I've been a consultant for a year. Here are 5 lessons I learned.
It still feels like it happened last week. I was in the Human Resources department of my then-job, sobbing like someone had died. The HR lady had coldly delivered the news: my contract job that was scheduled to last two years was being cut short after only 10 months. I wasn't given a reason why. I was never told my performance was in jeopardy, nor did I have a reason to believe it was. But that day, on a gloomy morning in May, I was escorted out of the building by a security guard who saw fit to tell me to calm down when I had just lost my job.
I cried most of the way home between phone calls to my mom, my husband, my mentor, and my therapist. I sat in the back of an Uber, trying to piece together what just happened. I played back the tapes in my mind, trying to pinpoint exactly where I failed so drastically that it led to losing my good job. Who did I piss off? What did I mess up? Why didn't anyone tell me I messed up, not even my boss?
That first day was hard, maybe one of the hardest days of my adult life. The next morning though, I decided that perhaps now was the time to start taking more control over my career. I was tired of walking on eggshells, waiting for the other shoe to drop every time I got a new opportunity. This time, I wanted to try something I had wanted to do for a long time: working for myself and seeing where it took me.
I am now a year into running my own consulting and coaching business, and today as I write this, marks a year since I was inexplicably pushed out of a job I thought I wanted so badly. Here are some things I have learned, one year in.
1. Being an army of one doesn't mean you won't need help.
Working on your own doesn't mean You have to figure out every single issue that arises by yourself. It is a misnomer that working solo means you can't reach out to mentors, friends, or other consultants for advice. If you get stuck on any piece to gaining new clients, to figuring out invoicing, the best thing you can do is ask someone to help you brainstorm a good solution to any problem that arises.
2. Setting firm boundaries - with clients and with loved ones - is key.
One thing I learned about myself during this process is that when I love the work I do, it is hard for me stop working and give myself the permission to take breaks and make time for my friends, my family, and my husband. I've grown to be honest about what I can and can't do at any given moment (and that includes setting deadlines that work for both my client and myself). Reclaiming my time means knowing when I have too much on my plate and having the skills to negotiate with clients so that I can create a better balance between work, fun, and relationships that are important to me. Always remember that setting boundaries are a form of self-care, too.
3. Experts don't know everything - even about topics within their area of expertise.
I have always struggled with calling myself a digital media expert. There are a lot of reasons for that, impostor syndrome being one of them (but that's another post for another time). It is safe to say that I know more than the average person about social media for advocacy and nonprofits, but there are still some things I still need to learn, and things that I may not have an immediate answer to. The best way for me to describe an expert is this: Someone who is confident in what they know, honest about what they don't, and wise enough to know when and how to seek resources for learning the latter. The biggest struggle for me is to be kind and patient with myself and let go of what I think an expert "should" know. I've found it helpful to take an inventory of what I would like to learn, then find people and resources who can help me learn it. It doesn't mean I'm not an expert in my field, it just means I have accepted that I don't know everything. Instead of seeing a knowledge gap as a weakness, I now see it as an opportunity for growth.
4. Nine times out of ten, you are doing better than you think.
This is something I am STILL learning, even as I write this. I've had plenty of times in this last year where I was worried about whether I would pay rent on time or not, or whether I could sustain myself and contribute to my household successfully each month. When I didn't get a client or when I've made mistakes along the way, it was very easy to listen to those negative tapes in my mind that told me I wasn't good enough and that I should just give up. That's where self-kindness kicked in. I had to remind myself to trust the process, to be confident in what I do know, and to only focus on changing the things I have the power to change. It is easier said than done some days, but most days I am successful.
5. There's good in goodbye.
In "Best Thing I Never Had," Beyoncé sings about "finding the good in goodbye." I didn't know this when I lost my job last year, but if I was still in that role, I wouldn't have been able to accomplish half of the things I have. I wouldn't have even known that the opportunities and projects I have been fortunate to be a part of were even available to me. This past year has been far from easy, and I processed a great deal of negative emotions because of it. But hindsight being 20/20, I see that crisis met opportunity, and I'd like to think I rose to the occasion.
So that's that. There are many more lessons, but I'd be here all day if I shared them all.
What about you? What have you learned in the last year that has helped your career? Talk to me in the comments.