The True Meaning of Consulting Work/Life Balance

I’ve been reflecting recently on my life and my work.

It started 1 month ago at my Columbia Business School reunion. Reunions do that – make you evaluate if you are where you thought you would be – and where you want to be.

Management Consulted is a lifestyle company. We work insanely hard (in fact, this is the hardest I’ve ever worked anywhere, including Bain), but also make room for work/life balance. We allow our team to work from anywhere and take company off-sites to fun places like Iceland. I spend every Wednesday with my kids and bring them on occasional business trips. I live on a 180-acre ranch in Northern California and my commute to the office is 12 minutes.

A black sand beach in Iceland

With that kind of life, it’s hard to be a hater. As a team, we’ve built what we wanted – and because of that, we have a smaller team that has longer tenure and gets more done than any other company in our industry.

In this last month of reflection, I realized that while we are super privileged in so many ways, we’re not just lucky.

We’ve built what we wanted, together, by trading some seasons of insanity for others where we recalibrate and try something again.

Here’s an example:

My first son was born in the middle of peak interview season. Management Consulted was a lot smaller then, and we only had 3 coaches, so our other coaches covered me for a 4-day maternity leave and then I went right back to doing 1:1 coaching sessions with clients.

You know what? It was super hard. I remember pretty much nothing of my son’s first 3 months. But I was still really living a dream.

Having been a consultant, I had the power to build a life that allowed me to work from a home office. I had a nanny, took breaks to breastfeed while she cooked and cleaned, and charged right on. And I did all this after leaving a startup – at 8 months pregnant – that was running me ragged. I had options – good ones. And consulting gave me that.

When I went to Bain I had no idea that – 7 years later – I would be reaping these kinds of benefits.

Work/life balance – and by extension, career balance – is not about being home at the dinner table by 5:30pm every night. It’s about recognizing that you give up balance in some seasons to gain more down the road.

Consulting is one of those seasons where you give up balance in the short-term to gain much more in the long-term. If it wasn’t for my time in consulting – building the skills and learning that balance – I wouldn’t run Management Consulted, live on a ranch in NorCal, or be involved in any of the other 25 things I’m working on (only a slight exaggeration).

If I had known in my 20s what I know now about the skills consulting would give me to build a life I love, I would have prioritized my goal of becoming a consultant. To be honest, I was winging it, and hoping for the best. I listened to good mentors, but I should have made it my number. one. thing.

It’s important to recognize that work/life balance isn’t always optimal in consulting, but it is cyclical. You know up front exactly which weeks of the project will be slammed – unlike in investment banking, where if a deal comes up on Christmas Eve, say goodbye to Christmas. Is the work/life balance in consulting right for everyone? No. But if you’re willing to trade 2-3 years of less balance for a lifetime of opportunity, I’d argue the payoff is worth it. There are other options as well, like internal consulting, that give you many of the benefits of consulting without much of the travel.