Running toward a better future for women
Fellow Flowers : Running toward a better future for women
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By Mel Charbonneau
It all started when my friend Tori invited a bunch of women to run a marathon; 13 of us said yes. She introduced us all by email, and one of the women responded with a beautiful, eloquent story of her struggles and how she hoped running would help her. And then another woman shared her story. And then another.
Looking back at those emails, I realize we weren’t really talking about running. The first sentence was “I ran three miles today,” but the next four paragraphs were about the day we had or a challenge we had to overcome—what we were running toward, what we were running away from.
My own story started with my daughter. She got very sick at six weeks old, but even after she recovered, I had a hard time leaving her side. I realized that to be a good mom, I had to also take care of myself. That meant putting on my running shoes.
The day of the marathon, we all wore fake flowers in our hair. It was a symbol of unity that connected us even in moments when we found ourselves running alone. They got us noticed too. I was at mile ten when a gentleman yelled at the top of his lungs, “There’s a flower two blocks ahead of you. If you stay strong you can catch her!”
Several months later, I was putting on the flower before another race and started wondering, “Why do I keep doing this?” There was something there. The flower meant something. I ran for two hours and when I crossed the finish line, I had a business plan drawn up in my head.
Tori and I started Fellow Flowers to show women they’re not alone. When they get to a race and see other women with flowers in their hair, they feel that connection. It’s a really empowering feeling, and it’s what keeps me motivated.
Your values when you’re starting a business—or anything, really—get challenged often. There’s always an easier way to do something. There’s always a shortcut you could take. You have to constantly remember why you started and stay true to the people you’re trying to serve. When I’m tired, I often think about the difference I could make in that person’s day, and I keep going.
I also work hard for my kids. I want them to see that if you pursue a dream with all your heart and soul, even when it gets tough, you can make a difference. I want them to see me fall and get back up. I want them to see me in times of struggle and indecision, so that when they get in a difficult, uncomfortable situation, they understand it’s part of the process. They know it’s not going to be easy, but if they push through, it’s totally worth it on the other side.
“The thought of being in charge and responsible for everything was very intimidating,” she admitted. “I didn’t think I had the strength or the organizational skills or the guts to do what I did. When I first started Rhythm and Shoes, I did all the choreography. I answered the phones. I did the emails. I did all of the accounting, and that was ridiculous. People around me said, ‘You have to delegate. People want to help you.’ It’s not that I didn’t think anyone could do a good job. I just didn’t want to burden people.”
In the studio’s second year, she learned to let go, handing off responsibilities to her staff. The effect was immediate.
Getting started is definitely the hardest part. Sometimes we’re scared to say, “This is what I love to do,” because it’s not what we’re currently doing. It goes against everything you’ve built up in your life. But when you say it out loud and own it, it becomes a powerful force.
Today Fellow Flowers sells a wide range of inspirational items, including apparel, paper goods and flowers in 12 colors, each one representing a different trait. I wear the green one a lot because it stands for courage. We created it when we were deciding whether to walk away from our full-time jobs, along with the security, insurance and retirement accounts that came with them. Courage is about chasing the dream wherever it takes you.
I don’t need to know the destination because dreaming, like running, is about the journey, not the finish line. Every runner knows that the finish line is just the beginning. When you reach it, you see what you’ve accomplished and start thinking about what else you’re capable of. Things become possible. I’m not running from anything. I’m definitely running to.