SO YOU WANT TO BE AN EVENT PLANNER/DESIGNER? PART 1--GET UP EARLIER.
This is Part 1 of a series of my tips for working on your next dream. Let me know in the comments if you find them helpful.
I get a lot of questions from those among us who want to break into the wonderful world of event design and/or planning. So, look at me—I thought “I’ll try to be helpful!” Thus, here we are with a little series of some of my advice, inspiration, and yes, even a little tough love, to help you figure out what you want to do and then to…actually do it!
I met a lovely young woman a few weeks ago who told me she really wanted to make a transition to event design but she didn’t have much time to work or learn because she has a full time job.
I told her what I’m about to tell you. Just read the title of this post. GET UP EARLIER. She was surprised to find out that the NYC wholesale flower market is open for a full FOUR HOURS before she has to be at her job in the morning. I told her to get up, go there, learn stuff and meet people. All before her other work starts.
Yep. That’s where it began for me when I was right where you might be today. I had a crazy job as the general manager of a busy Manhattan restaurant with 33 employees and a 7-day per week opening schedule. I often worked double shifts and ate dinner at midnight. It was a pattern of: work, sleep, repeat. And as much as I loved (and still love) restaurants, I always dreamed of having my own creative business where I could work on different projects, because I don’t like doing the same thing every day. Problem was, I couldn’t answer the question, “What kind of business?” yet. I didn’t have a college degree and had never really worked in a “career” beyond restaurant shift work and a few other filler jobs.
Anyway, when we opened the restaurant (the legendary foodie favorite Follonico, near where Eataly is now), we had zero money. Zip zero. We didn’t have a publicist. Or a sign. Or a designer to make flower arrangements, which we wanted. So here’s me. I liked being creative and I volunteered to go to the wholesale flower market and bring some flowers back and “arrange” them. Now, I use this term loosely because I did. not. know. how. to. “arrange flowers.” At all. Not one bit. As a matter of fact, I had recently killed all my friend’s miniature cactus plants that she actually brought to my apartment for safe-keeping when she went on vacation for a week. Still sorry, Lara.
Well, the chef-owner of the restaurant (who was also my boyfriend) agreed to pay for the flowers if I would make pretty things, so off I went at 5:00 in the morning (before my double shifts), to buy flowers. Now, for those of you who haven’t had the, ahem, pleasure/experience/trauma of visiting the NYC wholesale flower market, may I just say, it is probably not what you think, and it was crazy back in the day, which is what I’ll describe here. I’m talking full-on club-level “Murder She Wrote” dancehall dialed up to eleven, with people screaming and a guy who used to wear a full body red leather jumpsuit. A carpet of stems and floral debris all over the floor. People smoking all kinds of stuff. The smell of fresh urine. At 5:00 in the morning! I once walked into a store and spotted my salesman, hair slicked back, one cigarette between his lips, one in the ashtray next to him—both lit. He was talking on the phone—correction—he was talking on two phones at the same time. He was holding one and shouting into the other. “Yo, Hammerhead, I told you, SHOW ME THE FUCKING MONEY!”
Is that the flower market you were imagining when you started reading this post?
But back to the point. The point is, I went to the flower market nearly every single morning for over a year just to learn. I would ask the names of flowers (this was pre-Google y’all!) and then I would forget them and get yelled at by the salespeople for forgetting the names. I would try to memorize what the flowers looked like—this was pre-smart-phones-with-cameras my dears! And I would bring flowers back to the restaurant…and kill them all.
Did you hear me? I killed so many flowers in my first year of self-teaching that I should’ve been charged with flower serial murder. I still feel bad that all those beautiful blossoms gave their lives in service of my less-than-organized “education.” The salespeople used to yell at me for killing flowers. I used to make ugly, out of scale, just plain strange arrangements, and then cry about it.
However. After about a year of getting up early every day and drinking dollar bodega coffee (this was pre-Starbucks-on-every-corner you guys!), after going to the market at 5:00AM and getting yelled at and killing flowers and making things that were not pretty, something finally clicked. Flowers and I came to an understanding, and then we began a conversation, and then an actual dance, which continues to this day!
Do you get what I’m saying? I worked at a restaurant that closed around 11:00PM and then I had to finish my management tasks, lock the gate, go home, eat, and sleep. And I still got my ass up and went to the flower market to learn.
Look, I’m not saying you need to go to the flower market every day. What I am saying is, even if you have kids, a needy partner, and/or another full-time job-plus, none of that should be your excuse for not pursuing your dream. If you can’t get up early for it, I guarantee you, you don’t want it bad enough to put up with the reality of having this career, which can be very demanding.
Several times on the road to having my own business, friends told me, “Just sleep less for now—you’ll figure it out.” And I did sleep less. Do I recommend sleeping less forever? No, I do not. But I recommend pushing yourself to create time and opportunity in the early morning hours if you are not able to just quit your current employment today and jump into free internships until you get a foot in the door.
Because the best way to find opportunities is to start improving your knowledge in any and all areas of interest that relate to events, which is basically everything you can think of. Food, wine, cocktails, flowers, fabrics, props, interior design, graphic design, fashion, logistics, service, etiquette, foreign languages, business best practices, power tools, stationery, CAD drawings, lighting, color theory, accounting, managing people, hosting clients, and creating something new over and over because that is where the bar is today, in our world of Pinterest and over-the-top personalization.
Right about now you’re probably thinking, sure Karen, you got up early, but now you can coast and take it easy. Well, I guess I could, but instead, I decided to start a brand new business. So I’m proud to report to you all, I’m up early nearly every day, working on my next dream. Tell me about your dream and what you’re doing to make it happen, no excuses! Use the comments below or hit me up on Instagram @karenbussen.
Special thanks to Vera Varley for the photos included in this post, which were taken at the NYC flower market… at 6:30 in the morning! GET UP EARLY, DAMMIT!