"The frequent flier program knows me better than almost anyone in my private life."

People who work for others seem to pine after the freedom working for themselves might bring. They imagine self-determination elevated to full liberation: no time card, no mindless meetings, no clueless supervisor, no stomach-turning Tuesday special in the company cafeteria. The other side of that equation struggles to equal its counterpoint. Liberty's not always all it's cracked up to be. In practice, independent contracting not quite like what it seemed to promise. The cost of that liberty comes out of the shallower pockets, those you hardly noticed when still laboring under that much-maligned thumb. Most prominent, the isolation mocking the once-aspired for freedom. One learns to accept the freedom to arrive long after a Sunday sunset, to find the rental car agency unaided, to navigate the dark, damp freeway to another anonymous exit, to gratefully accept the 'free' upgrade to a swankier room, to decide that supper won't seem worth stepping out into the dankness again. The 'free' breakfast following the pre-dawn stint in the 'executive' workout 'club' might garner a couple of almost heart-felt "good mornings" from a fellow guest or an over-enthusiastic staff member. Time left to knot the necktie, grab the knapsack, and try to remember what rental car you parked in that lot last night and where you parked it.

You join the commute, identical to every other commute you ever made except you have little idea where you are. Is this Cleveland or Omaha?
You find the local jazz station to surround yourself with something familiar, and let your mind wander to the subject that attracted you here. This morning, you'll finally meet that client you've been telephone chatting with for weeks. She'll warmly welcome you while you wonder whether your first impression matches the expectations she's constructed in anticipation. She'll offer coffee and you'll decline. She might escort you on a short tour through the place, introducing you to people whose names you will not remember when you reconnect with them later, but you might well remember forever after this week. You'll always remember the faces, though.

You'll spend half the morning sequestered with the client in her office. Small talk should progressively stand taller as you disclose to each other, dropping preconceptions in favor of more present and personal experience. During that first hour, the client might discover that she's hired the stupidest consultant she could have ever imagined. If she doesn't stumble upon this unaided, I'll finally tell her, reflecting that it will be what we decide to do then, now that we've uncovered this unsettling truth, which will determine the ultimate quality of this engagement. Her self-diagnosis suddenly seems unworkable. My notions of what this situation might require from me likewise crumble. We hit that first wall together.

The basic requirement for becoming a viable constultant seems to be a radical acceptance of radical acceptance. Of course the client can't quite describe their difficulty. Of course their hired gun can't quite target their phantom. A certain desperation seems to need to settle over the engagement before anything more enlivening can take over. Conversation seems to be the primary mechanism for wrestling these dilemmas to ground. Not so much the constultant holding forth and certainly not the client commanding, but a form of communication less focused, more rambling than that, accompanied with strong stomachs able to digest what's not really supposed to be swallowed anywhere. Can we look the difficulty in the face without running for immediate safety? I disclose that I'm an idiot to help my client more quickly accept that they're an idiot, too. Genius eludes us until we find that common ground.

The isolation becomes a near constant. Arriving home after sunset on Friday with luggage filled with dirty laundry, almost none of the engagement remains. The stories I could tell suffer from the lack of a witness. You just had to be there, and even I, who was there, might doubt my recollection in the absence of a credible observer. The frequent flier program knows me better than almost anyone in my private life. I'm on a first name basis with the airport parking shuttle bus driver and almost nobody else. Saturday morning will find me fetching last week's shirts while dropping off next week's batch. Saturday night supper will serve as Sunday dinner since by Sunday afternoon, I'll already be on another flight back into the land of radical acceptance and the world of not yet limited possibilities. Will it be Cleveland or Omaha this week?

©2019 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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