Apr 28, 2011

Black Tie Kinda Guy

Did you know it takes an hour to get dressed? An adult, that is, not our kids.

When Sarah and I got all dolled-up for a fancy formal event, I had to do it all - shave, shower, shoe-shine (find and remember how to use), shimmy into the Get-A-Job suit my mom bought me when I returned from Africa 11 years ago (which meant finding and hanging out at a drycleaner's to remove the mud from the farm wedding 2 years ago), perfect ponytail in a black scrunchy, nails cut and cleaned. For Sarah it meant a long trip to the funky clothing store and tailors, even a girls' afternoon getting her hair done. And our dear Crystal helping both of us put on all the finishing touches.

What a stupid waste of resources and time! But then again, the results were charming. It really did feel good to be all dressed up like fancy business-people grown-ups, and I was over-the-top proud and wowed to be with the most beautiful woman at the ball. I spent the whole night suspending judgement about expenses and pretenses, just letting myself enjoy the red carpet, the exclusive pre-event reception, the marching band that accompanied us up onto the stage, the pomp. It's not a world I'd want to live in, and it still amazes me that some folk do this regularly, but for a night it was a fun space-travel.

The reason for being there was that FreeRange Consulting was recently honoured by the Chamber of Commerce as a finalist for the Black Tie Awards in the best home-based business category. Just over a year into this re-entry into professional life (albeit part-time so I can still be parent/farmer/writer), it truly was an honour to be recognized and validated by the community I've been working hard to serve. When I look at the wide range of clients and projects I've served thus far, it does feel like I'm making a difference, bringing a pretty unique experience and skill set to the community. Every time I'm with a client I'm not with my children or chickens, so it's important that I and the community feel like that's a worthwhile exchange.

Putting that last thought another way, the challenge from the beginning has been how to integrate this new consulting work into my existing commitments to stay-at-home parenting, farming and writing. Not just another ball to juggle, but a truly seamless integration. I didn't want to suddenly drop those other fundamental directions, for which we made this move to the valley. I likewise did not want to abandon the personal growth path I've been on through this new phase.

This concern arose from a Quaker conference I presented at during my last job. As I delivered a bang-on workshop about the 10 Keys to a Successful Development Project, those wise old Quakers started asking some difficult questions. I found myself answering each question twice - "As a Quaker, I agree that..., but as an Executive Director answerable to a board and donors, I must instead do..." As much as I still believe I did a good job with ACCES, there was a disconnect between my professional and spiritual path.

This time, I was willing to re-enter the world but only in a way that wouldn't require me to change hats or identities, that would let Rick shine through whether in the field or the boardroom or the school parking lot. After almost settling on the generic name "GoodWorks Consulting", FreeRange emerged. It's the natural, sustainable, trusting, unbounded way I strive to raise my kids, grow my crops, write, kiss, and serve the community. I don't answer the phone with a different professional voice, and freely confess to having just cleaned out the chicken coop before going to lead a fundraising training (yes mom, with a shower and clean clothes in between, though not usually your suit).

In the end, the name FreeRange has probably been the perfect filter: the types of clients who are the best fit for my style are the ones who not only understand but are attracted to the name and image. My clients see calloused hands from the renovation project, and I sell eggs at networking meetings. They see me being equally natural asking questions at an all-candidates meeting or entering a rutabaga in the county fair or at the swimming hole with a passel of kids. They might read my writing in my monthly Valley Voice column about non-profit issues or in a love poetry contest or in the Canadian Friend Quaker magazine.

Whether people in the community see me in a bright polar bear swim costume, ripped farmer jeans, or even in a fancy suit with a beautiful woman on my arm, it's Rick they're seeing. Bringing the same values and spark to whatever I'm doing, and doing those things that honour my values and nurture that spark.

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