Having just returned to a contract consulting position after seven months “in transition” (as the career coaches might say) I’m struck by how nothing has changed. In my case the locale is different – Florida, not Manhattan – and the timing has meant a lot (when I was last working, George Bush was still lame ducking to retirement). But I’m still working, more or less, in the financial services industry. I’m still doing contract consulting. I’m still in a cube, drinking the free coffee and cursing Word 2007.
Corporate employees are an oddly stressed but relaxed bunch. Stressed because they feel the need to create the appearance of great activity, stress and therefore accomplishment. Relaxed because they don’t want to finish TOO much, TOO fast. They know they need to put the face time in to stay past the boss’s departure. They get some perks – free coffee, for example. A lot of adult companionship, too; maybe not the friends you would choose in the normal course of events, but still people of similar backgrounds and ambition.
I was nervous for the first 30 minutes that maybe over my long break my mind had turned to jelly, but it hadn’t. I can still do all the work AND stare out the window AND calculate how many days until I can retire on a spreadsheet. The work, like most contract consulting work I’ve done, is a mix of the mundane, the boring and the challenging. Mundane and boring are self-explanatory: if you have staff and a consultant, the consultant will get the less interesting work. Staff need to develop. The challenging work mainly arises from the assumption that I know more about the industry and the company than I do. That can actually be interesting, learning about a company on a rapid basis. As an auditor, you’re expected to understand the company well enough to question someone who’s worked there forever. It’s not easy spending a few hours boning up on a subject then interrogating someone who’s been working on that subject for 20 years. But at least it’s not boring.
So nothing changed. I have a different attitude towards contract consulting now. It helps me keep a “professional career” active, which is useful in securing mortgages, meeting people and establishing a network in a new city. It doesn’t have to be 100% of my work life, but it’s the part that can generate big chunks of cash in short order. If I can handle health care – and I’ll be writing about that more over the next month – contract consulting could be a nice way to dip in and out of mini-retirements, a la the “fourty” hour workweek. So while I’m staring out the window at the tree, I”m trying to imagine the end of the contract, and another couple of months on the beach.