Avni Patel Thompson is currently the Global Marketing Manager for Reebok International’s Women’s business. Her quest to find perceptive consumer insights and the next great product initiative has taken her from Procter & Gamble’s hallowed halls of brand management to The Boston Consulting Group’s Consumer and Retail practice. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, Avni holds an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree in Chemistry from the University of British Columbia. Avni enjoys writing and sports of any kind – watched or played. She lives in Boston’s South End with her husband.
There I sat, on the eve of my 30th birthday, in front of my laptop, staring at the unassuming button on the screen. Innocuous on the surface, clicking on this one button signified pushing my most cherished dream into reality, whether I was ready or not. But it was time to take the plunge. With a courage I wasn’t feeling with conviction, I hit “Publish”.
That was more than four months ago, where I brought my dual interests of writing and brand management together through my blog brandsundae.com. Until that moment, I had always dreamed of becoming an accomplished writer, but in a vague, “someday” kind of way. But propelled in part by the welcoming of another decade and the inevitable self-reflection that comes along for the ride, and in part by an inflection in my professional life, I had decided to make that dream a reality in some small way.
The thing is, dreams are tricky. We grow up thinking of them as bundles of hope and inspiration and possibility. They sustain us through the good times and the bad. But the reality of dreams (sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?) is that they rely on a certain ambiguity and grandeur in their existence. Actually acting on them, then, has the natural implication of needing to deconstruct these beautiful illusions into bite-sized, practical action steps. Of course your dream will resist, wanting instead to live on as a graceful yet vague ambition.
I suppose each of us has experienced this tension in our lives, as we set our sights on a goal and embark to accomplish it. I know I have. For me, it was the right school, the right company, the perfect wedding. Some goals were more modest, like choosing my next role at Procter & Gamble, others, like my lifelong dream to attend Harvard Business School were as challenging as I had ever known. But they all had something in common. They were all more or less concrete. Each goal had a set of specific steps that I could build a robust action plan around.
I wasn’t until earlier this year, when I had checked off my most immediate dreams – marriage, MBA, job – that I realized I didn’t have the same level of goals set out in front of me. Sure, work continued to be challenging and we would start a family in due time, but I had been so wrapped up in the next big, hairy, audacious goal that I now felt a bit lost without one.
And so I started to examine that oldest, most precious dream again. I spun it around in my head, looking at it from all angles. At my husband’s coaxing, I even took a creative writing class, trying to find the outlet for my thoughts. But still nothing felt right. At the same time, at work, I continued to be challenged in my consulting job, but it was also missing that spark that I had felt when I was in brand management at P&G, delving into the consumer psychology of behaviour and the beauty of messages creatively brought to life.
It wasn’t until one rainy night in April, when I rushed home from work to attend a women’s publishing panel at HBS, that I finally found my path. This group of wonderfully accomplished women in the publishing world, whether books or blogs, showed me the way forward. Including in particular, Whitney, whom I owe more than a fair share of thanks to getting this dream off the ground. The natural intersection of my interests in brand marketing and writing passions became clearer. The medium of a blog felt like a fit with my writing voice and time commitment as a part-time endeavour.
I raced home, recounting every minute of the evening to my husband at an unintelligible pace, an unstoppable bundle of ideas and plans. With structure as my best friend for execution, I got started right away, setting up my blog, outlining a couple posts and setting off to write.
It wasn’t until I sat down on my birthday to actually publish that first post that the true gravity of the moment sunk in. “What if no one reads it? What if they think it’s horrible and I’m just a laughingstock?” All the doubts began trickling in through my shiny wall of aspirations.
This was one of my toughest moments of mental debate. Sure I’ve had times when I haven’t gotten that job or things haven’t gone my way, and the disappointment feels overwhelming. But what happens if you fail at the one thing you’ve always had in the back of your mind as your ultimate hope? If others find you to be lacking in the area you find most motivating?
Would it not be better to continue living in the realm of possibility, where the anticipation and illusion of wild success still have a chance of existence, if only in your imagination?
This wasn’t a matter of find the courage to hit “Publish”. This was putting a stake in the ground as a commitment to a different path in life. One that would lead me toward the vague unknown. Melodramatic? Perhaps. But it sure feels like that when you’re debating putting yourself out there.
Needless to say, I decide to take the leap of faith. It’s been a mere four months but I love it. It provides me with the creative outlet I’ve always sought and I’m now starting to get feedback from friends and strangers (!) that they enjoy reading my posts and find them insightful.
And using this personal step as inspiration for my professional life, I also decided to make the jump back into brand management. It has been two months since becoming the Global Marketing Manager for Reebok’s Women’s business and I love it. It’s challenging and fast paced and some days overwhelming. I’m back to asking questions that energize me and finding answers that inspire me.
It’s not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but for the first time in my life, I feel a certain liberation and sureness of self that stems not from any external validation, but from a feeling of pride mixed with awe.
Dreams are tricky things. They can make you soar and give you something to contemplate when daily life is too much. But having given them a chance to shift into reality… by finding the courage and giving it a shot… I'm finding they’re infinitely more powerful in practice than in theory.
Have you recently had a birthday? What self-reflection did you do? Any commitments you made to yourself?
Acting on a dream requires that we “deconstruct these beautiful illusions into bite-sized, practical action steps”. Are you now in the process of acting on a dream, putting together an action plan?
Is there something audacious that needs to be tried, but it is resisting, wanting “instead to live on as a graceful yet vague ambition”?
As Avni began to write about brands, this triggered a career move. Is it possible that you could also write your way to the start of your next dream?