Focus on the Chocolate

Confidence is better than chocolate or maybe even shopping for shoes. When you’re in the zone, and things just flow, it’s exhilarating. That’s how I felt when I began my consulting business. I had found my niche. I loved everything about helping organizations build their website personalities and worlds. Each new page we created was its own little kingdom. It was like being a master of the universe albeit on a very diminished scale.

I am a huge believer in the power of people. No matter how many rabbits you can pull out of a hat or knives you can juggle, skill only goes so far. Even when you really can shoot an arrow through an apple balanced on your youngest child’s head, without an audience, you’re nothing.

I made a point of connecting with colleagues in as many ways as I could. Sometimes it felt like speed dating. I went to conferences and receptions. I met people for lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks. I also helped others grow their own networks. “I know just who you should meet,” rolled off my tongue as easily as my name. By the time I went into business, my pool of professional resources was deep and wide. There were people with whom I could subcontract while I built my own client list. There were others who could help with web development, hosting and design so I could get jobs done quickly.

Because I delivered on my promises, my clients experienced some of that wonderful confidence that I was feeling. Gradually, I ventured outside my web domain into the wider world of marketing, technology planning, and management. It felt good to be able to offer more comprehensive services. I loved trouble-shooting everything from SEO to database integrations.

Although I consider myself to be a people person what I wasn’t prepared for and still have trouble embracing, is my role as therapist. Consultants don’t get hired to solve simple problems. Stress is usually involved, and even lambs turn into lions when they think their next stop is the dinner table. In the consulting business sorting out sticky problems comes with the territory.

I’m still working to channel my inner Yoda. I strive to remain calm but firm and wise in the face of seemingly irreconcilable conflicts and unexpected revelations. Here’s just one example. Recently, I had a phone conversation with two vendors who needed to collaborate on an integration. Although code knows no national boundaries, these two weren’t speaking the same language. It wasn’t even as close as Spanish and French. One of them chose this Tower of Babel moment to announce quite clearly that his company was going out of business. When pressed to provide details, he retreated back into double-speak. Although the timeline for the watershed event remained garbled. It was crystal clear that what once was a jigsaw puzzle had morphed into Rubiks Cube.

We had a rescue on our hands. The answer to my next question is obvious. When is the most likely time for an association crisis to occur? You guessed it—Right before the annual meeting.

My client, Association Y, was a small organization, with no technical staff and a limited budget. We would need to identify a new vendor. There was a long list of wonderous feats this miracle worker would be called on to perform in short order. Not the least among them was moving the site as quickly as possible and taking over code that was written by someone else. I, of course, was the diplomat who would break the bad news to the staff and assure them that this IT meltdown was falling squarely on my shoulders.

Impossible? No way! Just another day in my life as a consultant.

As technology grows more complex, so do the relationship issues that are critical to making it work. When multiple systems need to play nicely together, staff, vendors, and sometimes even volunteers, must also cooperate and treat each other with civility. (Yes, this is actually an issue.) The consultant’s job can turn from fix to rescue on a dime.

This is why it’s a good idea to always follow your bliss. When I need to keep smiling, I focus on the chocolate. Perfection is illusive. There are always many more trade-offs than you imagined. But, the confidence of knowing I’m in the right profession, with the right people at the right time, seldom lets me down.

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