I started my consulting firm in 2012, but I did not actually start the effort to grow it until several years later in 2016. I had spent the years in between vying for a promotion that never came. Having instead been offered an “official” increase in responsibilities without appropriate compensation just before my return from maternity leave, I opted to depart for a promotion opportunity at a different firm. My efforts had not been rewarded for having taken on extra work in previous years, and unimpressed with management’s presentation of the “opportunity”, I declined the new role and resigned, self-respect intact.
In my next role, which was in the position that I wanted at my previous firm, I encountered one of my worst client/vendor relationships to date. Upon my arrival onsite, I noticed that a senior leader at the client organization had done an excellent job of instilling fear in just about everyone on the team, including my Senior Manager. The anxiety was palpable, intense, and generally uncomfortable. When the lack of decorum and professionalism started to flow in my direction, I knew I would not stay. In the meantime, I made a valiant effort to recognize and improve on the weaknesses in the client relationship, and the team did realize some atmospheric improvements. However, the day-to-day stresses, largely due to internal power struggles completely beyond my control, made long-term success unlikely. I was on the move again.
Several weeks into my search, I was offered a compelling opportunity with a well-known firm. Through previous encounters with affiliated recruiters and friends who were already employed at the organization, I was already very familiar with the organizational culture. It was at this point that I was offered my very first 1099 opportunity, and so began my tip-toe into the first level of self-employment as an independent consultant. Three projects and several tough client conversations later, I was a battle-tested sole proprietor. The end of my final project came with a discussion on the differences between an independent consultant vs. an employee with a manager who did not respect the distinctions. A meticulous planner, I thanked the manager for the opportunity and we ended our relationship on a good note. Through previous experiences, I had learned the power of “No”. It felt good to be free.
During my professional evolution, I have made many observations about work and what it means to engage others while maintaining my identity. The most important observation that I have made is that people will make assumptions about you based not only on the limited information that they have, but also on their past experiences. These assumptions will color how they interact with you and ultimately, how they treat you. If a client has been able to act poorly during all previous engagements, why would you be any different? Lesson 1: Set your boundaries and stick to them. When they are tested, react calmly, but boldly. Accept nothing less than your sanity and God-given freedom. You deserve it. Next, many people chase after the acquisition of bigger and seemingly better job titles, only to quickly find out that the experience is not what they thought it would be. This happens not because the role is bad, but because the role is not really what they seek. Lesson 2: Figure out what you truly want and move forward with more focus. If you can help it, never stay in roles that tear at your self-worth and ability to be positive for the people who deserve you. Finally, everyone is not meant to operate within organizational frameworks. Lesson 3: True success means becoming the best version of you that you can be. If that fits within a company, then great. If not, be fearless in charting your own path. You’ll be happier for it.
In the interest of transparency, I will admit that I have a strong safety net: in-demand skills, tight fiscal management of my own finances, and the backing of family. I know that this is not the case for everyone and I would be disingenuous were I not to disclose the structures in place that make my leaps less risky than most. However, I would also be remiss if I did not impart the lessons learned as a result of enforcing my boundaries. With careful planning, most people can live the life that they deserve. After several hard, but ultimately enlightening experiences, I am finally on my way.