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There is a freedom with being a consultant in that I am sent to different places for varying lengths of time to do different projects. The best part about it is that it's never the same thing twice. However, this flexibility comes with a certain price. As a consultant, I am always an outsider. In fact, it's something that I have to continually remind myself of on the longer projects. No matter how long the project or how nice the people, I will never really be part of them. At the end, I always leave, and they always stay.
This, then, requires maintaining some sort of professional distance. We're supposed to always dress just a bit nicer than the client, for example. Not too much nicer - after all, it's important to fit in to whatever orporate culture exists on an assignment. But the dress code acts as a subtle reminder - to them and to us. Another thing to avoid is 'moving in'. That means no stuff on the desk - pictures, plants, and other paraphenelia that would normally personalize an office.
I've been on this current project now for a little over six months - longer than any other assignment I've had in my years as a consultant. And I'm finding that in this project, it's getting harder and harder to abide by the rules. I like these people I work with, and I like their company. They're terrific co-workers and despite the logistical problems that come from normal growing pains when a company moves offices (and buildings), the work environment they've provided for us consultants has been definitely above average.
And lately I'm starting to realize that for this project, I don't care about the rules any more. I already made it clear to my new manager that I do not intend to continue being a consultant. I told her that this would be my last project - regardless of the fact that I'll most likely be on it til the end of the year or so - and I will do everything in my power to make sure that this is true. It's an odd sort of freedom to think that way. At my project site, we're in the new building now and it looks like we'll be there for a while, or at least til I leave the assignment. So I think I'll be bringing in some things. A picture, perhaps, and a plant. It's not much, but it's a start. A preview of what I want my working life to be at the end of the project. Back to my 'real' office that I only see on weekends when I pick up the mail. Back to the office where I already have plants and pictures and a shelf full of gadgets and toys that my office mate and I have collected. Back to the office where I have a name plate and I am not temporary - where it really is *my* desk and I don't have to constantly wonder where I'm going next and when. Some people may think that consulting is exciting because of all the travel and the constant change. Not me. Not any more.