Sunday, June 12, 2011

Changing Gears & Entering Retirement Gracefully

It's a little embarrassing to visit one's old blog and to realize that it's been a half year since I've written anything. I've always found it easier to post responses to the questions posed by peers on the ASAE listservs, but I realize that's a somewhat weak way of contributing to the community, promoting the business, or accomplishing whatever other objectives any of us has when we attempt to do something beyond just earning an income when we shift over from staff positions, or wherever we were, to become a full-time consultant.

Ironically, it's only at the time that I decide to retire that I also decide to become more diligent about this form of outreach. Mind you, I'm reasonably pragmatic regarding my prospects of reaching anyone through this vehicle. Blogs written by random strangers are like the Web's "message in a bottle"--compositions prepared in isolation on someone's computer and cast adrift with the resigned expectation that someone might see one message. But it's better than a podium (something that I find to be more and more archaic as a method of expression or knowledge transfer) and the blog can be a powerful tool for sharing knowledge as long as I think of it more as a wiki-type compilation & repository than a time-sensitive series of news items.

Even quantity of eyeballs can be a simple matter of attitude: I laugh when I think back to how I viewed the audiences I wrote for years ago. I had 7,000 readers of the newspaper I edited at ISU almost 30 years ago. I had "only" 1,000 paid subscribers to NAHB's Housing Economics 22 years ago. I had millions of people potentially reading my CRS donor solicitations 10 years ago. Today I generally have just a couple of client contacts reading my lengthy reports, and a dozen board members reading some abstract of it. At the same time, my income steadily increased in each position. My real or imagined audience size has almost zero impact on what is sadly my best lifetime performance metric ... and I know it's a poor metric.

I always dreamed of being able to translate and share everything I learned over the years to benefit others like me, and I'm not sure that being immersed in consulting projects was the way to do it. I've billed more than $1.5 million in services over the past six years, and the altruist in me is actually somewhat proud that we often provided services to more than 150 association and non-profit clients at mild to sharply discounted rates. From my first job in the federal government, I've always taken the approach that work is all--grinding out many projects with a wide variety of clients would serve us and the community well. I'm probably right on the first count, but it has also meant that I've missed real opportunities to look back and provide a coherent body of knowledge from which others can benefit. As speaking invitations have declined and I haven't needed to attend events to get more work, I've consciously taken on a lower profile and I'm far less effective in serving the community than I was as a VP at NACDS, or a director at ASHP. Over the past six years, I've abused the freedom of a consulting lifestyle by being free to take on more and more work, rather than achieving a reasonable balance between meaningful outreach and churning work out for specific clients.

Starting today, I'd like to change that, or at least try. 

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