Up in the Air

While many kids are getting ready for back to school this week, I’m getting ready for a new “first day” of my own. Today is my first day of a new job. Not a new project, not a new client, and not a new city: a new job. For the past eleven years, I’ve lived this up-in-the-air digital business consultant life. My weekly routine has been early Monday morning wakeup calls, an airport routine timed perfectly to the minute, shuttles, rental cars, hotels and clients. I’ve mastered the ins-and-outs of points, miles, and elite status. At any given time, I had platinum status on two airlines, a personal ambassador at Starwood hotels and executive elite status with National Car Rental. I’ve perfected the fly-home-Thursday 30,000 foot sunset shot from my window seat that paints a serene, calm image of this tumultuous lifestyle. I can pack a carry-on suitcase to get me through two weeks, and have made it from my door through airport security to my gate in less than 20 minutes. But the past eleven years can’t be measured in points, hotel nights, segments, or qualifying miles. When I look back at the career I’ve had so far, there’s one consistent thing that kept me going through the late nights, flight delays, weekend go-lives and airport dinners: the people. 

Whenever people would ask what I do for work and I tell them I fly twice a week, the reaction 9 times out of 10 is “I don’t know how you do it.” And let me just say …  that is the most ANNOYING thing you can say to someone (aside from “must be nice,” that phrase also deserves to be stricken from everyday conversation.) I did it because that was what I knew as normal. I don’t know how some people sit in 90 minutes of traffic (or more) each way every day to drive to work or do the same job every single day for years on end. To each their own. But I did it for as long as I did because I worked with some really great people, on some really cool projects, in some … interesting cities.

Let me tell you about how I got to be a digital business consultant, since clearly my original career aspirations of becoming a Lawyer Ballerina never came to fruition. The year was 1992 (I think), and my dad (a business consultant) had a business trip to Boston that we got to all go on (all the way from Connecticut) with him. This was when the big-dig was still a disastrous mess and we had to walk under the highway to get to Faneuil Hall. But we stayed at the Boston Harbor Hotel, where we got to wear fancy bathrobes (over our Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle jammies) and milk with warm chocolate chip cookies were delivered to the room. We went to dinner with some other consultant coworkers at the Chart House on the harbor, and ordered the Godiva chocolate lava cake. From that moment, I drank the koolaid and my fate to become a consultant was sealed.

When I was graduating from Boston College’s school of management with a degree in marketing and desire to make more than $30k, I ended up finding my way to Accenture as a management consultant. I thought I’d only be a consultant for two years. Figure out how to properly use “leverage” and “synergy” in a sentence. Get some experience, go get my MBA, and then figure out my “real career.” (Or like Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air, be married by 24 with a dog and jeep grand cherokee). I had no idea what I was in for or that I would still be a consultant 11 years later. On my first day, my start-group in the Boston office included six other bad ass lady boss consultant newbies who were fresh out of college just like me. While we spent the first six weeks of our onboarding (koolaid drinking) together, we all ended up on completely different projects, resulting in vastly different career and life paths along the way.

A few weeks ago, I turned in my badge to Ernst and Young, where I’ve been a digital product management consulting for the past four years, and been almost exclusively on the road the whole time. When I was cleaning out my desk, I came across a number of my contractor badges and business cards from the past several years and it brought back some really good memories. I’m happy to move on to start my next adventure, but I thought my consulting career deserved a few moments of self-reflection.

Like I said before, it’s not about the points. Or the projects. Or the late nights, early mornings, or weekend releases. It’s always been about the people. I was very lucky at Accenture to have had some of the most amazing female managers and mentors to help me kick off my career on the right foot. They taught me how to be a good manager. How to collaborate and focus on working as part of a team, and not just be an independent contributor. How to mentor other junior team members, and how to not be afraid to roll your sleeves up and do whatever it takes to get the job done. But most importantly, they taught me how to have fun doing it.

When you’re on the road, it can be very lonely. If you haven’t watched Up in the Air with George Clooney yet, add that to your Amazon Prime watchlist ASAP. Then you’ll understand what the travel life can often feel like: a series of check-ins and check-outs. But if you are lucky enough to have been able to surround yourself with some great teams like I have, it’s not all that bad. You become very fast friends when you spend 15 hours a day in a windowless conference room, eat three meals a day together or have to share a rental car with multiple coworkers. But let me tell you, I wouldn’t change it for the world (well, except for the ulcers, gastritis, and hernia).

