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Chasing Dopamine, The Most Important Chemical in ThereThen’s Success

ThereThen has been a laboratory for how to optimize my brain.

Before I received my ADHD diagnosis, I didn't understand how my brain worked best, and I tried to force myself to operate like a neurotypical person. After my diagnosis, I became committed to building a creative enterprise that harnessed my gifts and allowed me to succeed on my terms.

My creative process goes something like this:

First, a movie reel runs in my mind: Steamer Lane in Santa Cruz, surfers like golden gladiators riding in on the waves. My memories begin to knit together, bonded by scent: alchemy that brings the story to life in perfume. I'm off on a quest to develop a brief (the perfume story) from the elixirs on my shelf.

Then the calm comes. I have bottled the lightning of the memory, but the discipline of perfumery calls for a systematic approach. In building a scent, layer by layer, I must honor the chemical properties of each element. It's constantly assessing how to bring out the best of each scent's personality. Sometimes, the process is painfully slow; other times, it's effortless. Sometimes, the correct elements are there, but they need time to macerate and develop. And a lot of times, it's a complete flop, and I have to start all over again.

As I go through multiple drafts, I share my olfactory concoctions with friends whose noses I trust. Holding the vial beneath our noses, I search their faces for emotion, memories evoked, and approval.

When I'm satisfied, I circle back to that original movie in my brain to see if I successfully captured the experience in scent. Designing labels and bottles for the aroma anthologizes each vignette into the ThereThen brand story: devotion to the California coast and its flora, insistence on transparency, clean ingredients, and authenticity.

I love ThereThen because this creative process perfectly harnesses my neurodivergent mind. Not every part of the job is fun, and I have done all I can to outsource the tedious tasks. Bookkeeping, anyone? However, much to my pride and delight, I've discovered that I have the attributes of a successful entrepreneur and the thrill and novelty of learning. I have motivated me to tackle subjects I never saw as relevant before. Math, chemistry, sales, graphic design–I have learned more in my last two years than I did in a lifetime of formal education. Now I genuinely want to be a student for the rest of my life because learning is what keeps ThereThen fresh.

I spent years of my life spinning my wheels and feeling like I lacked the perseverance to do hard work. Now I am excited every day to do hard work because I am solving my problems and challenges and fulfilling a vision that's all mine.

There may not be any actual dopamine in ThereThen's scents, but it is the lifeblood of my business.



  • Comment author

    Serena, I’m so incredibly proud of you and your pursuits in parfumery! You are inspirational and your scents are dreamy!! They make awesome gifts too — my girls love your perfumes.

    Also I wanted to let you know there are companies that handle almost anything you want to outsource…including bookkeeping. My company ( and FlexJobs) features companies who offer bookkeeping services for small businesses.

    A few off hand are: “Two Roads Bookkeeping” or “Belay”.

    Best wishes to you and hope to see you soon…maybe a trip to Cali is in order soon. :) Love you XOXO

    Posted by Marilyn Kincaid | August 10, 2022
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