I have not been writing very much about tea lately, and yet tea has been my most constant and steady companion while I wrote a book about leadership. The prolific writer, critic and chronicler of the English language Samuel Johnson, is said to have consumed thirty to forty cups of tea a day while he wrote. Although I did not come close to that number, I relied on tea to inspire me, calm me, fortify me, heal me, wake me, warm me, encourage me and more.
The Conscious Leader: Nine Principles and Practices to Create a Wide-awake and Productive Workplace was written as a book for leaders who want to understand and practice the kind of leadership that is necessary in the 21st Century. The leadership that is required will engage the 70% of American workers who report being disengaged at work. It is leadership that will seek to create workplaces where people want to be, and where they can feel proud of their work and the contributions they make. It is also leadership that understands that what we do today in New York will have repercussions in Shanghai and Mumbai tomorrow. It is definitely not your father’s leadership.
In the end, the nine principles that the book describes are applicable not just to leaders but to anyone who would like work and life to be a more positive, satisfying, and enjoyable experience. These are the fundamental truths about human beings that you need to know if you want to have a wide-awake and conscious life, and all the fulfillment and joy that kind of life and work can bring.
The book was published this past spring and the entire process from the day I first met my publisher to the day I held a copy in my hands took one year and ten months. But getting there wasn’t easy.
Because of my work, I wrote mainly on weekends and in the summer when I managed to take some time away from my business. I wrote mostly in my office at home and in various hotels where business travel and vacation took me.
The most productive days began with strong black tea around 10 am. Earlier in the morning, I always drink a detoxifying tisane – an herbal tea of lemongrass or verveine (lemon verbena) and I am particularly fond of Bigelow’s “I Love Lemon” teabags. The caffeine and the fortification that starts at 10 am come from a variety of black tea blends. My favorite morning teas are from Mariages Frères:
Paris Breakfast tea which has a bright floral kick to its blackness made me smile like a whiff of Yves St. Laurent’s Paris perfume. If a tea can have a “je ne sais quoi” attitude, this one does and I found it particularly emboldening on days when I was less sure of myself. A bright red lipstick usually has the same effect on me.
French Breakfast tea is more serious, smoky and robust, and it called forth the heroes of literary France – Baudelaire, Colette, Proust and others – who became my guardians of the morning.
American Breakfast tea, redolent of malt and chicory, is an homage to the American south and its authors like Harper Lee and Tennessee Williams. It challenged me to write with passion and vulnerability.
As the day progressed, I would pick the next tea –the afternoon tea – very carefully. How much caffeine do I need? Will it be a day into night session? In that case, I would require something strong and steady like the Royal Blend from Claridge’s Hotel, a strong, plain but flavorsome black tea that my British friends like to call “a proper cup.” A proper cup is the backbone tea of the UK, reminiscent of all the plain black brews ushered in by teabags everyday throughout the kingdom. But this one comes from Claridge’s so it is perfectly that and then some.
Sometimes if I felt I needed a pick-me-up but was fearful of overdosing on caffeine, I would choose a green tea where the caffeine release is steadier and lighter such as a mild jasmine or vanilla sencha. For days with more exotic needs, I would brew Moroccan tea with strong black teabags from Twinning’s and mounds of fresh mint and spoonful’s of sugar. Working in Morocco this past September, I found myself in a paradise where black and mint tea was always close at hand, plentiful and overflowing, at the beginning, middle and end of every social or business interaction.
I am not a novelist and I am not a poet. Those were roads not taken and writing this book let me experience what life might have been like had another choice been made. The hours of alone time did soothe the introvert that is the real me who hides in a life of extraversion. Tea was a trusted conduit from the external world to the internal one. Without tea it would have been far too lonely and unconnected.
The author Ann Patchett says “Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.” For me, tea itself was the imaginary friend. I reached for that friend throughout the day and I found encouragement when I couldn’t find the right words, solace when I couldn’t find any words, strength when I was afraid that I would never finish the book or that my publisher would change her mind. I reached for my tea poured from antique teapots into favorite cups and saucers, and more often I drank from brightly colored mugs that spoke to me with sayings that I had carefully selected. I used to like catching my breath while I waited for the kettle to boil but eventually I bought a Japanese Zojirushi tea kettle that boils and keeps water at a constant temperature for instant brewing.
The work and the isolation was worth it and each person who reads the book and tells me that it has helped them or inspired them creates a warmth inside of me of a thousand cups of tea. This summer I gave copies of my book to the library of my childhood in Montclair, New Jersey where I was raised. It was that library that protected, nourished, and inspired me when my young life was not always as it should be. I would sit for hours and sometimes days, sipping tea from a thermos as catalogue cards and book stacks brought the world to my fingertips. My library now has computerized files, internet access, and Kindles and Nooks, but it also still has books filled with paper and woodsy smells. And wonder of wonders, my library also now has a teashop. C.S. Lewis said “You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” I concur.
I hope that you will read my book and I trust that it will help you find ways to make your work life joyful and fulfilling. It helps if you read it with a cup of tea.
The Conscious Leader: Nine Principles and Practices to Create a Wide-awake and Productive Workplace by Dr. Shelley Reciniello is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google eBooks and Mac iTunes. You can read more about it and link directly to booksellers at www.drshelley.com
Terra Tea at the Isabel Rose Café is located at 50 South Fullerton Avenue in the Montclair Public Library and all are welcome. Tell Grace the proprietress that Dr. Shelley sent you.