Another season ends and all that is left are squash and pumpkins on drying vines. The organic farmer and his interns have left our farm to occupy their various winter haunts, as the first frost officially signals the end of this growing cycle. One intern is on her way to her next WOOF-ing (World Organization of Organic Farmers) adventure in Germany, for a three-week stint in the wine region, and then to Italy, to harvest olives and learn the process of cold pressing into virgin oil. The other went home to Ohio to use her skills to help pre-schoolers understand where food comes from. Serendipity often plays a part in any endeavor and we were blessed this season with extraordinary new relationships that were developed over the summer.

When they packed up and left last weekend, it was a tearful goodbye and we felt like we were separating from family that we would forever miss and remember fondly for the rest of our days. We never expected to develop such deep feeling for these two waifs, but like a new puppy you’re not sure about initially, we came to cherish, ever increasingly, our every interaction.

There is always a feeling of accomplishment yet melancholy when a substantial project ends and the new project hasn’t yet been identified or fully taken root. It is the perfect time to reflect on what was learned, what went well, what needs to change, professionally and personally, what to plant and what not to bother with next year.

In the business of selling tomatoes, for example, I had no idea how many tomatoes have to be planted to get enough “perfect” ones that customers will buy. There might not be anything wrong with a given tomato but a slight blemish, the flavor might be equally as rich but the grocery store or farmers market customer won’t buy it, unless its fruit is perfect and meets all the requirements. In order to realize the value from a slightly flawed tomato, it must be “processed” into a sauce or salsa at much greater cost, or packaged and sold separately at a lesser cost because it doesn’t meet all of the customers expectations.

Forgive me for making an analogy to the business of consulting, but it struck me how the business of business is the same everywhere. Clients have a list of required skills for the perfect candidate and often won’t entertain someone who is fully capable of delivering but lacks 1 of the required skills. It is surprising the number of candidates we view,  the number of  phone calls made, emails sent, interview conducted to find the one consultant what the customer will hire.

The transition from fall to winter is great for reflecting. At the end of every project and in the transition time before the new project starts comes the gift of reflection.

So you don’t forget lessons learned, here are some questions to ask yourself:

• What was important about this project and how did it impact the business or the customer or the way business was done?
• What new technology or process or tool did I get a chance to use, improve or master?
• What did I observe about my manager, sponsor, director that I want to try to practice or internalize for the future? What do I want to be sure I never do, again?
• In what ways did I grow my skills? Was it a bigger or more complex project? Did I have a larger budget or bigger team? Was my team more diverse, remote or off shore? How did I have to modify my style or approach to get things done?
• Who do I want to be sure I stay in touch with and maintain within my network?
• Is there anyone I could use as a reference or get a recommendation?
• Is there anyone to thank for the learning, the mentoring, the opportunity, the support?

In closing, and most importantly, was I satisfied with this experience? Did I bring value to the organization, or was it just a job? How is the WORLD better because of what I did, whom I touched and what I accomplished? Just like the farmer, you have to plant what you expect the market will want, cultivate it over the season, put up with storms and blights, and harvest what you can when fall arrives and the customers await your bounty.

We signed a new lease for next year with the farmer, with a few minor modifications to reflect lessons learned, and look forward to the next season and its bounty. New interns will arrive and we may, sadly, never see the two girls that changed our lives this year. My brothers and husband have begun to rehabilitate the farm-house, turn it back into the cabin for the fall hunting season and soon the farm will once again assume its staid state of winter.