Dear newly hired consultant-self, This is an odd letter to write. I cannot help but feel like an old man sharing words of wisdom on a long gone career. In reality, it’s only been about six years and I’m still in the thick of it. Sitting down to write this letter, I feel far from wise, but I have learnt a few things that might be useful to you now and during your first years as a consultant.
Countless times over the coming years, you will be told that your career is a marathon and not a sprint. “Think big and think long-term”, “the world is bigger than yourself”, “personal development is incremental, not a series of abrupt transitions”. You will get these comments from tenured colleagues at times when you are frustrated, angry and tired, and you will discard them as mindless banter intended to make you buckle down and grind through tedious tasks and long hours. But listen. The world is bigger than yourself. In due course, you will reap the material and personal rewards for becoming a better consultant.
The real rewards, however, personally and professionally, will come from your newfound ability to impact and influence others in a positive way, though at times even this may seem like a thankless task. While bonuses and promotions do materialise as you accumulate skills as a consultant, understand that your real value lies in your ability to apply those skills to the benefit of your surroundings – clients and colleagues alike.
There will be ups and downs in the years to come. Some of those downs will feel like falling off a cliff. You will break, get teary-eyed and come very close to hurling your Lenovo laptop through a hotel window 31 floors above the streets of Toronto. This is the nature of you, and the business you are getting into. But when you get close to that cliff edge and frustration has you moments from testing your laptop’s ability to fly, reach out and grab onto colleagues, friends or family. Be honest and transparent about how you feel and what’s going on. Do not expect that you can solve every problem on your own. Remember, it’s not a sprint, but it’s not always a marathon either. Sometimes, it’s a transalpine ultramarathon along treacherous ridgelines. A race where you need a harness and ropes. So reach out and seek help when needed.
Fail. You will spend days, weeks, months and masses of energy unnecessarily fretting about failure. You will not lose your job if you piss off a client or make an error in your calculations (I am still here, writing you this letter). At most, you will get a slap on the wrist followed by feedback on how to make amends with the client, or avoid making the same calculation error in the future. The client will not go bankrupt, you will not be asked to pack your bags and the world will keep spinning. Sooner or later, you will fail, and sooner is better than later. You will realise that failing once in a while isn’t the end of the world; making that discovery will take the edge off day-to-day stress and anxiety. Moreover, if you’re not failing from time to time, you’re not challenging yourself enough: you should be taking on bigger tasks and more responsibility.
I know that you’re currently on the edge of your seat with excitement at the prospect of working with a multitude of different industries, clients and people. And you should be. Explore industries, functional areas and people. There will be a period when what you look forward to most is your next project. But don’t let your eagerness to try new things get in the way of building relations and seeking continuity. Working in the trenches with the same colleagues over several projects allows you to build close relationships and even develop close friends; friends you can confide in and reach out to when you are on the edge of those treacherous alpine cliffs. Seek out the people you like working with and invest both time and effort in building relationships and trust.
Trust will allow you to take on more responsibility and ever more challenging and interesting tasks. Eventually, you will need to learn how to build that same trust with clients, so you might as well start with your colleagues. Moreover, these relationships will give you a stronger sense of belonging to the QVARTZ civilisation and will ultimately be the reason for why you are still in your consulting career when writing this letter.
Continuity in terms of clients, industry or function will allow you to accumulate knowledge that can give you some breathing space. A space that is familiar and a space where you have proved once before that you can thrive. Your tasks are not likely to be any less challenging, or your T420 laptop less exposed to irreparable harm. But re-entering a familiar space from time to time can give you a much needed boost of self-confidence when diving into the trenches once more. I know that my letter to you holds no real solutions. The reality is that you do not solve your career, just as you do not solve life. I am not a wise man yet and this missive by no means holds a definitive truth. Like you, I am still learning new things every day. And thank goodness for that.
Wishing you a long and happy career of positively influencing others,