Sarah Hardy reflects on the beginning of her consulting career, opening up about her search for a fulfilling career path.

A familiar story?

As I approached graduation a couple of years ago, I knew that I wanted the elements that I loved about my academic career to continue into my professional one. I was excited to apply my skills in problem-solving, communication, and collaboration to a new set of challenges, and so consultancy seemed like the obvious path for me.

When I joined a large consultancy company, I found that my experience of consulting was different from my expectations. I got the sense that, as with many big companies, my value to the business lay more in my high margins as a junior consultant than in my keenness to learn and ambition to make meaningful change.

I tried hard to do a good job on my projects and made every effort to succeed within my company – and I benefited from some great internal opportunities – but I didn’t feel that I was truly doing what was best for the clients I was working for. I found myself becoming demoralised as I realised that I was not learning as much as I had hoped I would and that I was not helping businesses in the ways that I thought I could.

I knew that I had a good job and was doing well, but I was unhappy.

How can your job make you unhappy?

When we’re dissatisfied at work, we often talk about having better ‘work-life balance’ as a way to improve our overall happiness. However, that phrase makes the assumption that you can neatly divide your life into two distinct parts, and that any dissatisfaction in the ‘work’ part can be improved by increasing happiness in the ‘life’ part.

A dichotomy that separates the two implies that what happens at work does not affect the ‘real’ you, because it is based on an idea that any effect that work has on your mental health and happiness can be left at work along with your laptop.

To increase overall happiness, you must have happiness in both your work life and your personal life.

How can we increase our overall happiness?

In ‘Happiness by Design’, Paul Dolan defines happiness using the ‘pleasure-purpose principle’. He explains that what we tend to think of as ‘happiness’ is more accurately defined as ‘pleasure’. ‘Pleasure’ includes any experiences that make you feel joyful or content, examples of which include social gatherings, life events, holidays, good food and funny television shows, among many more. ‘Purpose’, on the other hand, can be found in our personal lives through activities like helping friends through tough times, charity work, or reading an informative article: activities that don’t necessarily give you obvious ‘pleasure’ but that make you feel satisfied for doing them.

Without ‘purpose’ in our lives, we can never truly be happy, because ‘purpose’ adds a meaning and value to our life – a feeling of using our time productively to do something ‘good’. And, assuming that our personal lives are naturally more likely to contain activities that bring ‘pleasure’, our work life must, therefore, be biased in favour of ‘purpose’, to ensure that we have the right balance of both overall.

My unhappiness was due to the fact that I didn’t see the purpose in my job. I began to wonder: “perhaps consulting is not the right career path for me?”

I then got a message on LinkedIn from Mel Dickinson, Gate One’s Recruitment Manager.

Finding purpose in consulting

Gate One prides itself on being different from the big consultancy companies: a ‘disruptor’ in the consulting industry. Their key differentiator? That they genuinely try to do what’s best for their clients. Their purpose is to deliver ‘Change that Counts’.

In practice, this means working in small teams, with the clients, to design bespoke solutions and implementation programmes. Simultaneously, they train and coach their clients to be able to take over the programme so that they can become self-sufficient. Gate One calls this the ‘Ripple Effect’, and it directly contradicts the typical ‘land and expand’ model found in some larger consultancies.

I realised that I could still get purpose and satisfaction from my job, and increase my overall happiness, not by leaving consulting, but by joining Gate One.

Consultants at Gate One genuinely embody the values that the company is based on.

Their empathy allows them to understand their clients’ points of view and then explain the reasoning behind their own opinions. Using candour they are honest about where they think a problem lies – developing a positive and open working relationship and abolishing the ‘client-consultant’ division. Their entrepreneurship encourages them to find innovative solutions and ways of working that are different for every client. Their aspiration encourages them to take on big challenges and they use grit to work with their clients to solve them. And paired with this success comes their humility and a propensity to never take themselves too seriously.

Finding happiness at Gate One

I joined Gate One in June 2018. Three months in, I have noticed an enormous difference in my happiness. I already feel a strong loyalty to Gate One and I wholeheartedly believe in its values and vision. I have learnt so much already, due in large part to having been empowered to use my initiative to find meaningful solutions to internal and client challenges. I look forward to spending the day with supportive, intelligent and fun colleagues who make sure that there is always ‘pleasure’ to complement ‘purpose’.

I know that I am doing what’s best for my clients by delivering ‘consulting as it should be’, and, when people ask me what I do for a living, I’m proud to tell them that I work for Gate One.

SARAH HARDY | JUNIOR CONSULTANT

Sarah is a Junior Consultant with two years experience in a large consultancy. She is experienced in designing and delivering large transformation programmes across multiple sectors.