I became an independent security consultant in 2009, not long after the stock market hit its Great Recession low in March of that year. For the first time in my life, there was a not-so-slight chance that the financial system and the world we knew were going to collapse. On top of that, I worked for a well-known beverage company, and I was far from worried about losing my job. So why did I leave when there was so much uncertainty in the world?
My job was killing me. I was stressed out, overworked and underpaid, and the higher-ups had completely unrealistic expectations about the project I was leading. On top of that, they picked a product to implement that we warned them wasn’t ready for prime time.
I was working seven days a week with my team, often very late into the night, to make something work that even the vendor had little knowledge of how to implement. I dreaded going to work. What was a dream job had become a nightmare.
It took me nearly six months to land my first client contract as an independent consultant, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying. The job market was awful in 2009, and everyone was afraid to hire because the future was uncertain. I networked with a number of great recruiters because they were closer to the hiring managers than a random job posting would be. It was a long road due to the economy, but my recruiters were great. I definitely felt they knew how important making a change was to me.
Finally, everything came together. I still remember the day I got the call from my recruiter that I had landed the project. The sound of the phone ringing was as sweet as Santa’s bell in The Polar Express. I can still hear it ringing as I write this column.
I am still connected to those recruiters on LinkedIn, and I always smile when I see an update from them.
The transition was also a scary and stressful time because I had a wife and two very young children, and I had to travel four days a week to the client’s site. I spent the first week in a cheap motel to conserve cash in case things didn’t work out — but luckily, they did. I ended up renting an apartment near the client site to make being away from home more bearable. I never tasted a better cup of coffee or had a better feeling of peace than that first morning when I woke up in my new place.
That first year as an independent contractor rebooted my life and laid the foundation for my success. I made a ton of money, got back in shape and officially formed my own business a year later. I was now firmly in control of my life, and the only boss I had to answer to was myself.
Some people think that my path is very risky. Ironically, most of my former co-workers who stayed out of loyalty to the company and wanted safety were ultimately let go. Good people were dismissed because they were too senior or too old or too expensive. I shudder sometimes when I think about where I would be if I hadn’t made the jump.
The last 13 years have been quite a ride. There have been some ups, and there have been some downs. There have even been moments when I’ve thought about just giving it up to get a “regular” job — but then I’ve shaken myself out of it. Even without the stability I used to believe came with traditional employment, the freedom, money and control of my own life have made being an independent consultant the only choice for me.
What I do isn’t gig work; it is a career. In fact, I prefer the term “independent consultant” because “gig work,” in my mind, implies temporary — and my path is anything but temporary. After being on the other side — no offense to those of you reading this in your cubicle — there is no way I will ever go back.