Last month saw me in a bit of a flurry as I was informed that my long-time customer had decided not to renew my contract. Panic! Weep! Wail! I probably needn’t have gotten so stressed out, but a career shift is not easy, especially if you’ve gotten comfortable with it. This month I experienced more changes as I moved from one mode of contracting to another and contemplated what to do next.
Shifting from One Mode of Contracting to Another
As usual, I try to keep things real here. For example, I admit that I’ve had it pretty easy as a contractor for eight of my nearly ten years as a freelancer. The first year and a half were a bit tougher because I was constantly struggling to figure out what to do with myself and to make sure I had enough work coming in to afford the rent. Then a friend found me and offered a job that a) I couldn’t resist because of the pay and b) turned into a long-term activity that kept the roof on for many more years than I expected. That was a combination of luck, job history, and my network working for me.
Five years ago, I got an offer from another friend and former coworker to come work for one of the big “new space” companies on a contract basis. That work carried on until last week. The lead I had on a short-term contract in Huntsville turned out to be solid, and I have now started a new, temporary gig supporting Marshall Space Flight Center. The previous space employer considered any outside work elsewhere in the space industry a conflict of interest, which was a change to earlier policies. I had to choose between a temporary job that would cover my missing long-term contract plus whatever hours I was getting from the previous space customer or looking for another long-term, non-space job to cover the gap in pay. I like to eat and I like having a home. More people in Huntsville know and respect my work, so the question was answered for me.
Thinking About the Future
In the space of a week, I went from two long-term contracts to one short-term contract. So now what? Indeed, that is the question. I find myself toying with options:
- Starting a consulting business with a techie buddy.
- Picking up a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification to increase my hire-ability.
- Taking a “straight” (full-time) job and enjoy something I haven’t had in ten years: benefits.
The first option sounds the most interesting/exciting, but I’m still not sure what I’d consult about. The idea behind consulting is that Business A has a problem they don’t know how to solve with the people they have in house, and so they’re willing to pay for someone with outside expertise to come in and figure out how to fix it. What problems am I good at solving? What useful ideas do I have? What types of problems could a partnership consisting of a high-functioning tech writer and a techie with multiple skills of his own solve? Honestly, I don’t know. Yet.
A couple of people I know and trust have their PMP certification. Would that be a benefit to my career at this stage in my life? Maybe, but how committed am I to the idea? Am I motivated enough to spend the money and time for the education, prep, and exam (somewhere around $2,000)? I don’t know. I’d like to think I could. I got my master’s degree while working full-time at Disney. However, that was a younger me. That younger self had more energy, more free time, and no significant other in his life. Is my older self up for that challenge or would the PMP plan end up on the Island of Misfit Ideas, along with so many others? In my defense, the M.A. was a strategic decision, so it was easier to stay motivated: I wanted to get into the space business, and I determined that only a higher degree would get me on the right path. A PMP certification would be a tactical decision: a means to do more advanced versions of what I already do now. Is that what I want? Uncertain.
Then there’s the prospect of a steady, 9-5, full-time job with benefits, bosses, bureaucracy, and all the other adventures that come with them. I really enjoy my freedom as a freelancer despite the exorbitant premiums I pay for health insurance. I like sitting at my desk only when there’s work to do, not because I’m supposed to be there during certain hours. I like grocery shopping at 10 a.m. on an Tuesday. I like being my own boss. Those are difficult incentives to surrender gladly.
And in the midst of all this excitement, I’m getting married soon after my new contract expires. The lady would, understandably, like to see me gainfully and steadily employed, as would I. So, yeah, there’s a lot to think about between now and the end of the contract. What comes next? I’ll keep you posted.