It’s unbelievable that in just under two weeks I will cease to fill the ranks of the management consulting talent pool. I am throttling from excitement and anticipation to anxiety and stressfulness. As I reflect on this past year, I realize that I have been part of a great team. My peers and leaders are all very accomplished. They possess great intellect and impressive degrees. They are expert technology practitioners and in some cases hold resumes that could rival Nobel Prize winners. To add to the mix, my project is one of impact. The work will do a lot of good for a lot of people…millions of people. Holding this close, I knew that I commanded purpose just by showing up to work each day
Despite all of this good, my inner self was not satisfied. An average week consisted of a steady Monday through Friday from the hours of 8:30/9:00 AM to 6:00/7:00 PM. While that looks like 45 – 52 hours of work per week, there were plenty of days that would go longer. My work too often came home with me, and I was always on the hook to respond to email or wait for team members to complete work on any given night…many of which were Friday nights. As center cog of a very big machine, I found it difficult to delegate or transition responsibility. There really wasn’t anyone I could rely on to pick up the slack. Most of my work was solitary, and any time I interacted with the project team in meetings or otherwise, my workload only increased. Inheriting 1 – 2 hour projects and associated tasks from these gatherings was commonplace. I juggled the stress. I allowed my relationships to suffer. I intermittently passed on a good night’s rest. I forewent taking vacation as I didn’t feel there was much I could do to divert the work. I did everything you’re not supposed to do to maintain work/life balance.
To add on to this, my role was not particularly creative or innovative. I ran a lot of processes, followed up on critical tasks and priority issues. I built presentations, scheduled and coordinated meetings, worked to mitigate risks, and managed the project schedule. I got really efficient at being really efficient. I learned advanced keyboard shortcuts and I could PowerPoint and Excel like the best of them! I developed relationships with my coworkers, understood my audience, and while firing on all cylinders, was operating at the level of 2 or 3 average consultants combined.
At this pace, you could say I was on track for burning out. I’m sure if I stayed on this path long enough, I easily could have. I know I’m tough. I’ve been through worse. Having been stress tested in the military, I have yet to flounder without a graceful recovery. That hardheadedness can get one into trouble…
Just yesterday I heard something that shook me. Larry Smith, professor of economics at the University of Waterloo, said in his recent TED Lecture Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career, “You want to work? You want to work really, really, really hard? You know what, you’ll succeed. The world will give you the opportunity to work really, really, really, really hard. But, are you so sure that that’s going to give you a great career, when all the evidence is to the contrary?” Speechless, I turned inwards.
I am the perfect candidate for this trap. I have always worked hard. That’s how I got to where I am today. I studied hard, I practiced hard. I worked hard. Hell, when going out, I even played hard! You give me a mission, a goal, an objective – I will find a way to get it done. That’s how I was raised, and it is something I cherish about myself. I don’t give up. I am steadfast, determined. In short, I succeed.
I have never been one to walk out on a team, and I would never do such a thing in the middle of a big game. After a year of this I realize that this work isn’t that kind of game. There are people around me working harder, some going on less sleep, some undergoing greater stresses. Many of them are senior to me. At my mid-level position, I found it tough to believe that this should be my future. I think there is more in store for me.
So much around me is changing so fast. In less than 2 weeks I will no longer be showing up to the office space where I have spent nearly every workday of this past year. A few days after that I will be leaving Chicago, the last city I called home, and all of my friends therein. I will be homeless. I will be jobless.
This is all part of the plan. Stay tuned it’s going to get a bit more exciting from this point forward…