If you’ve read my blog for any length of time (or for that matter, talked to me in person) you’ll know that I have been an avid proponent of consulting as a career choice for a long time. I started my career working for two of the biggest consulting firms in the world, and spent almost 9 years as an independent contract consultant.
I have written again and again about the benefits of consulting:
- we are all consultants now
- is it a good idea to be a consultant?
- how to become a successful consultant
- 15 reasons why you might want to be a consultant
But one of the things I have also espoused in the past was that any change in your life, from losing weight (101 thoughts on losing 100 pounds) to simply making a change (the only impediment to change is yourself) is driven by you. The reasoning for the change, the motivation, the execution – all have to come from within the individual. And that’s what happened to me.
There is a danger in any career path that you can become lazy. Not that the work becomes easy, necessarily, and not that you don’t still have to work long hours at it, but it can become busy…rather than challenging. I know many accounting clerks who stay wildly busy, but whose jobs have not appreciably changed in form or function in years. As you move higher up the career ladder, this is harder and harder to do, simply because businesses change and in management positions you have to change with them. Nonetheless, a sameness can set into your routine and you can end up (a la Dr. Seuss) in the Waiting Place.
You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…
…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.
That’s not for you!
From Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
I felt I had ended up in that place. Despite enjoying consulting, and contributing (I believe) fairly substantially to most of my clients, a sameness had set into my daily routine that I wasn’t enjoying. Part of it was the current client; typically I spend about a year at each client (usually as part of a single large project, beginning to end, or as a temporary ‘fill’ while a position is vacant). I had been three years with my latest client, performing one major project after another.
The opportunity to become a permanent employee again had been a vague possibility for a while. Obviously for a company to keep a high priced (ahem) consultant on board year after year is eventually more expensive than the cost of having a ‘permanent’ employee. Not only is it more expensive monetarily, but you do run some risk in that consultants are more likely (at least in theory) to move on, taking their expertise with them. I’d argue that is not really true – after three years I was just as much an employee as the next cubicle Joe, but that’s the perception.
My client had been considering starting up a new function for a while. I have bounced back and forth in my career between finance and auditing.; my client was starting up a new internal audit function. While I’ve been in senior management since the late 90s, my detour into consulting had prevented me from ever actually being the head of an internal audit function, something I felt quite ready to do. So here was the opportunity, for a growing company, to head up a department (albeit at first, a department of one supervising consultants, but with the possibility of starting to hire managers and staff within a year). I thought I had to try it – mostly just to have tried it.
So as I hopefully begin to write more often I can make a comparison of my new executive role versus the role of the consultant. It’s interesting partially because it’s with the same company – everybody has known me as the consultant, so changing that perception was one of the early challenges. Getting used to needing to engage in office politics is another one I have resisted. Having good benefits is nice; having long hours with no overtime pay is not. So while I quite enjoy the role and the challenge, I am looking forward to making a more balanced assessment in a year or two.
If you’ve come to the blog to read a consulting post, or how to make money without a job, I’d still stand behind those ideas. Consulting is a great skill. With my consulting background I feel confident that I can always return to consulting, at any age, and be successful at it. But life is full of change AND opportunities to change; after following my own advice to go it alone as a consultant for almost a decade, I decided to take the fork in the road, and avoid the Waiting Place.