Giving Up Consulting (aka being a corporate gypsy)

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In New York, I sit solo at the hotel bar. I order the same dinner (Salmon Caesar salad without croutons) with a glass of St. Francis MerlotI’m getting updates from my favorite bartender from the past few months about her life, her dating and her daughter. She tells me about the guy she was recently dating who ghosted on her. He literally got up to go to work one morning while she was sleeping in his home and never contacted her again. I realize, while looking around the posh hotel lobby, with other guests sitting around the bar in suits, that this hotel is the closest thing I have to home and this Jamaican woman — with dreadlocks, heart of gold and Lauren Hill take on life — is the closest person I have to a friend in this state. Like clockwork, I get up and go to work the next day. Weeks later, I pack my bags, call an Uber, check out of my hotel and do it over again in a different state.

I have created a professional career out of running away. I work as an independent consultant. Without getting bogged with the details, I primarily work in healthcare technology. I take on projects with consulting firms. Short term contracts can span from one week to three weeks and longer projects can run for three months or more in a city. For the past few years, I haven’t lived in any city for longer than four months. I thrive off of the fast paced, gypsy style lifestyle that requires over 84 hours of work a week and ends with a flight out to a different city.

 

Photo by Clément Guillou on Unsplash

I try and pinpoint an exact time when this feeling of restlessness began but I fail every time. The earliest memory of wanting to run away was actually in India when I was two or three years old. My mom recounts, with eyes that still glaze over with horror and PTSD, how I would get up and just disappear in the evenings. Routinely, I wandered off into the rice fields or found my way to the village temple. When strangers asked what I was doing alone, I would tell him I had gone to pray for a brother. They would walk me back to my home, knowing who I was and where I lived. Can someone be born with a feeling of restlessness?

For the past five months, though, I’ve noticed that I’ve been even more restless than usual: the flights are no longer enough; the cities are less enchanting; the running doesn’t have the same high. This lifestyle doesn’t have the same effect on me — It’s like hearing your favorite song on the radio and then deciding to change the station. You can’t relate to it anymore. The person who enjoyed that song is long gone. When I landed in JFK earlier in this year, I saw a large punjabi family in the waiting area. I tried to remember how it felt to have your family waiting for you at the airport. I asked myself, “How nice would it be to go home and drink cha right now?” I ordered one at a local Pakistani restaurant to absolve the familiar feeling of homesickness. Was I ready to settle down? Was the traveling getting old? I wasn’t sure.

 

Photo by Damian Zaleski on Unsplash

The first issue with settling down is the real fear of boredom. A few weeks ago, I began looking at full time jobs in New York, Chicago and Seattle — all of the cities I loved the most. The jobs ranged from associate to senior level consultancy positions in communications, global development and non profit work. They were all roles that had some component of complexity and challenge. My biggest fear in beginning a full time job is being stuck in a cubicle, bored out of my mind. You see, I have lived that life before. The progression of a desk career is written from a timeless story line, cheaply reproduced in every company: the first three months into a job are all perfect appearances, perfect performances, perfect smiles — everything is new, exciting and profound; six months into it and I’ve learned how to navigate, improve and beat the system; nine months in and I’m looking into something more challenging, getting my resume ready for a more difficult role.

The biggest drawback to full time in a corporate setting is the death of creativity, absence of change and lack of inspiration through the mundane, monotonous, mind-numbing day to day work. I see it all the time — young bright minds sitting behind cubicles, fresh graduates from universities, being tasked to do the same repetitive task over and over again everyday.

It’s corporate prison with a paycheck.

 

Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

The second, perhaps more personal, concern with “settling down” is perhaps the possibility of developing lasting relationships. It is relatively easy talking to strangers in airports and bars, starting off with a superficial conversation about the latest Trump headline, refugee crisis or how [insert any Airline company] has become so shitty over the years. It has become second nature to develop new friendships in new cities. I attract good people in my life but find it virtually impossible to keep them.

Perhaps what internally warns me is that if I settle down, in one city, I can no longer use my job as an excuse to keep people at bay. I’ll start to lay roots in one neighborhood, see the same barista, have neighbors again and perhaps create a new network of friends that I can see without shoving into tight travel plans. That both excites and frightens me.

People sometimes comment on how “brave” I must be to live in different cities on my own. Ironically, I think it’s “brave” when people take the chance to create a life for themselves in a new city, job and relationship. They’re buying the product and committing to it.

I’m just window shopping.

 

Photo by Julentto Photography on Unsplash

The last, perhaps even more universal and personal, worry with giving up traveling as a career is the question of, “what if the feeling of restlessness doesn’t go away?”. What if I find staying in one place suffocating? What if restlessness is an innate personality trait in all of us and settling down goes against how we’re intrinsically wired? In our own ways, whether it’s through movies, reading or other means, we’re all looking for an escape at some point.

I do believe certain individuals find their niche in comfort and routine. A small minority, however, are always looking out of the airplane window, planning their next adventure and looking forward to the next destination. They’re the Anthony Bourdains, investigative world reporters and the travel vloggers who give up normal 9–5 jobs and hop on planes to do what most of us dream of. I honestly wonder if at a certain point they get tired of the hotels, jaded from constantly feeling like an outsider and burnt out from the endless cramped air travel.

There is an unique peace, untouchable purity and irreplaceable attachment to home that is undeniably impossible to replicate while on the road. No hotel can create a similar experience. No country, however new and thrilling it may be, can replace the sense of homecoming. No bartender can replace the presence of strong relationships.

I think that’s what I’m searching for.

Home.

I just haven’t figured out my path to getting there. Yet.

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