Sunday, August 13, 2006


Why Consultants Burn Out, part 2

Several months ago, in a rare moment of lucidity, I wrote a long-winded piece on consulting and burnout.

I won't reiterate it all here, but the main thrust of the piece was that being in an environment but not a real part of it for many months (or in my case on this last project, years) can be corrosive -- particularly for those of us who are not just road warriors M-F, but for whom the weekend travel is not back to a loving and welcoming familly or community of friends, but to another empty residence in our "home" city.

That post was sparked by a specific incident with a co-worker with whom I'd interacted on a daily basis for several months-- yet who, apparently, didn't know my last name. I was a little hurt and a little discouraged and more than a little cynical about the whole thing.

Well, I've come to the end of my involvement in that project. I"ll be leaving it this week to move on to another assignment in a city much closer to my family. In fact, I specifically sought out a new opportunity that would put me "only one airplane away" from the people I care about most. After 2 years of a minimum of 7 hour one-way commutes (and often closer to 12 hours) to get to the folks I love, I'd promised myself that I'd orchestrate things a little better this time. It looks like someone up there heard me, because the right project has presented itself just at the moment I was ready to take it on. For the next few months, I won't just be only one airplane from "my peeps," I'll be close enough to pop in the car and meet them for a meal or a visit. After the Tallahassee Marathon project, this is balm to the soul.

In an interview recently, I was asked what I do to combat the loneliness and isolation of consulting. Frankly, just hearing that interview question was a tipping point for me. I knew I was talking to someone who "got it." This was a group of people I could work with.

People who have never done this don't "get it." As the Tallahassee project has slipped into its next phase, I've recently seen the on boarding of a number of new folks, some of whom are working their first consulting gig. You can tell, even without hearing their stories, because they haven't learned the coping mechanisms that experienced road warriors have to develop to stay sane.

--Know who you are, outside of the job. People who define themselves solely by the work shouldn't consult. The project will end. Your life goes on.
--Have a portable hobby or interest. For me, it's the cameras. For others, it's knitting, or running or something else. Whatever it is, you need to be able to do it alone using equipment that you're willing to cart on a plane every week or store locally. Ideally, whatever it is engages your mind as well as your body. You can only watch so much HBO in a hotel room.
--Explore the community in which you are working. Find the parks, the neighborhoods, the mom-and-pop restaurants, the used bookstores... there is life beyond the airport, Marriott, the chain restaurants and the office.
--Make taking some time out for yourself a priority. I rarely go to lunch with other people. That's my time to read and recenter myself.
--If you're going to be on a site for more than a couple of weeks, beg your travel coordinator to get you a room with a fridge and a microwave. There are going to be nights when nuking a Lean Cuisine in your sweats is all you have the energy for, and living on fast food is a quick route to a coronary.
--Find a good hairstylist, manicurist, dry cleaner, etc. in the community in which you are working. Even if you are flying home to your family every weekend, do you really want to waste the 24-36 waking hours you have with them running errands?
--Learn how to pack for business travel. This is work, not a vacation. You don't need to be carrying 5 pairs of shoes every week. Think about leaving a duffle in your office or with the hotel with things like a pair of running shoes, your personal care items, etc. It is cheaper and easier on you to buy duplicates than it is to cart staples every week. Buy yourself some real shampoo, soap, lotions, etc. instead of using the hotel stuff. Get in the habit of dropping your laundry off at the dry cleaners on Thursday night or Friday morning. It will be ready for you after work on Monday.
--Learn how to dress for airline travel. Forget your mother's rules. I travel in casual clothes, but I always make sure there's a crush-proof outfit of business attire in my carryon.
--Remember to tip the hotel housekeeping staff. I can't believe how many young consultants have never been taught to do this. The few dollars this costs you is both an investment in your ongoing comfort and just plain good manners.
--Learn to be comfortable eating in a restaurant, going to a movie, attending a performance, or walking in park, etc. by yourself. There won't always be someone to hang with. If you need a posse to grab dinner at Outback, you're in the wrong business.
--I'm not a prude, but the one thing you don't want to be doing much by yourself is drinking. It is too easy to use alcohol to numb yourself. Depression is a very real issue for road warriors, and sellf-medication has ruined many careers.
--Married? In a committed relationship? Your life is your own, but the "100 mile rule" is complete BS. If you think otherwise, you're kidding yourself. Yes, your spouse or SO may never find out, but the road warrior life is too hard all by itself, without adding more stress and guilt to the mix. OTOH, I've seen consultants take on road warrior jobs because things at home pretty much suck. If you're using your job to run away from the rest of your life, you're eventually going to implode.

Well, this is a lot longer than I intended it to be, so I'm outta here.
--Learn to sleep on airplanes.

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