How to Know When a Situation is Bulldust-adjacent vs. Totally Dipped in It Pt. 1

In a previous post I mused about the nature of bulldust and promised to develop a few ideas along these lines. I was beginning to think that promise may have also been bulldust, but I managed to get ahead of life long enough to think about one of my topics: when situations are bulldust-adjacent vs. being bulldust-centric (or – totally dipped in it).

When all else fails, tell a story

I’ve been massively writer’s-blocked on this topic because I’ve thought in too linear a way about it. I’ve tried to create an outline, a three-point sermon, or such like. That hasn’t worked. So just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…

I’ve been working steadily since I was about 15 years old. Actually, since my father recruited me to be illegal child labor in his brother-in-law’s furniture factory (a situation awash in bulldust), you might say I’ve been working off and on since I was 12. Somehow I’ve never lacked a steady W-2 paycheck since then. They weren’t always large paychecks, but I’ve always had an income. Until late 2018 (Don’t worry; the hero of this story found his way back to steady work).

In the land of consulting

My career progression went from essentially owning a small business to working for the company that bought me out to fulfilling my dream of working in internet technology. Each of these progressions increased my income and had me doing more fulfilling work. But when the thing I was doing came apart in 2018, I had a feeling (which largely proved to be incorrect) that I could do as well or better for myself by contracting myself out to other companies. I had been performing broad, general tasks in company management and leadership, and I thought I was pretty good at it (I still think I was pretty good at it).

The difficulty is that there is no “truth in labeling” (or consensus) about what this kind of work is. And believe me, I tried finding labeling to describe it. Fractional labor. Simply “contracting,” Rent-a-____. If there was a way to try to describe myself as “I’ll provide management help, leadership, oversight, and/or expertise without being hired full-time,” I tried it. I had friends who were doing similar work, or so I thought (more about that later). But every time I tried describing it, I got reactions ranging from “what?” to “huh?” I had people tell me to my face “you sound like you’re all over the place.”

The 50,000 foot word for work when you have trouble describing what you do is consulting. And having described myself thus, I found myself among some strange bedfellows. People trying to advise you on investing. People who move among an industry space without a clear definition of what they do. People who promise to fix you, your business, or both, with the power of positive thinking. I was surprised how many of the people who seemed interested in talking with me (some of whom actually hired me, at least for a while) also styled themselves as consultants.

What’s that about others succeeding?

I mentioned earlier that I knew others who were apparently succeeding. I later realized that practically everyone I knew who appeared to be succeeding as a one-person consulting firm were a) making over 80% of their income from one “client,” (i.e. they were a freelance captive employee for some cheapskate organization) or b) a complete con artist running a grift or c) both. The ones who were relatively honest had a connection, and they were using it. Which is fine, but they probably would have been better off as W-2 employees.

OK, this installment has been more windup than pitch, but I will return to this as soon as I can. In my next installment I’ll try to focus on Bulldust-adjacent situations (far too much of the selling world, which I’m very much part of; marketing; and even customer service all too often). I just had to clear my head of the foolish notion that this would be anything organized.