Work, Your Way: Flexibility
Since starting Simplicity Consulting in 2006, I’ve seen it all. Professionals from all backgrounds, for all reasons, seeking out a new way to work. While every person and story are different, the reasons people choose and stick with consulting inevitably fall into predictable themes.
When I sat down last year to write my third book, Work, Your Way: Reinvent Yourself, Create the Life You Want, and Thrive as a Consultant, a number of successful, long-term consultants shared their stories with me. And, just as I’ve observed over the last decade and a half, those key themes emerged.
There are three primary reasons why people choose and stick with consulting: flexibility, freedom, and focus. Let’s start with the most commonly shared reason—flexibility.
Flexibility is queen
It is difficult to quantify the value of flexibility. Whether requisite, such as parents of young kids or caregivers of sick or aging parents, or a desire to own their lives and control their time, flexibility is queen. It’s consistently the number one reason I hear for why professionals transition to consulting.
Consulting, or contract work, is inherently flexible. You choose how and when you want to work. You can choose to work part-time, full-time, every day, or a few days a week, half days or full days, moonlight on the side of your current full-time job, or any combination of those. Contract work is expansively flexible and dynamic, and you are in the driver's seat.
Let’s hear from three consultants who I interviewed for my upcoming book—Jeannine, Allison, and Stephanie—for whom flexibility is non-negotiable.
On the road... again and again and again
Ten years ago, Jeannine took a leap of faith. She left her salaried, full-time role at a large tech company to work with her husband at his new business. Within a few years, she realized that she missed her old role, and so she returned, but as a consultant.
Three years ago, she leapt again. This time, she and her husband sold their home, bought an RV, and hit the road. Since then, they have crisscrossed the country—from the western US to the east coast and back again—jumping from National Park to National Park. Though they’ve hunkered down for much of the pandemic in the Sonoran Desert, they’ll soon resume their roving lifestyle, destination Montana. In the pursuit of their dreams, flexibility is everything.
Jeannine negotiated her contract wisely: 32 hours a week, remote, with Fridays off for travel. Despite trading her office and employee role for a workstation in her roving 42-foot home, Jeannine approaches work the same way she always has. It doesn’t impact the kind of work she does or the value she provides. It’s been a big change, but life is short, she says. Follow your dreams now while you can—create the freedom, even while you’re still working.
Kick the commute
Others take advantage of the flexibility to work from anywhere and move to places that feed their love for the outdoors or desire to live near family. Allison, a Montana native and marketing consultant, recognized this in her own lightbulb moment. One day, she realized that she didn’t have to keep putting up with a nightmare commute, far away from her family—she could live anywhere.
Allison traded her corporate job for a consulting contract, and a few months later she moved back home to Montana. She wanted work to fit into the life she desired, and she was determined to make it happen. To Allison, success is living in Big Sky Country, near her friends and family, doing work she loves for clients and a consultancy that share her same values. She’s been successfully—and happily—consulting for more than a decade.
The longest shortest time
Stephanie was tired. She was tired of rushing, tired of wasting hours each week commuting and away from her young family, tired of cramming quality time into the precious thirty minutes between her two-year-old’s daycare pickup and bedtime, tired of feeling like she was failing on all fronts.
So, like Allison, she decided to work her way, on her terms. Stephanie left her full-time-employee role and picked up a few part-time consulting contracts. She now shares the home office with her six-year-old remote learner. She spends far less time rushing from meeting to meeting and far more time doing the work she loves. And while she hasn’t fully found that mythical work-life balance, she is intentional about building each day’s schedule around her work, herself, and her family.
I’ve met with countless professionals over the years who loved their corporate careers but didn’t love the inflexibility. They tried to carve out the flexibility they needed to stay, but their employer wouldn’t budge. They weren’t willing or able to continue down a rigid path that didn’t allow for the fluidity of life, so they left and found what they needed in consulting.
Think about your own career. Do you crave more flexibility or does your role afford you the flexibility you need and want? Could you carve out more flexibility in your existing role? And if not, are you willing to compromise in that area?
There’s no right or wrong answer. Be true to yourself, your working style, and your situation. But if you’re not getting the flexibility you need, I want you to know that you have options. In the new world of work, you can work differently—you can work your way.
Next up, we’ll explore focus in part two of this series.