The Joys and Trials of the Consulting Life

Whenever anyone asks my wife what I do for a living, she replies ”He’s a pooper scooper. He solves problems no one else knows how to solve.”   I try to get her to say my job is to make mountains into speed bumps, but I can’t really argue with her description. As a consultant, I am usually hired to bring my subject matter expertise to bear on an internal problem that, for some reason, no one at my client has the knowledge, experience, or time to solve. Sometimes it’s to offer advice and at other times it’s to do the heavy lifting. After decades of consulting, I have found I’ve gotten better and better at it and come to really enjoy the process. First, let me tell you why I think it is an important field and why I think it’s fun.

Exposure to new industries. Over the years I’ve been exposed to a multitude of industries I never would have otherwise seen up close. I’ve consulted with clients who manufacture bricks, truck axles, electronics, clothing, pet supplies, and a myriad of other items. I’ve worked with clients who manage retail store chains, rental car outlets, and large distribution networks. I’ve consulted with technology companies, voice and data carriers, banks, credit card companies, credit unions, software vendors, hospitals, labor management firms, and government branches. Every industry has different processes, products, and priorities, but the tools I use, especially the Business Impact Analysis (BIA), have opened my eyes to the inner workings that either make the client successful or hinders their progress. I never tire of the learning process and have been blessed to see much, much more than I would have sitting in a cubicle for 30 years.

Exposure to new people. I love meeting and working with new people. I regard new contacts as presents I get to unwrap. Some wonderful friendships have evolved over the years and among my clients and coworkers have been some of the brightest people I have ever met. Exposure to them has made me all the richer in knowledge and friendship because of it.

Exposure to new knowledge and methods. In addition to learning about their industries, I’ve been exposed to better ways to do a number of the things I was supposed to be the expert at. There are many ways to crack a nut and I’ve often found that great ideas and methods are available if I’ll only pay close attention to what is being said and done already. I warn my clients that I’m a shameless stealer of good ideas and am always on the prowl for better ways of doing what I do for a living.

Exposure to new problems and solutions. More than once I’ve stood there scratching my head over a roadblock I’d never encountered before. Being challenged with a new problem always gets my juices flowing and I enjoy the satisfaction of standing back after solving it and seeing a job well done.

Opportunities to teach. I am a consultant that is committed to knowledge transfer. I have no interest in building dependent step children, so I work hard at equipping my clients to carry on successfully after I leave. I often will explain the “why’s” and not just the “what’s” about the project so the results can have lasting impact and be improved over time.

Travel to new places. Have you seen that Facebook app that has you click off all the states you’ve visited? I was really surprised at all the places my consulting career has taken me. I only missed the Dakotas, but there’s still time. Maybe I have some Gypsy blood, but I have definitely enjoyed crisscrossing the country and going overseas as a paid tourist.

Okay, now it’s time to look at the downsides of consulting. My wife likes to say, “There are bedpans in every job, and some days are bedpan days”. So, in fairness, let’s look at some of those.

The hardships of travel. Air travel has become increasingly more difficult in the years since 9/11. The lines are longer, security is much more onerous, carryon bags are smaller, and most flights are full, the seating is cramped and not laptop friendly (and why do corporate travel departments always stick you in a middle seat or in the one next to the bathroom at the very back of the plane?). When you arrive, you race to pick up the rental car and set about finding your hotel in a new city you don’t know. Depending on your per diem, you may find yourself staying at a Motel 4 and might have trouble finding restaurants that serve edible meals within your budget. When people tell me I’m so lucky to travel for a living, I tell them, “If you only knew….”

Being away from home. When my son was young, my wife used to say all the exciting things happened when I was away and not able to help (like the time he got bit by a chipmunk). Besides missing my family, I also missed out on being able to do some of the chores around the house at night so the honey-do list built up all week and Saturday became a work like a slave day. When you travel you also miss out on after school events and time with friends, and maybe date night with your wife.   The good thing about properly managing the travel, however, was that I was often able to be on site with a client for a week, get my arms around as much stuff as I could, and then work from home for a week or two before going back out the door.

Leaving your best work behind. I’ve had a number of projects that I was really satisfied with and would have loved to see how it all got worked out in the days ahead. It would have been very rewarding to be around to see the fruits of my labor get fully implemented, but I had to move on to the next client. I was able to leave them with a roadmap for going forward, but I wasn’t going to be there to see it taken to the next level. And as a consultant you always wonder if they’re going to take that report with all the great recommendations and stick it on the shelf as though you were never there.

So, as you can see, there are great joys and substantial downsides to being a consultant. For me, the joys have always outweighed the negatives and I’m still having fun. Leave me some comments and feel free to contact me directly.  Happy consulting, and be safe out there.


© Copyright and All Rights Reserved Howard M. Peace


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