Nutmeg and Photo Shoots

In my mid-20’s, after spending a few years in the fragrance business, I decided to write a book. I would travel the world, visiting the beautiful and exotic places fragrance ingredients come from: Madagascar, the South of France, the Spice Islands, Italy. The book would have Pulitzer-prize level research and Vogue-worthy photo shoots. It would be the “Eat, Pray, Love” of its generation.

I didn’t share my dream, convinced that someone would steal the idea. And I thought about it all the time. Finally, a friend suggested I write “just one chapter.” So I booked a trip to the Banda Islands, Columbus’s original “Spice Islands” destination. It was super exotic.

I picked clove and nutmeg from trees, I learned about the Dutch rule and Indonesian independence. I drew lots of attention knitting on the airplane (the local craft is batik dyeing), I swam in unbelievable coral reefs, I looked up and saw the Southern Cross instead of the North Star. I spent a balmy evening drinking beer with a group of single-boat sailors who were teachers from Darwin, Australia on academic break.

And I never wrote a single chapter of the book.

Does the “leaky tire” dream sound familiar? It’s the one that keeps you tolerating a reality you don’t like. Like the confusion of managing the two or three people who report to you, the disconnect you have with your boss because you don’t know how to talk to him or her, or the relationships that drain you at work…the Sunday night blues.

Careers have ups and downs, and situations that start out great can shift slowly without your realizing. Being in a rough stretch probably means you need to take stock and make a shift. Before you change jobs, have you learned the tools to manage your boss, your direct reports and your colleagues?

Here’s an exercise I love. Grab a friend or two. Imagine you are meeting in five years, and share where you are as if it’s all happened. What you are working on, who you are working with, your outside of work life, your influence, and position at your job.  And have your friend (or two) role-play and add to your story.  If they know you, they are likely to add details that matter to you and you hadn’t thought of.

In the end, I loved the trip I had so much more than the one I’d imagined. And when I got home, I started the work of taking stock.

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