On my way home from a recent trip to the East Coast, the weather was so clear that I could look out of my airplane window and see all the way to the ground from 30,000 feet. There below, I recognized downtown Pittsburgh, PA: its distinctive bridges, skyscrapers, and especially the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers to form the Ohio. At the tip of the Golden Triangle, where these rivers meet, lies Point State Park. I smiled as I remembered the only time I ever stood there.
Back in the late summer of 1994, I spent a week at a client's offices near Pittsburgh. To save on air fare, they had me stay over the following Saturday night, so I spent Saturday exploring Pittsburgh while reflecting on the past week's work. The day was sunny but not too hot, and I wandered all over the downtown area. I took the Duquesne Incline up Mt. Washington, where I first encountered the beloved habanero. I walked across the Fort Pitt Bridge, and toured the remains of the old forts at Point State Park.
I walked all around the park, and stopped by the fountain where the three rivers meet. As I enjoyed the warmth of the sun mixed with the cool spray from the fountain, I looked out over the origin of the Ohio River. Suddenly it occurred to me that I, too, had experienced a grand beginning in this place. When I started consulting three years earlier, I only had small jobs at first. Later, I added a former employer as my biggest client, then additional small clients. Essentially, I was working for my former employer, with odd jobs on the side. So when I called myself a consultant, it felt just a little fake. This new client in Pittsburgh was my first big client for whose business I actually had to market myself. I had talked my way in, and landed the contract. More importantly, I delivered. They were happy with the work I performed in that week, and they had plenty more lined up for me for when I got back home. Now I felt like I could call myself a consultant. I wasn't just appropriating the label, I was doing it.
I'm relating this story for those of you who have been consulting for years and still feel like your business hasn't taken off. You have enough business to make it worth pursuing, but when you call yourself a consultant you feel like you're lying, or at least stretching the truth. I'm here to tell you that persistence pays off. If you feel like you're just going through the motions, you should try to find ways to make it more real — but above all, keep on keeping on. Eventually you'll come to the point where you can mean it when you say, "I am a consultant. I am doing it!"
I snapped out of my reverie to see a young brunette dancing and laughing in the fountain. She seemed to look invitingly towards me, and I smiled back at her as I considered whether to join her. I've always wished that I had.
Ah well, one personal hurdle at a time.
Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant blog, he also contributes to [Geeks Are Sexy] Technology News and his two personal blogs, Chip's Quips and Chip's Tips for Developers.