Stella and the performance bubble #3

Joy in flowers

Everyone is successful and knows what they want. Except for RUG student Stella Vrijmoed. Stella doesn’t know what she wants. Stella fails all the time. Or so she thinks. For the UK, she wrote a short series of personal stories about the performance bubble and the fear of failure. Part 3:
By Stella Vrijmoed / Photo by Leonie Coppes / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Last week, I wrote that failing becomes much easier when you do something you love. I recently heard that an old study friend of mine, Ottilie Sol, made a drastic career change after finishing her bachelor’s degree in musicology. During an internship at a florist, she found her true passion: flowers. Now she works there on a permanent basis. Is it possible that Ottilie doesn’t have that fear of failure because she’s doing something she truly loves?

This is how I saw it: highly education twenty-something struggles with the stress of having to make choices, unexpectedly chooses a job that is much less prestigious than what she’s trained for, and is much happier now that she has followed her heart. To me, this seemed the perfect motivation for people struggling with other people’s opinions of them.

‘Do something with my hands’

In the two years after getting her bachelor’s degree, Ottilie worked various jobs in the music industry. She didn’t really enjoy sitting in an office five days a week, and it gave her a backache, too. ‘I wanted to be outside’, says Ottilie. ‘Do something with my hands.’

She remembered the job she had in high school: every Saturday, she worked at florist’s stall at the market. ‘I quite liked that. When the weather was good you could enjoy the sunshine, and people were always happy when they bought flowers.’ She decided to walk into a random flower shop, and by complete chance, immediately struck gold. She was offered a job.

Ottilie now makes bouquets, and helps with weddings and funeral wreaths. Her days are long. ‘I never get home before six. There are always customers coming in at five minutes to six, or there are last minute requests. My nails are always black with dirt.’


It’s very different from the music work she did. Not just because she spends her days in the shop or delivering flowers on her bicycle, but also because she works in a small team with just two other people, which means she has a lot of responsibility. ‘It took me a while to get used to that. When you make a mistake, you are responsible for that mistake. In my previous job I could hide behind my computer when I did something wrong.’

Now, she has customers looking at her while she works. ‘It used to terrify me. Are the flowers in the right place? I’d sometimes have to start over a few times. I was so worried that everyone would hate my bouquets! It takes a lot of practice. I did cry a lot in the beginning. I set the bar way too high for myself. I had to get it just right. I don’t like making mistakes. When I do make a mistake, I’m really worried that will influence how people see me. I’d rather not do something than risk making a mistake.’


And there it is: fear of failure. These days, however, she is much less afraid to fail. Because: ‘This work is so much more personal. It allows me to show what I like, and what I can create. It’s a very different feeling when I make something that isn’t pretty or right.’

Ottilie thinks her fear of failure stems from her experience as a child starting at a new school where the other children weren’t very nice to her. ‘Maybe that’s why I got it into my head that I had to be good at everything right away. That people would like me even less if I didn’t.’

I think of my own upbringing and the theory of the pampered generation: millennials who were spoiled so much by their parents that they can’t hack it in the real world. The thought has crossed my mind that my lack of tolerance of failure stems from the fact that my life has always been easy. Ottilie has her own interpretation of where her fear of failure comes from. It just goes to show how personal the issue is.

Romantic dream

I at least have been awakened from my romantic dream. I do still think it would be nice to work with something other than just my mind every once in a while. But that doesn’t mean that working with your hands isn’t hard as well.

Ottilie accepts the long work days. ‘I didn’t go into this thinking I wouldn’t have to use my brain. I just thought it would be nice to work with pretty things every day, and to make pretty things. I sometimes stop and think: so this is my job. But it doesn’t feel like work.’

What can I learn from Ottilie’s story? Fear of failure probably exists in many different forms. People my age are mainly nervous about starting new jobs. We only just graduated and are looking for something that suits us.

On top of that, our first jobs probably aren’t even our dream jobs. We have to be trained, learn a host of new things. We are dead tired at the end of the day, falling asleep on the couch, just like Ottilie. The fear of failure is still there, but she has managed to conquer it through her love for flowers.

So today’s lesson is: Stay true to yourself, and let’s fuck it up!

This is part 3 of a four-part series. You can read part 1 here, and part 2 here. Stella also writes a blog about this theme, called Submarines.



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