• September 2014

Tending the Garden in Your Life

What’s your big hairy dream? Are you living it—or waiting for your life to change in some dramatic way … for your kids to go to college, to gather the needed courage, or to win the lottery to afford to make your dream come true?

That’s one of the themes we’ll be exploring with our new column, LiveLoveLaughing.com.

In this month’s column, that’s the question we posed to Stephanie Bhonslay, a recovering corporate attorney and founder of GardenU, who is on the precipice of making her dream of becoming an entrepreneur come to fruition. (That’s Bhonslay on the right, above, shown with her partner and sister, Donna Shulman.)

Scroll down to read our Q&A.


Be Inkandescent: Tell us a little about yourself and your career. What have you loved about what you do, and what have you found frustrating about your work life?

Stephanie Bhonslay: I’m married and living in New York City with two teenage kids and have been practicing law for more than two decades. Until this summer, I spent the last 10 years working as in-house counsel at a worldwide ad agency where I specialized in advertising, marketing, and media law.

And more than five years ago, my sister Donna and I founded GardenU, with the mission of providing at-home personal garden coaching to young and old to help our customers build strong, sustainable connections to the environment and the community. We also aim to help them improve their health, because gardening can be great exercise. And, there are nutritional benefits when you eat what you grow.

Like most things, there are pros and cons to my choices. I’d say the best part of my law job was working closely with the account teams to help structure and negotiate various transactions on their behalf and sharing in my clients’ successes. I found most frustrating the time pressure I was under to complete complex transactions—I referred to it as “assembly-line law” — and the decreasing quality of life that ensued.

The best part of running GardenU is watching our clients experience the joy that comes with tending a garden. The most difficult part is reaching more people and maintaining personal, customized gardening services.

Be Inkandescent: You recently had a change in your career, just weeks before you turned 50. How did that feel?

Stephanie Bhonslay: To be honest, at first I vacillated between, on the one hand, feeling shocked and stunned—to, on the other, feeling wonderfully liberated and exhilarated. In short order, exhilaration became the predominant emotion as I realized that being an entrepreneur was the alternative to reaching 50 and continuing to work for another 10 years in a job that was exhausting and increasingly stressful.

When I did reach the big day, just a few weeks after losing my job, I felt as if I was given the gift of hope and possibility. I could now spend more time with my family—and focus on the expansion of GardenU. What a gift!

Be Inkandescent: What made you make this big shift (even if it wasn’t your own doing)?

Stephanie Bhonslay: One of the positive effects of growing older and accepting that life is finite is that you are forced to define the things that are most important—and pursue them—so you don’t look back with regrets. Now, the shift is my responsibility, and not someone who can hire or fire me. I’m in control of my future. After spending so many years in the corporate world, that is a big shift.

Be Inkandescent: What have you learned from this process?

Stephanie Bhonslay: First, that I can survive major transitions—and survive them well. Second, if one of your goals is to feel secure in your life, don’t look for it in a job, husband, bank account, etc. It only comes from truly believing in yourself. You’ve heard that before, right? I’m here to tell you—it’s 100 percent true.

Be Inkandescent: If you could change how the recent shift played out, would you? If so, how would you do things differently?

Stephanie Bhonslay: The answer is, emphatically, no. I wouldn’t change a thing. And frankly, I couldn’t have done anything differently to change the reality that ensued. I am committed to focusing on what is in the here and now, and not ruminating on what has already passed.

Be Inkandescent: Isn’t that beautiful! Given what you know now, what would you do differently in your life? In your career?

Stephanie Bhonslay: I would have listened to myself much more carefully, taken more risks, and welcomed the mistakes that have inevitably occurred. And deep down inside, I would have always known that I’d survive. That is the approach I am embracing at 50. In many ways, this approach to life is challenging with a family and major financial responsibilities. But, it is also easier because of the wisdom and life experience that comes with age. I truly believe that if I had given myself permission to dream, and act on my dreams, in my 20s, 30s, or even 40s, I would have been much more confident in those younger days—and perhaps even more successful.

Be Inkandescent: What are you looking forward to now?

Stephanie Bhonslay: I look forward to calling my own shots, spending more time with my kids, and expanding GardenU. And 10 years from now, I hope to have franchised my company into a nationally known firm that helps millions of people connect with nature, and with themselves. I also look forward to watching my two kids pursue their own careers and lives in a way that will make them feel fulfilled.

Be Inkandescent: What advice do you have for others who are in transition?

Stephanie Bhonslay: Don’t make any quick decisions. Give yourself time, at least a month or two, to think about how you arrived at the fork in the road and where you want to go. (Tip: It’s easier to do this if you have built up some savings to pay the bills.) During this time, do a serious self-assessment and as appropriate, take responsibility for the mistakes you’ve made. Then learn from them, and quickly move on. Once you have your thoughts in order, manage your time well, and begin to work hard to achieve your goals, baby step by baby step. Every day. And above all, do not dwell on the negative people or circumstances that preceded the transition.

For more information, and to create the garden of your dreams, visit Stephanie Bhonslay and Donna Shulman’s GardenU.