If you’re a person who reacts well to changes and who can adjust to new situations with a shrug, this post is probably not for you. If, however, you’re more like me and you have trouble adapting to big and fast changes, this might be for you.
Why there is a need to “keep my cool”
This year is starting to reach its end. I started to think about how this year has been and what I hope I can do better next year. We had some upheavals in my project a few weeks ago and my work life was being tossed upside down (or at least that’s how it felt at the time). Luckily, things weren’t that bad (who would’ve known?!) and I’ve managed to find my footing again.
Photo by Dương Nhân from Pexels
I do my job with my whole personality. It can be both a positive and a negative thing. When I feel happy and content, I have lots of energy and I’m willing and able to give the work 100 %. But the flip side of that coin means that when things get rocky in a project, I feel it strongly and my emotions are all over the place. In the worst situations, every small thing starts to rub me the wrong way and it’s a situation bound to get worse and worse.
When rapid changes happen, it takes a while for me to adjust to the new situation. I mean changes along the lines of a project’s customer announcing “we’re not going to be needing half you after this sprint, goodbye”, not if the team should try a new kind of retro template this week or maybe try a different kind of approach with planning the sprint. In small everyday situations, I can be very flexible (as long as I have some familiar things), but those big “announcements” that take effect almost immediately are not easy for me to handle.
So why be a consultant?
Part of being a consultant is accepting that you might not have a project or a 100 % allocation at all times. In my career I’ve only faced a situation like that once, it lasted for a couple of months and I was able to do an internal project for a stretch of it. In those moments it’s crucial to remember that it’s on the company to find you a project, not on you to find one for yourself. But it is still a stressful situation and people react differently. I’ve tried to learn to be more gentle and forgiving to myself and these kinds of situations put those lessons to a test.
But most of the consultants at Solita are in one or more projects. And working at a large consultant company also has its perks. I’m not tied to my current project until the end of time. When a project starts to feel like too much (or too little sometimes), I can ask to be rotated to a new project. I get to work with new people, possibly learn a new domain, work with different technologies, all the while staying at the same company.
At least here at Solita, we’re offered plenty of possibilities to learn. The learning may happen in your daily project work or you can take time from your project to learn what you feel is important to learn. We have internal courses anyone can create. There are also links to external materials, like books on O’Reilly’s platform. And the learning is not restricted to what the company “provides”. We’re free to pursue what interests us and at least I’ve not needed to explain to anyone why I’ve decided to use my time learning something.
What keeps me cool (or at least cooler…)
At Solita, almost nobody works on a project by themselves. Sure, they might be the only developer or designer, but not the only Solitan. And we have a lot of bigger projects where there are 10+ persons in a project. We also try to avoid thinking of ourselves as somehow different if we come from different business units. Naturally, e.g. designers and developers sometimes have different reactions or points of view, but first and foremost we are working together towards our project’s goal and therefore we can support each other. My current project team is awesome (and I’m sure a lot of Solitans say the same about their teams) and having them around me helps a lot. They are people who know the project’s situation as well as me and we can share the joys and pains.
Your project team might be able to affect things in your day-to-day work. If some topics are recurring and cause trouble with some or all of you, the team can suggest new ways of working to the customer. It’s probably easier to achieve that when the team is asking and not a lone consultant.
Also, one of the most important things keeping me fit to work is my people lead. I know having an administrative manager is not ideal for everybody. But to me, it is super important that there is this one person who cares about me and who I’ve built trust with over the years. I really can’t see myself working in a company where you’re supposed to contact an HR person and it might be a different person every time.
Another thing helping me is Solita’s culture. I feel it’s okay not to be happy and content all the time. I can out my frustration freely both to other “normal” colleagues as well as to colleagues working in managerial positions. A few times I’ve talked with my project manager and just poured my heart out and told them that everything is sh*t. And they’ve listened to me and after I’ve calmed down asked what concrete steps could be taken to make things easier.
Tips and tricks for tough days
Sometimes there just are tough days and you just have to get through them. Here are some tips that might help in those situations.
Take a break (seriously I should learn to take my own advice). Take some time for yourself. I like to take a tea break and just sit for a while. For you, it might be something else altogether. Learn what gives you the chance to calm down.
Photo by Agnieszka Bladzik from stocksnap.io
Talk to someone. It can be a team member, a people lead, or a friend at work. Talking to my people lead has helped me through a lot. It feels like no matter what’s bothering me, she can help me understand different points of view and to find a way to cope.
Leave work a bit earlier. If you can use flex time, do that. If a week is too much, cut it short. At least for me, leaving just an hour or two earlier and doing something nice makes a world of difference. For example, in Finland’s winter that might make it possible to see the sun (or some daylight at least).
Be self-compassionate. I know it can be hard. We might be so used to demanding almost impossible things from ourselves that lowering the expectations more toward reasonable can feel like giving up or slacking off. Learning to be compassionate towards yourself is not something you can learn overnight. Be patient, you’ll get there and life gets easier when everything is not a struggle to be and do better.
Consulting gives you the possibility to work on varying projects and you’re not tied to a certain project. But sometimes the customers cause turbulence in the project’s routines. Some of us deal with said situations better than others.
If adjusting takes a bit of time for you, don’t worry about it. It can feel like the worst thing at times, but you’ll get through it. With time and some effort, you can learn new skills that make it easier to find your place in a new situation. Different things work for different people, so the first step is to start figuring out what helps you.
You got this.