I always wish that I had started my consulting blog way back in the beginning of my career to track all of the adventures that I encountered. I had the perfect title for it too: Fly Home Thursday. But before this blog post becomes a novel, I wanted to recap a few memories that I’ll always remember about my consulting experiences that add up to be a lot more valuable than my bank of airline miles and hotel points.

  • My first solo travel day at Accenture on a tiny regional jet that required you to walk onto the tarmac to board, and was then overweight and people had to get off, and the business man next to me who convinced me the “more bumps the better to rock you to sleep” (still don’t believe that, buddy)
  • Learning how to order Grande Nonfat Sugar Free Vanilla Carmel Machiattos without laughing from Starbucks with my first manager KK and teammate Scott
  • Celebrating my 23rd birthday with the hotel bartender, security guard and guest relations manager at the Raleigh Sheraton
  • The time Uncle Donnie got us free-tickets to the Phillies game and Weaver convinced the Marriott to give us a free stretch limo (pictured above)
  • Going to the Steelers Superbowl Parade while working in Pittsburgh in the winter of 2008
  • Celebrating my 24th birthday at the Cheesecake Factory in Malvern, Pennsylvania

  • Starring as a hand model in not one, but two CVS videos on their mobile app
  • Going full super market sweep at the “nugget store” at Crabtree and Evelyn headquarters
  • All the Friday nights at Clerys that we’ll never remember, but somehow never forget
  • Convincing all new hires and interns that Allie was obsessed with Justin Bieber (in the brief 2 months we got to sit next to eachother)
  • Inappropriately named softball teams and a lot of slow, sweaty corporate 5ks
  • Cookie Mondays and the beginning of TheSaltedCookie (which almost was TotesDelish) and the infamous Cookie Distribution List
  • The time my coworkers hid tiny unicorns all around my desk, in my bags and coat pockets
  • When I didn’t know what POAD meant so just made a slide that said POAD and never lived it down
  • Giving my team Hot Tuna creative direction using only jazz hands and spirit fingers
  • The phrase “Let me be clear”

  • Turning 30 in the “Comcast Closet”

  • Overhead claps to “hold on” at 2am
  • Channeling my inner Coach Taylor and Gordon Bombay to give inspirational sports speeches
  • The search for the perfect skort and folding towels in a concierge hut
  • Opening a theme park (Volcano Bay Forever)
  • The time we ended up on an episode of Vanderpump Rules and met Jiggy the dog
  • Turning 31 and 32 at the Sheraton in Orlando
  • Becoming “mom” to all my Orlando kids and trying to be a “cool mom” who likes rollercoasters
  • Wearing all-black for two and a half years head to toe in Orlando
  • Making my kararoke debut to “Hold On” after my all-black going away party

  • All of the alt-weekend travel adventures, including “agile drinking” in wine country

And everything else in between.

It’s been a great ride. And the best part about it all is now I have the most diverse group of amazing friends spread out all across the country (and a bucket of miles to use to visit).

I was very happy to have had the opportunity to move to North Carolina for two years with my last job. While my original intent was to make my weekly travel to Orlando more manageable, I was very happy to have lived so close to my brother/sister-in-law and newborn nephew and get to spend a lot of quality time with him. But when Orlando wrapped, there was only one place I wanted to call home again: Boston. I’m really happy to be back home with a Dunkies on every corner, but in order to actually put some roots down (and get some travel-induced health nuisances under control) I need to really be home. Not in a hotel, not on a plane, and not “technically home” but working until 3am nightly.

While I may have (okay, definitely) complained about the travel to Orlando every week, I loved the work I did and the team I did it with. I have a passion for digital product management, but I wanted to dig my heels in somewhere for the long-term, not just a project. And I am lucky enough to not only have found an opportunity that lets me do the work I love, in the city I live in, but also with some pretty great people (that I’ve worked with before). Not to mention, follow a true life-long passion of mine: carbs.

So while I will, somewhat ironically, be starting off first day on the new job this morning with a flight to St. Louis for orientation, I’m comforted with the familiarity of an old routine that my first day will hold, and excited for the opportunities, experiences, and most importantly the people that this new adventure will bring. Like George Clooney once said, “Life is better with company. Everybody needs a co-pilot.”