Confessions from an Ex-Non-Profit Consultant

From the title, maybe you were hoping for some tell-all story. That is not this story. We will save that story for another blog entry. :)Over the last few weeks a few people have asked why I moved away from consulting after 15 years. My response, is generally, that I had no choice. Here’s why.

It is hard for me to share. I am by nature an introvert. I am friendly, outgoing and talkative, but exceptionally shy about sharing personal details. It has taken me months to share with even my closest friends the reasons for leaving consulting. I am getting better at it. In some ways I viewed it as a personal failing. I now know this not to be the case. This was not something that started this year, or even during COVID. It started even before that.

Something was off. I felt unfulfilled at the end of each day. When the team celebrated wins, I felt nothing. When I looked back at nearly a decade and a half of work, I could point to some great programs that our support helped to establish, evaluate and fund, that I am sure changed some people’s lives, but to me I did not feel real impact. I

For the last few years, Monday morning always seemed to come too quick. Since about 2019, I had been saying I needed to make a change in the work I do, day in and day out. In some ways, I felt very ungrateful. Consulting had always provided well for my family and myself. I made my own schedule, got to spend time with my children, had a good life and was doing work that contributed to the betterment of my community. I had a dream team, and we all got along really well.

Truth be told, I fell into consulting by accident. I had a two kids back to back. Those first few years were exhausting. The youngest had an autoimmune disorder that took four years to diagnose. It was constant doctors appointments. I tried to return to corporate world for a few years, but it wasn’t for me. I could not manage the needs of a young family, the illness, aging parents, and my own mental load.

So, after having my second, I freelanced for a research project. I then, got another contract, and another. It worked well. I could contribute a little to the family’s income and work while the kids were napping, evenings and weekends.

I discovered I was good at grant writing, and my graduate degree made me good at research. I could manage research projects, and as I completed my CPA, share my financial knowledge with the organizations I volunteered and worked with. I was so busy in those first few years, I did not even have time to “feel the feelings”. During the busiest year, I served on five volunteer boards at one time. Looking back, I have no idea how we managed. Maybe it was being young and in our thirties, but somehow, with some great child care support, we pulled through.

So back to 2019. By then the autoimmune condition was in remission, both kids were in school fulltime, the small side businesses we had (ice cream shops and other small businesses) were thriving and contributing to the local ecosystems. Things should have been awesome. But they weren’t. I did not feel well. I was putting on a lot of weight. I was not sleeping well. I was constantly tired, stressed and irritable. I knew I had to make a change but I was so busy, that I did not know what.

I sold the ice cream stores and all the side businesses. I slowly came off the boards of directors. Then COVID hit. The whole world came to standstill. Except we did not. We had contracts that required us to keep going. My entire family was at home, friends were complaining about not having anything to do and I had to get up, day in and day out and just keep going. I am not complaining about that. It is just that a lot of people had time to sit and reflect on their life. Our team did not.

2020 came and went. 2021 came and by the end of 2021 things were slowing down. During the slightly less hectic pace, and during a conversation with a long-time employee, we discovered we both had an interest in education and training. She had some extra time and I had her start creating courses. We thought we would transition to trianing.

In 2022, we both decided we would move to the trianing space. Then, we were asked to assist with a training project. We wrote a grant for them, they won and then asked us to help run the project. The project was large, ambitious and highly involved. We did not like running projects for clients, but because we had time and capacity, we decided to take it on. The team was great and we all got along well and worked efficiently. We had a few hiccups, but overall the project went well.

Enter 2023, we were wrapping up the project and for months I had not been feeling well. However, we were so busy that I did not have time to notice. In mid-May I got a cold. Maybe it was COVID or something else. I coughed for a few weeks, but it did not seem overly serious. I was not sleeping well. Was running a bit ragged, but despite the nagging cough I just pushed on forward.

Then one day, in the second week of June, I woke up unable to move. I was not paralyzedd, but my entire body, from shoulders down, stomach,arms, back, hips, legs and feet were seized up. Imagine doing a plank, that was how rigid my body was. I could not move it. I also had constant nausea. I could not eat meat or dairy. I went to bed fine, but woke up with everything seized up. On top of that, any condition I ever had re-flared. Plantar fasciitis-flared, shoulder injury-flared. Hip pain from birth defect-flared, Sciatica that flared only in pregnancy-superflared on both sides. My pain was through the roof. Anywhere I had ever had an issue, including old injuries, seemed to reactivate.

I did not know what to do. Overnight, I could not drive, sit, lie down or stand wihtout pain. I could not work. I developed constant brain fog–likely from the pain, but it was ever present. The medical diagnosis just said I was inflamed and fighting a virus, but could not tell what it was. Painkillers were of no help. My doctor’s advice was to relax. Easier said than done.

Somehow, with the help of my team we finished that project at the end of June. I took off July and August, and tried to relax. I think a combination of good food, steady movement and sunshine helped me to slowly get better. My mid-August my pain was almost gone.

I went from being able to work 10 hours a day, to less than 4 hours in front of a screen. I was scared. How was I supposed to consult? How was I supposed to manage a team or earn a living?

Over the Summer, some changes and contraction happened to our team anyway as some moved to different places and others went back to school or moved on with their lives. This made the decision easier. I decided, after much reflection, that I needed to leave consulting.

It was not like I decided, but this was decided for me. I loved the sector, but I felt rather than work with a 10 companies per year, I wanted to do more. I wanted to share my knowledge and all the reources we had acquired in 15 years of work with a broader audience. The idea for the portal came to me during a walk. it would enable us to to work with scores and hundreds of clients rather than just 10. it would enable us to provide a place for individuals to learn, use resources and grow in the sector.

In early 2022






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