How to Make It as a Florist
Introducing How to Make It, Clover's career column. Here, some of the smartest, coolest, and most successful women we know share career tips, life advice, and other invaluable wisdom they've learned along the way.
Everything is coming up roses for Christina Stembel, the Indiana native who founded Farmgirl Flowers in her living room six years ago. The rad start-up provides a much-needed alternative to dial-a-florists like 1-800-Flowers, delivering burlap-wrapped bouquets via bicycle. She only uses local flowers—which is a big deal in an industry that relies on cheap imports—and all the bouquets are so artfully arranged you'll dig them even if you're "not a flower person." You'll also dig her career advice, even if you don't have green thumb aspirations.
What were you like as a teen, and what do you wish you could tell your teenage self?
Growing up in rural Indiana, I never fit in. I was that kid–the one that everyone made fun of. I was creative, making my own clothes and doing my hair and makeup different than the norm. It always felt a little like I was just in the wrong place, so a couple weeks after I graduated high school I moved to New York City, and weirdly, felt much more at home there than I did in Indiana. Looking back, I wish I could tell my teenage self not to worry what others thought of me. And that being different is so much better than being the same.
How exactly did you get to where you are now, professionally? What was the step-by-step process?
I wholeheartedly believe that nothing is ever wasted. I’ve worked a ton of jobs and learned from each and every one of them–from Burger King in high school to hospitality management and even a record label startup in between. I don’t have the typical college story that most have. Where I grew up, many did not go to college, especially women. It wasn’t just not expected; it wasn’t encouraged. The expectation was more that I would get married and have children, and though there’s nothing wrong with that, it wasn’t what I envisioned for my future. I always wanted to do something different, and although I didn’t know exactly what that was, I wanted to keep trying until I figured it out.
In New York, I went to an acting program and found out that probably wasn’t my future. Then I managed hotels in Chicago, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco, which is how I made my way to California (and a boy played a part in it as well!). Then I worked at a startup music company turned record label during the rise of the first dot com. Then I went to work at Stanford University as the Director of Catering and then the Director of Alumni Relations & Campaign Outreach for Stanford Law School. And then, I started Farmgirl Flowers. I knew I always wanted to do something special, and had a different idea almost every single week (driving my friends and family crazy!), but when I came up with the idea for Farmgirl Flowers, I just knew it was the one.
What do you wish you had known then that you know now about having a career?
Honestly, I wish I would have started a company sooner. I think fear is such a deterrent for just taking the plunge. So much of what determines success is just good ol’ fashioned hard work, and I had that in spades, so I wish I would have gotten a jump start when I was younger. Then Farmgirl could’ve been my second or third success story!
What advice about work do you have for teens or for people just starting out (whether that’s an internship, or actual job)?
Don’t wait for things to happen—go out there and make them happen! And treat people well. My favorite saying is to “hustle with heart." You have to put the work in. Don’t expect that you can skip that part. It seems everyone wants overnight success, but it really doesn’t happen that way. You just have to put the time and effort, and when it does pay off, it will be that much sweeter! And treat people with kindness and respect, and you’ll usually get it in return.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t worry about what others think of you. Also, as women, we need to support and encourage each other instead of tearing each other down. Competition is so ingrained in us through so many environmental channels that we often don’t even realize that we’re doing it, but we should be each other's cheerleaders!