Consulting success: luck or effort?
Life as a consultant might sound exciting, but it's not all easy.
I became a Partner at a consulting firm in my thirties. There was certainly luck involved, but that's not the full story. As often happens, we tend to highlight the shiny success without giving a second thought to the sweat and hustle that went into pursuing it.
We like to focus on success stories and forget about the struggles. Consulting is like that too.
To do well in this job, you need to have motivation, drive, energy, passion and a good dose of resilience. Plans for a great career might look good on paper, but reality sometimes messes them up.
A consulting career often means working in projects that are understaffed, where you have to be really quick in grasping new concepts, applying them to the problem at hand and generating the results your client is paying for.
It's not easy.
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There's one more thing people don't always talk about: consultants often work far from their homes, in different cities or countries. They might not have many friends or family around.
Feeling alone can be really hard.
About ten years ago, I had a job in a faraway part of the USA.
I was the only one in my team working at the client's office, while the rest of the squad worked from other places in the USA and Europe. It was winter, and winters in this remote corner of America are really cold.
Over those few months, I got stuck in airports because of snowstorms. Just walking from the parking lot to the office was painful because of the cold. I used to bundle up with scarves and gloves, but still, I feared turning into a human popsicle every day.
Working in that office, my days stretched from 6:30 in the morning until about 5 in the evening. With just my own company, tackling the demands of a new client proved to be quite a challenge. The clock striking 5 didn't signal the end for me, either.
Often, I carried on with my team members located offshore for a few more hours, until fatigue wore my voice thin and I surrendered to the embrace of my comfy Marriott's bed.
In a location where I had no friends and with my family living in another continent, a sense of isolation often took hold. Loneliness was a constant companion.
Living in hotels for extended periods, you learn a few tricks to make your life less miserable.
You learn to become very friendly with the receptionists, you high-five the cleaners and fist-bump the waiters at the restaurant. Those people become your friends for weeks or months: it was a matter of necessity, forging these connections to add a touch of warmth to the chilly corridors of hotel living.
In the face of solitude, my love for books became a lifesaver. Books are easy to carry around: they are not heavy and are portable.
That year, I decided I should take on a new hobby: enough of just reading! After some thinking, I landed on learning how to play the harmonica. Why? It's a small instrument that is easy to carry while traveling, and it's not too loud, so I could practice in my hotel room.
I run some google searches and I settled on an online course.
I still remember the teacher, a guy called JP Allen from harmonica.com: what a domain he had managed to pick! (By the way, years later I got to learn that JP Allen had a bad accident in Hawaii where he used to live, and sold the site to somebody else. Sadly, there's no more JP Allen on the website if you check it out 😞).
Anyway, in a matter of a few months I became quite good at playing the harmonica, I still own that first one I bought with the course and, occasionally, I still play it even though I'm not as good as I was back then.
Belting out harmonica tunes wasn't just a hobby; it was my escape hatch from the solitude that nibbled at my sanity, away from my wife (no kids at the time), my friends and extended family. Even writing these few lines about it, brought a smile to my face!
That gig gave my career a powerful boost: as you can imagine, my job on that project was tough.
I was the only one sitting face to face with the client while the rest of my team was scattered around the world. But we pulled it off.
We succeeded, I got a promotion, plus I gained massive confidence in myself for what I was able to achieve. This self-awareness would help me in the subsequent years to take on more and more complicated opportunities and translate them into business wins for the companies I worked for.
So, was it just luck?
Well, maybe a smidge. But let's not ignore I put my heart and soul into catching that slice of luck. (Consulting) life is a puzzle, and you're the master: every move you make, careful or bold, molds your narrative.