Periodically I can’t resist poking fun at “traditional” journalism, where they take a simple thesis, “humanize” it with an interview of example, and then roll to a simple conclusion. The conclusion is often driven by the all-too linear narrator, who tells a story that is supplanted by corroborating facts.
In the usually-vapid managing your career section in the WSJ (these sections are much less illuminating than their hard-news elements) a recent article was titled “How one executive used a sabbatical to fix his career“.
While the article ostensibly showed the linear story of a person who was 1) having a hard time with their career 2) took a sabbatical 3) then performed better, the real story “behind the scenes” was much more interesting. Let’s review…
The protagonist is a consultant at Mercer, a company that specializes in human resource consulting. He starts by saying how burned out he was and waking up in a hotel room not knowing where he was after going to three clients in three cities in three days.
This type of totally dysfunctional situation is typical of your major consulting firms. When I worked for one of those firms I once sat next to a partner who called in his itinerary for the week to come; he was going to be in six cities in six days, covering the whole country east to west coast with a stop in Mexico. This schedule was so impossible that once he completed his over one hour call to the office to put this in motion, the admin actually told him that he was insane to plan such a week. I wasn’t surprised because every time he showed up to my job site he was a distracted zombie; no one can actually add value when they spend 90% of their time travelling and the rest trying to find a Starbucks. Of course, this didn’t stop him from charging an extortionate hourly rate (over $700 / hr, although we didn’t collect that) which also probably was something close to the rate of the protagonist up above.
Back to the story; our protagonist is disillusioned by the pace and decides to take a sabbatical. Here is where the funny start begins:
“Professionally, he explored teaching part time at UCLA’s business school, invested $125,000 in two young unprofitable businesses (“I wanted to put myself in an uncomfortable position and try new things,” he says), and played in the World Series of Poker. He says the Las Vegas event helped him realize he should focus on what he did best — advising corporate boards.”
This is a howler – what is the connection, however tenuous, between playing (presumably losing, since he doesn’t mention winning) in the World Series of Poker and deciding that he should focus on advising corporate boards? Also – he is stating that he invested money in businesses without stating the outcome – I will “read between the lines” and assume that his vapid corporate-speak pronouncements didn’t help the start ups and he lost his $.
When he goes back to Mercer consulting, he immediately falls ill (don’t blame him there, I’d probably fall ill if I went back to 5-days-a-week traveling vapid management consulting jobs, too). His “sabbatical adviser” says that he failed because “he didn’t make a substantive, written evaluation of what he wanted from his job, his colleagues and his work environment.” This is complete drivel and nonsense… what does this even mean?
In the end he goes to a small firm where he finds a better life balance. Note the key here – working for a smaller firm, where you can just bring in some money and not engage in vast interstellar travel and inordinate politics, but the money and upside is smaller, too.
In reality, the sabbatical wasn’t the issue, it was the fact that he needed to go to a smaller firm which was a better fit in his life.
Also note that he is 51 years old and single (doesn’t mention a relationship with anyone else). Couldn’t he have used his 8 month sabbatical to get a date? He says he bought a puppy, so I guess sublimation is the answer.
At least he had the insight to realize that he better stick to consulting, since he doesn’t know how to run a business, play poker, or even teach. Consulting, by comparison, is easy $.
Cross posted at LITGM