Learning from Experience

By Rick Fullerton | Bio

Over the past few months I have been an absentee blogger, a consequence of having accepted a full-time work assignment that I expected to last two years or more. I was enticed by a personal request for my services to lead a strategic initiative that would call on my experience and skills. So after nearly 10 years as a freelance consultant, I returned to work inside an organization at age 62.

Any major decision like this comes with many implications. Besides the desire to be a key player within a respected institution, I was also attracted by the social and economic possibilities. As a consultant, I missed being part of an ongoing organization and the sense of belonging and the regular compensation. At the same time, I realized I would be giving up the freedom to go cycling whenever the weather was fine or to decline individual assignments that did not fit with my interests.

The fact that I am blogging again is a clue that this did not play out as promised. Yes, the work was challenging and, by all accounts, my contribution was highly valued. And yes, I did get to know many people and re-experience what it is to be ‘inside’ as a member of a team. I did feel the responsibility and promise of an enduring commitment. At the same time, there were significant disappointments and frustrations with other aspects of the experience. Some of these (like being seen as a parachute expert), I expected and took in stride. Others involving inflexible policies and systems took their toll. My commitment to complete the agreed work successfully was strong, but after six months another younger person was appointed to the role. And after another two months spent waiting for the creation of an alternate position, I returned to my life as an independent practitioner.

Sorting out the gifts and lessons of this experience has been a fascinating process, one that has reminded me of the importance of supportive friends and colleagues. While the process is still ongoing, here are some tentative insights that I now see. Primary among these is a renewed appreciation for supportive friends and colleagues—those people who are so committed to me that they listen generously and trust me enough to talk straight. Indeed, this experience has helped me recognize that my network of such supporters is more extensive than I realized. This reminds me of the saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Another gift of this experience is a newfound appreciation for the enduring business relationships I have in the broader community. So while the work I have done over the years may have been intermittent, there is an enduring foundation based on credibility, reputation and trust. I now see the role of an independent practitioner in a new light, as part of a broader community of which I am a key player.

I also have seen again my needy inner child who seeks to be needed, respected, chosen, secure… the list goes on. It is a real wake-up call to be reminded that it is my relationships—with myself, with other people, and with the earth—that are most important. And in these relationships, I choose what I say—my assessments, assertions, actions and declarations. So I am back—with a renewed commitment to reflect, share and contribute.

© 2009 Rick Fullerton. All rights reserved.