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  • Annette Corbett

Is it time to try contracting?

Updated: Feb 20

A read plastic wheel on a yellow base
Hamster wheel

Wheels are often associated with our working life. Cog in a wheel, hamster's wheel, behind the wheel or.....asleep at the wheel.

Whichever applies to you, it's rare that the wheel is going in the right direction - forwards - en route to a destination you actually planned for. And are excited about.

Ask yourself whether you saw yourself where you are ten years ago. Perhaps more importantly, is this where you want to be ten years into the future; notwithstanding a promotion or two?

Introspection is a dangerous business sometimes, especially when the stakes are high. Chances are you're a parent or carer, a homeowner or tenant, a person with responsibilities that won't withstand a drastic reduction in salary to become the beekeeper or clog maker you always wanted to be.

Let's be honest, we leave school or university with some semblance of a professional game plan; the idea of a role that chimes with our belief system, ambitions or skills but the reality can leave us cold 10 or 20 years down the line.

I've worked with a bunch of lawyers who, after years of study, drudge of the endless trainee rotations and slog up the food chain from newly qualified through to associate level, discover it all actually sucks. Those years of training for this moment, the money spent on studies; only to discover it was nothing like they had imagined. Or hoped.

As a contractor, I work with a lot of permanent staff and oftentimes they have a long service at that organisation; years if not decades. That isn't to say that some of those people aren't living their best professional lives. But you'd be shocked by the amount that aren't. And what they're prepared to tolerate.

Each situation is different; sometimes the result of another person (direct report or manager), sometimes due to a relentless culture of work hard, work harder or a personal lack of confidence or belief after years of working in the same team with minimal developmental investment.

And in a world where social media implies that anything is possible, any dream is within our grasp if only we [insert practice(s)], the result is likely to be less one of motivation and more likely resignation. That kind of thing always happens to someone else, right?

But it just doesn't have to be that way if you were to consider contracting as an option. I was surprised to learn recently that this is seen as a route forward only for those with years of experience in a particular field, or oodles of confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit. But that really isn't the case. Yes, freelancing and day rate contracting is a lot like flying by the seat of your pants with your hair on fire but you wouldn't begin your contracting journey there.

A fixed-term contract is a great place to start; working in a role which reflects - or has parallels to - your current gig, just at a different organisation. This might enable you to close the door on a toxic relationship, fast track to a more senior position, work with cutting edge technology, and often with the bonus of a slight bump in salary (and zero benefit trade-offs). The only difference is, your role is finite. It has an end date to go with the start date.

If that unnerves you, ask yourself how secure any permanent role is. How many times have you been made redundant or know somebody that has? I've seen colleagues who have invested decades in an organisation, only to be "let go" and it absolutely floors them, eviscerates them. Quite often this is because they believed the narrative around "work family", or thought they were irreplaceable with all their years of cumulative organisational knowledge. It can be a personal and devastating event.

Does that end date still seem so unpalatable?

Stay tuned. This is the first post in a series about contracting life.

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