights, who happily stripped hundreds of flower stems in the midst of floral chaos, who delivered perfect café au lait-filled-cups when I needed it most, and for always believing in, encouraging, and being proud of me. It meant everything. The moments and levels of satisfaction, pride, and exhaustion that came with this job are unlike any I’ve ever known.
Thank you to Julia who spent many early mornings with us, eager to learn everything there is to know about flowers. For her support, her love of cats, and for sharing her many entertaining stories with us. Thank you especially to Ingrid who was my partner in 2h for the best years. For putting up with me, for her tireless work, love, support, and for her genius Pandora stations. Thank you to my parents for being who they are and always encouraging me to be who I am.
Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to fulfill a dream that brought me to a place I never would have expected. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for letting me share my words with you; My wish is that they might help in some small way. I’m so excited for what comes next and so grateful for this experience. I could not have had it without all of you.