Soy sauce.

Which aisle is the soy sauce in? Would it be Sauces? Cooking oils? Asian cuisine? I’ve got twelve aisles to choose from, and when I finally reach the right one, there’s at least six different brands: light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, black bean soy sauce, shrimp soy sauce, fuijian-style soy sauce. 

In a sea of endless soy, I’m paralysed by choice.

I close my eyes and think back to a simpler time.

To Tofo. To TIE. 

I’m walking down that uneven dirt path to Martha’s little corner shop. She sits under a canopy, breastfeeding her son in one arm and cradling a watermelon in the other. 

“Maaaaika!” she exclaims upon seeing me. “What do you want today Maaika?”

Her shop has just the basics — tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, the occasional butternut squash and a range of tropical fruit. No soy sauce to be found here. 

“Watermelon is great for curing malaria. You need to be strong and healthy. Here, I’ll cut some for you.”

Martha has taken on a maternal role in our weekly shopping interactions — it’s one of the many charms of this small town. 

I open my eyes with a chuckle. How I miss that place!

I spent 30 days in Tofo working for the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) as part of an exchange with The International Exchange (TIE). My assignment was to use my advertising skills from the private sector to help generate revenue for the development sector — enabling MMF to continue doing important ocean conservation research. 

Fast forward 6 months: Now I live in Australia, working at a media agency, promoting Hollywood blockbusters for one of the world’s biggest film studios. From saving whale sharks to repping movie stars. A lot can change in half a year. But is it all that different, really?

The months that followed TIE were confronting. When you immerse yourself in a cause that concerns you, with a community that cares about you, you leave as a changed human.

Regardless of your background, TIE influences you as a person, and a professional. I left with a profound sense of accomplishment — I had built a new CRM system that would allow MMF to get the revenue they needed. I also left with a profound sense of peace — I knew I had the skills to do something meaningful in this world. And that’s a feeling that doesn’t just desert you after a month. It stays deep in your heart and impacts the decisions you make.

In my new job, I often find myself referring back to the simplicity of TIE. To the simplicity of Martha’s little shop. To making decisions and running with them. To not overcomplicating our lives with choice but rather just choosing.

I think back to my first phone call with MMF’s CEO Josh:

“I found something that could help us. It hasn’t been done before. And it’ll take a bit of getting used to… but it could really change our sales pipeline” 
“Then do it.”
“Really? Just like that?”
“I trust you to lead me on this” was Josh’s simple reply.  

No paperwork, no second guessing. Just bold decisions. 

Today I have bigger teams, bigger clients and bigger budgets. But the best decisions I’ve made have remained the simplest — a lesson I’ve learned from TIE. I’ve realized it’s not the divide between private vs. development sector that’s important, it’s about finding people that believe in a cause as much as they believe in you. And then it’s about cutting through the clutter to lead the way. 

“Excuse me, miss?” a voice calls from Aisle #12.
“Oh, hello!”
“Is everything okay?”
I’ve been clutching on to the same bottle of soy sauce for the past 5 minutes. “Oops sorry! So much sauce!” 
“Do you need help picking?” 
I pause. The simple life in Tofo might be behind me now, but what if simplicity was just a state of mind?
“Actually. Do you know where the watermelons are?”
“You don’t need the sauce?”
“Just a watermelon. Y’know it’s great for curing malaria” 

Martha would be proud.