That horse I rode in on…

I’m in the midst of a…directional change. I set up this website originally for the purpose of hanging out my independent consulting shingle. And I knew perfectly well, when I did this back in February, that it was NOT gonna be enough to say, “hey, I’m a consultant now!” and wait for clients to come rushing through the door. I had to get on the move, and drum up some business, and, you know, market myself and my services. (I was aware of the irony of this imperative after all the grousing I did on the client side about the over-aggressive and tone-deaf consultant pitches I’ve been subjected to over the years.) I did reach out to a few people for coffee and whatnot but for the most part, the marketing/outreach….didn’t happen.

I am not a lazy person. Rather, I am more the sort of person who, left to my own devices one time when my family was out of town for a few days, decided to clean all of the upholstery covers myself and also taught myself how to roll sushi. In work situations, I can plow through formidably long to-do lists at light speed and schedule in hours for writing and team-building and simply having fun.

So laziness was not the thing that was keeping me from self-marketing. I just…wasn’t into it. I kept on feeling this powerful yearning to skip the dating-around phase of consulting and go right into a long-term relationship. Which isn’t possible to do unless you start your consulting career with one already in place.

Another thing slowing down this latest consulting push: the past five months of not working have been, frankly, wonderful. I was coming off of a pretty intensive period of my life. For my last job, on weekdays, I shot out the door by 5:15 in the morning and usually got home no earlier than 6 pm and was asleep by 9 pm. I kept these crazy hours in order to avoid the worst of what is fundamentally a horrible commute no matter what (from Silicon Valley to San Francisco), and to maintain some sort of exercise schedule, which I can’t function without. I worked in nonprofit advocacy and litigation—and when Trump got elected, what was already a busy job went even crazier. People kept on saying that we were in a marathon, not a sprint, so we needed to prioritize self-care and take a break now and again. But none of us did prioritize self-care. Life felt like both a marathon and a sprint. For 2 ½ years I did this job, and 2017 was the worst year I can remember in terms of stress and workload and not being able to take a deep breath. It was a combination of expected stresses that come with age and life—like my parents’ deteriorating health—combined with a highly demanding job and a really punishing commute and a really stressful and debilitating political climate in the country writ large.

So despite my great love for that organization and its mission, I resigned. And for the first half of this year, I’ve been taking it easy. It’s not been thumb-twiddling—I’ve got two teenage kids still at home and a husband with a highly demanding job, so there is still lots to do. But there is space and time to do all those things, and more, besides. I felt enormously lucky to be able to get dinner on the table, take walks, meet people for lunch or coffee, schedule home repairs. I caught up on our New Yorker issues, finally, instead of saving six or seven of them for a vacation.

With respect to the consulting thing, I had all sorts of ideas about what I wanted to do. Like, I was thinking about multi-cultural training facilitation, and meeting design—I wanted to take the lesser-known but still substantial parts of my experience and turn them into a new career. But it’s really hard to look like one thing on paper and then try to stitch together a new career with a bunch of little jobs. I got solicited for public interest communications jobs because that’s what I’ve done for decades. And I found myself looking at RFPs or help wanted emails and thinking, most people want communication consultants to do full-time communications for them on a part-time basis for part-time pay. And, they also wanted boatloads of products without any strategic thinking behind them (who do you want to see these products and why? How will you get them to see them?) It’s not like I couldn’t do the work, but my desire to hustle and compete for that type of business was limited.

I also want to be clear that I thought for more than one second about not going back to work and adopting the role of stay-at-home spouse. The thing is, if you are truly a feminist, like I believe myself to be, you want women to have choices and opportunity—the choice to work and succeed outside the home for equal pay and recognition, and the choice to stay at home and do the very pressing and under-recognized job of being a parent, a spouse, a domestic point person. So without denigrating the role of stay-at-home spouse and/or parent, I will just admit that I couldn’t, ultimately, go there. It had nothing to do with being bored—I am very good at filling my time—but it has everything to do with identity, and recognizing that you can change some spots but not others. My mother was a practicing physician—at a time when it was rare for Korean women to do that—and my sister is a practicing physician and even though I have lots of family members and friends who do not work outside the home, I find myself inexorably wedded to emulating the examples of my closest female role models.

However, here’s what I think it all came down to: fundamentally, I still want to belong somewhere, be a part of something bigger than myself, be connected to a distinct group of people. So even though I’m not going to take down this consulting shingle just yet, I am content, for the time being, to just watch it flap in the breeze. And I’m embarking on a serious exploration to find my next FTE slot. It may take some time. Number one, at this stage in my career, it’s harder to just take a job for the experience and learning. You care more about finding good people to work with, and you understand when work has meaning and when it doesn’t. And, it’s tough to escape being pigeonholed–I get automatically flagged for many executive-level jobs but am told that I’m not qualified for jobs for which I have a ton of experience, but no formal job history in a particular sector or specialty. (Which I think is amazingly short-sighted, by the way—the best communication experts are generalists, and should be able to communicate internally or externally about any topic. If I’ve decoded policy and financing and legal dimensions of topics like health care, education, criminal justice, and climate and clean energy, you think I can’t figure out how to communicate about your tech product? PUH-LEEZE.)

I don’t know where this next exploration will take me. But in the past few years, with everything that’s happened on the political and personal front, I still feel optimistic about climbing hills, and learning new things, and adding value with the skills and experience I’ve got. Wherever I end up, I have this unshakable belief that there’s every possibility that the outcome can be great. And if it ends up going sideways—as things do, sometimes—I also have a deep knowledge that no matter what, it’s always possible to contribute, learn, and then go on to the next thing.