I Get Shutdown, I Get Up Again
Last year sharing updates on work and work life brought me a lot of joy. It was a fun distraction after hours spent steeped in data (i.e., me, right now). It was a great way to share with colleagues, friends, and family around the globe how work was - to prove this consulting thing was really working! It was even a great reflective tool in understanding my own practice a little better. I got to showcase pictures, highlight projects, and generally revel in the life I’ve been able to build for myself. All of these positives are still wildly true yet 2019 has felt different and harder.
Several times I sat and tried to think up something worthwhile to say in this space and just couldn’t. It sounds dramatic, I know. But if you are lucky enough to know me IRL you’ll know I have a slight flair for drama. As things are finally starting to settle back into a groove that resembles normalcy I wanted to give it another go. Stay with me while I reflect a bit.
The year started off with a rough “gotcha!” Across the 2018 holiday season I was patting myself on the back for having scoped out a 2019 with projects that nearly matched my 2018. I was one confident lady! Then, along with hundreds of thousands of federal employees and federal contractors, I watched my 2019 turn into a giant question mark as the U.S. government shut down. For two months there was a lot of uncertainty about which projects were still live, if funding for them would still exist once things opened up, if travel would happen as scheduled, or when I might get paid. The latter didn’t happen until April - that’s nearly four months waiting to be compensated. Rather than focusing on the negatives, I want to call out two things that really helped me through this “that’s consulting life!” experience.
Have a safety net. This goes beyond contributing to a savings account - which I cannot stress enough is an important thing to do. What it also means is that I need to be better about diversifying my funding streams. Federal grants can be a blessing, but it is just as important to seek our projects with private funds, from endowments, or from other sectors. I do all of this, but now more strategically. Another thing I’m working on - though it is a bit out my control - is timing. For various reasons many of my projects were aligned to a calendar year. They all halted at once and then picked up at once. March was busy month for me.
Cultivate a strong network. While I’m a business of one I am in a field of many. On particularly rough or overwhelming days having colleagues who were having similar experiences to talk with meant the world. We’re also a rather impatient, proactive bunch. Together we sought out ways to take advantage of this lull. The result was submitting and winning proposals for new projects we wouldn’t have otherwise had the time for (also… safety net!). We also made time for our oft-neglected professional development goals by trading articles and book titles. Sometimes, we simply took advantage of the ability to turn to another person and say “welp, this sucks” to a person for whom explanation isn’t needed.
Anyways… I have given more time and head space to this whole shutdown thing than it deserves. It recently became clear to me that I needed to sort through it before talking about all the good stuff going on this year. Much of what I’m excited about was born from those frustrating moments… Like a fun collaboration a dear colleague-friend and I are doing with a major art museum… or sharing out the exhilarating and boundary-pushing work another colleague and I get to support with a small museum in Maine…. or detailing just how one can turn four back-to-back destination weddings into series of work trips… or even what it means to be invited back to your graduate school after 5 years as a “distinguished alumni” to talk with students on the eve of graduating. Pretttttttty exciting stuff. Stay tuned.