Celebrate the Downtime

In the last few months, I definitely am noticing an uptick in the economy. Several times a week, I am asked if I know someone for a specific job and also more companies are seriously looking to involve consultants to resolve certain specific issues or simply to support their staff. During the past year, together with 11 other fabulous women, we wrote down our journey as business women. In July, the result was released as the book “Scrappy Women in Business: Living Proof that Bending the Rules Isn’t Breaking the Law”.

Yesterday I was contemplating what I will be doing in 2011 with nothing on the books yet. Looking at an empty slate of work didn’t feel depressing; to be honest it felt extremely liberating. What can I do with all this free time: spend a month with my parents in the Netherlands, see my friend in Buenos Aires, and of course my dear friend in Nairobi, Kenya. Then I have an invitation to come to Australia and of course to see the “new” (5 years old) house of my friend in Greece. That leaves no time to work 🙂

Based on my reflection on 2011, I would like to share a few pieces from my chapter.

When I first moved to the USA, my well-intentioned HR manager, Ernie—a real sweetheart—did his very best to explain the concept of “at will” employment to me. It was a foreign concept to me, coming from a country where there is (or at least there was last time I checked) a two-month resignation period starting the first day of the month after you handover your resignation letter. Let me explain: If I decide to quit my job on June 5, I am legally required to stay on the job until August 31. My conversation with Ernie went something like this: “So you mean, if I wake up in the morning and decide that I no longer want to work here, I can just call in and quit? And that’s it? I don’t even have to get out of my pajamas?” “Yup!” he replied. “And it works the other way around, too. In the ‘at will’ system, if your manager decides there is no longer a need for you, you can be instantly shown the door.” I thought this was extremely bizarre, but liberating in a way.

Once I finally understood the “at will” system, I found it confusing when my friends with “real” jobs said things like, “Oh, consulting is not for me because there are too many uncertainties.” Really? Let’s do some risk analysis here. (My apologies, having been a project management consultant for almost 10 years, it’s an occupational habit.)

I have my own health insurance, my own liability insurance, and my own pension fund, so with or without a consulting gig I am covered. True, all of this costs money, but on a monthly basis, it’s not breaking the bank.

Of course I started my business in 2001 so when the dot.bust happened, I ended up without any work. Finally, after eight months (yes, eight!), I got another consulting gig. Of course, sitting on the bench for so long, aside from giving me a sore butt and depleting my finances, had also made me gun-shy.

Fast forward five years and it suddenly struck me that, outside of family visits to the Netherlands, I had not had a real vacation. (And I can assure you that those family visits are quite the opposite of a vacation. I desperately need a vacation after one.) Before moving to the United States I was used to the European tradition of three to four weeks of vacation a year, which I generally spent backpacking through some part of the world. Dropping down to nothing at all was quite a shock! I had seriously neglected one of my biggest passions because I was too afraid to be without a consulting engagement again after that long dry spell.

I love to travel! It gives me the opportunity to experience other cultures and meet people from around the world. I personally believe that being immersed in foreign cultures provides you with a reality check of your own perspective on life and the world around you. I have had some of the most eye-opening experiences while traveling abroad. One example that stands out was my trip to Tibet in 1998. …..

…. Since then I’ve traveled to many other places during the breaks between my consulting engagements, including diving with endangered sharks to support conservation efforts. Got a break in your career? It happens! Join the club! But don’t sweat it—celebrate! Take my word for it, it’s worth it.

I am excited about 2011. It feels like a clean canvas. Do not forget to enjoy life! You never know how long it will last.


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2 thoughts on “Celebrate the Downtime”

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      Thanks Abby! I am glad you like it. If you have time you should get the book. There are many inspiring stories in there.

      Happy Holidays!!

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