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  • Writer's pictureDeb Zahn

Why I Waited So Long to Become a Consultant

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

I wanted to be a consultant before I could ever voice it.

For years, I never actually said, “Oh, I think I want to be a consultant.” I don't think I really knew what a consultant was or had seen too many bad versions of consulting that I couldn't picture myself doing that as my career.

Yet, when I would ask myself, “What matters most to me in my work life?” the same things kept popping up year after year. I wanted freedom and flexibility so I could be in charge of my time and the work I did. I wanted autonomy so I could make my own choices and do my part to make good things happen.

Does any of that sound familiar?

I wrote about this over and over and over again, and yet I kept picking jobs that didn't give me those things. Maybe I would get a little bit of one and little or none of the others. But, I never got the whole package that I truly wanted.

Plus, I had this constant itch to be entrepreneurial and creative. I'd look at the market my employer operated in and say, “Hey, I think we should think about doing this because if you look at what's happening in the larger industry, we could really position ourselves...” I kept thinking of new and better ways that we could help and serve the folks that we were working with. But, most of the time that wasn't welcome because that's not what they did, and that's not why they hired me. So, I stuck in this constant cycle of creativity and frustration and back again.

I can't pinpoint when exactly, but, at some point, a light bulb (finally) went off in my head and I thought, “Deb, it sounds like you want to be a consultant.”

But I still didn't do it

Sadly, even after I embraced that desire, I still didn't do it. The thing that always held me back was my fear of financial insecurity. Getting a regular paycheck gave me a feeling of security, and I clung to that. I worried about taking the leap into consulting and failing. And, if I did fail, how would I pay my mortgage? How would I pay my bills? These were the things that stopped me from pursuing the livelihood that I truly wanted.

Fast forward to my 40s...

Fate finally created an opportunity for me to make my dream of being a consultant a reality. I was offered a choice in my career. Someone I had known for a long time said that she worked at a growing consulting firm and wanted to talk to me about becoming a consultant there.

But fate has a wicked sense of humor. At the same time, someone else I had known for years asked me to lead a big, fancy new initiative. I would be employed and have all the perks of employment.

I had a choice to make.

And I blew it.

I didn't become a consultant. I took the “road most traveled” to employment because I really thought the financial security would be greater in that job. I was too afraid, and I made the wrong choice.

*Sigh* Yep. That's what I did. Even though, get this, I would have had a paycheck at the consulting firm! But, I was still too afraid of failing. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to bring in business and would be fired. Even though I had never been fired from any job! That's how irrational the fear was.

I regretted that choice for over two years.

But fate wasn't done thankfully. When I was in the job, someone else I knew asked me to do a small consulting engagement. She'd seen me facilitate dicey meetings and thought I could help her with a tricky merger. With no risk involved, I said yes.

And I discovered that I loved it.

Here I was dipping my toe into the consulting waters. On both sides of the merger, people were stressed out. Everyone had all these different desires, fears, and options to sort through. I was able to help them untangle all of that and come to joint decisions. I absolutely loved watching their stress decrease and the uncertainty fade. I especially loved to see the excitement that they had about a new future they hadn't imagined before. And I love the role I was able to play in helping them get there.

It touched something in me and I said, “This is me. This is why I am on the planet, to do things like this. And I'm going to be better able to do it if I'm a consultant."

With that new clarity, I reached back out to the person who had tried to get me to come to the consulting firm and, at long last, became a consultant.

So, that's great, right? I did it!

I finally became what I wanted to become: a consultant.

But, I'm not going to lie to you. I had a really rough start.

I had a rough start is because I didn't understand the business side of consulting. I didn't know what I needed to do to succeed as a consultant. So I floundered. For months.

Eventually, I figured it out. Through a lot of trial and error and asking seasoned consultants how they did it, I found the path to becoming a successful consultant.

I embraced consulting with joy and never looked back.


But consulting was just part of my life. I didn't want work, any kind of work, to be the whole thing.

So, many years after becoming a consultant, I realized I craved even more freedom and flexibility. I had moved to a rural setting a couple hours north of New York City to have a quieter, more balanced life.

I was finally able to have the garden/mini-farm I had always dreamed of. I grew more vegetables than we could eat. I cooked and canned. I made apple butter. It was heaven.

Then my mom moved from Nebraska to live up the road from us. I wanted to spend more time with her, while still enjoying my livelihood or life. So, after many happy years at the firm, I left to become an independent consultant.

Was I scared of having to make it on my own? Absolutely! But I didn't want to regret having waited like I did about becoming a consultant in the first place.

I trusted myself that I could figure it out. And I did.

It isn't always perfect, but it works better for the life I want now. It enabled me to expand my garden (to an absurd degree) and enjoy my family life.

I even instituted something I call Mom Time, which is a dedicated 3 hours of time every week that I spend with my mom no matter what. We go on errands, I fix things around her house, we go kayaking...whatever we want.

Being independent allowed me to do that more easily. I had to yet again set aside my fear of financial insecurity to do it, but I have never once regretted it. I get so much more out of life because it. And I still make a great living!

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