I’ve been quiet on the internet this weekend for a deliberate reason. I needed to get back some time to myself. I needed to switch off the noise and sit back and reflect on my life and my next steps. Let me add, I did get a lot of work done in the garden and on my knitting, and yes, even learned four new chords on the ukulele.
For those who may not know, I’m not much of a risk taker – and this is surprising to some people. I’ve been described as a ‘Trend Setter’ – someone who sees fresh interpretations of the situations and who constantly seeks to change the status quo. Others have said to me that they like my quirky wit, my independence not to follow what’s been done before and my different, sometimes unconventional ways of doing things. Other times I have been described as a ” The Gen Xer who Acts Like a Gen Y” and many times, “That Lady Who’s a Bit Geeky” and recently, a few people have said to me that they like my passion as it “Lights Up My Eyes” when I talk about my work.
Wow, what a lovely way to be described.
But I have a secret.
Although I may come across as spontaneous, adventuresome, outgoing – everything has been determined and planned. I’m conscientious of the details and quite determined to implement plans that make sense, relevant and workable for my clients and my organisation. Although I may come across as frivolous at times, there is a slight fear and anxiety that runs through me.
Rather than describe my career changes as eloquent dives into an ocean of uncertainty, they’re really more like dipping a toe into the water while still looking back making sure I’m in line of sight of my parents.
Let me explain.
For many years, my first role was working in the Royal Australian Navy. To this day, working in Defence has been one of my greatest highlights of my career. However, for an organisation that was intensely hierarchial, many times frustrating, it provided me with a grounding that made me succeed in the corporate world. There was logic, order, structure, co-ordination and planning. The provided me with excellent training in leadership, teamwork, management and project management skills that were applied in every day situations as well as simulated scenarios that Navy officers would face. In comparison, working on corporate projects seemed a breeze.
But through my 10 years in the permanent Navy, the two things that was more value to me were the people and the stories. When the time came to reconsider my career options, I couldn’t make that dive straight into the life in “civvy street” – that was too bold for me. Besides, I felt as if I was leaving my family and as a result, rather than just ‘cut and run’, I transferred to the Navy Reserves. I served an additional 11 years just to maintain the wonderful connections to the people who I considered family and friends and their stories.
In the Navy, I felt as if I made a difference.
Fast forward to my years in the corporate world. I had opportunities to work on some exciting learning projects that were cutting edge in their time with some entrepreneurial leaders. I worked in companies on a full-time basis and for seven years consulted to a wide variety of corporates as an external consultant with an online learning vendor solutions company. My time in organisations made me realise that I didn’t want to play political games nor be the go-between with Learning and Development and internal clients so I decided another career change was in order. I had to become a contractor – someone “who just gets the job done” without being in the midst of constant restructures, reorganisations, political games and office politics.
So once again, rather than take a free form dive into the abyss of freelance consulting, I took the tenuous step into the world of fixed-term contracting taking 12 month contracts with the conditions of employment of a full-timer, long enough to get in, do the work, get out – without being battle scarred with the constant restructures.
In my own naive way, I thought that this way, by working on a specific project on a specific timeline, I’d be making a difference but that wasn’t the case. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was not in control.
But now I see that the time has come to make that dive. No more looking back to the parent for approval. The time has come for me to be a free agent and control my destiny.
And you know what happened once again?
I couldn’t let go. Not just yet.
I approached my employer and renegotiated the terms of the current contract. I was open and honest with them. I explained my intentions of becoming a freelance consultant and explained that it would assist me if I reduced my working days from 5 days a week to 3 days while using the extra days to work on my business until my contract ends in June. I could work on my own business but still have an income and it would set me up for the next half of the year and get me working sooner.
Surprisingly, they agreed! So once again rather that jumping into the cold abyss of the ocean with no support, once again I dipped my toe in the water.
So now in my last week of working five days a week, I’m madly scrambling around to prioritise my work so that what I did previously in five days can be completed within three. I advised my clients of my new change of circumstance and they have been positive and enthusiastic for me but what I have noticed is that my work has increased. But get this: all this work comes from outside my own department of Learning and Development.
In the last few weeks, through Yammer, I have been approached by three different internal parties in the business for potential new work in the enterprise social networking space for different programs in our organisation. One of these is to be part of a team to roll out a new networking tool across an entire business unit which all came from a serendipitous encounter with someone who had come along to my first event for Third Place (I set up this group for Learning and Development professionals to network, socialise and learn from each other in a casual, informal environment).
So these additional business projects all are quite exciting for me but they’re not part of my current job description or role and I’m mindful that my first priority is to my current client on their current onboarding program. My challenge now is to meet my manager’s expectations to deliver the current program and focus on this for my 3 days all the while still wanting to be part of these other exciting projects too.
Part of me thinks that in order to ‘walk the talk’, I need to make that jump from ‘contractor’ to ‘consultant’ and all the fear, challenges and opportunities that come with it.
In organisations that still work with traditional hierarchial structures, rigid performance management approaches and with managers and leaders who have yet to understand the changes and disruption that is happening in their workplace and the engagement of their people, I believe I would be more suited to the role of a freelance consultant – from the ‘outside looking in’ rather than an employee from the ‘inside looking out’.
Until organisations change their structure, the latter will still mean that I’m bound by a job description and have managers who acts gate keepers to potential new clients and exciting projects I want to work on.
So the time has come for me to:
- Pick and choose the clients, projects and organisations I want to work on
- Not be bound by a job description and role expectations set by others without my input or control
- Work with people who are just as passionate, excited and engaged with their work as I am
- Work from home in my sunny study and in my pajamas – if that’s what I wanted
- Make a difference.
So what am I waiting for? I’m going to jump in… but in June.