Consulting

Consulting is a tough lifestyle for someone accustomed to the heights of corporate America. I was a fairly senior person in my corporate life, having zipped and lucked my way into a corner office overlooking downtown Manhattan. Only two people in my reporting chain separated me from the CEO of the company. But I had severe problems with the organization and with my boss, and eventually that combined with the incessant travel and never ending corporate politics wore on me. When I got married, I realized that there was a life beyond work and Friday nights.

So I joined a consulting firm that provided almost no support other than locating clients and taking care of billing and collection. I don’t get a computer from my company, or any sort of review or office supplies or whatever. I rely on my client for that. However, I don’t have the headache of finding clients or chasing after invoices, which is no small thing. And most importantly, they pick up 50% of my health insurance costs.

I went from commanding multiple teams in far-flung countries to commanding, well, myself. I am in charge of nothing and nobody, and I am often supervised by people who are junior to me and who would have worked one or two levels below me in the past. So I stop and remind myself once in a while about why I do it:

I never travel. Travel is a lot of fun when you’re single. I visited half the planet while staying in swank hotels and eating rich food. However, after you’ve been to Paris for the fifteenth time it gets boring. The routine of plane-hotel-office-hotel-office-plane gets overwhelming after a while. I keep a journal, and on these business trips I routinely have entries that begin “Stayed up until 2 am drafting the final report in my room.” I wasn’t partying constantly. Now, if I don’t want to travel, I don’t work for clients who require it.

I have no corporate political affiliation. My previous jobs had a high component of politics; alliances were formed, strategy meetings were held, whispered conversations in board rooms were standard, and after-hours meetings huddled over drinks were frequent. I was sick to death of these things. I was good at corporate politics, but I realized that what “being good” meant was that I was expert at ripping other people down without really lifting myself up. I did do some good – I often used my political scheming to help lift some great people who worked for me – but by and large it was all negative. As a consultant I have no stake in such things, since I have no hope of promotion or fear of demotion. It’s liberating to only worry about the actual work.

I leave work at 5, both physically and mentally. As I said above, I used to carry my work home with me, and even into my bed and sleep. No more. I am not reachable once I leave work. I don’t check my work email before sleeping. I have no Blackberry. There are no weekend “catching up on my reading” sessions.

I have no investment in the company. I used to worry about the success of my company. This may seem like a small thing, but as an auditor you have some ability to really seriously damage your company, either through missing something in the audit (Enron, anyone?) or finding something in the audit (Worldcom). This presented me with harsh choices at least three times in my career. Each time, I tried to raise serious issues to senior management and was overridden by my superiors, creating a real love/hate attitude in me. It’s not easy knowing you work for crooked people, because then even your honest efforts only serve to enrich them. Now all I do is my work – my investment is in me and the quality of my work that will be the basis for landing future clients.

I get paid overtime. That’s no small thing. I used to work 80 or 90 hour weeks and wouldn’t get a dime more; in fact, 40 hours would have been considered slacking. Now if I work more than 40 hours my rate skyrockets. Most clients don’t like the higher rate, so they send me home after 40 hours. I can’t say I hate that – getting home at 6 or 6:30 gives me time to go a few rounds with Little Buddy before he goes to sleep. In my past life, when I wasn’t traveling I often wouldn’t be home before 8.

I get to quit my job two or three times a year. This is the greatest thing. I had a client earlier this year that nauseated me. Their unprofessional attitudes, horrible physical offices and cruel treatment of their staff made it one of the worst places I’ve ever worked. However, rather than needing to go through the drama of worrying about quitting a job I’d just started, I simply wound down my consulting gig and moved on. I never have to give any of those guys another thought. Even at the good clients I only stay long enough to do good work; when they start making small talk about me coming on board as an employee I usually know it’s time to go

6 comments