Sustaining a Consulting Career: My Sabbatical Experience
Management consulting is a rewarding profession. It offers exposure to a wide range of topics, fast career progression, and the opportunity to work in diverse geographies with various teams. FTI Delta, a global “boutique” strategy arm of the larger parent company FTI Consulting, provides countless opportunities to work across continents and rotate to other business lines. Being a management consultant allows you to develop essential professional skills while experiencing different cultures. It’s an invaluable opportunity that requires dedication and persistence. However, the nature of management consulting is fast-paced, with tight deadlines and constant movement from one project to the next.
As a young graduate, I believed that succeeding in management consulting required a mix of intelligence, proficiency in Excel and PowerPoint, strong communication and time management skills, as well as unwavering dedication and hard work. Reflecting on my nearly nine-year consulting career, I have come to realize that stamina management is the key element that surpasses all others. What starts as a short sprint quickly becomes a marathon, and maintaining such a fast pace for extended periods becomes challenging, leading to mental and physical fatigue. While consultants are expected to rejuvenate during holidays and between engagements, it is not always possible. The accumulated tiredness contributes significantly to the relatively short average tenure of management consultants, which hovers around three years in the industry. Therefore, having a structural approach to address this fatigue is critical for a sustainable career in management consulting.
After working on multiple projects across the Middle East, North America, and Southeast Asia, and enduring countless flights, I found my energy levels reaching critically low levels after four years on the job—a common phenomenon experienced by most management consultants. To avoid making hasty decisions about my career and to prevent a decline in performance due to fatigue, I decided to take a three-month sabbatical. The experience started smoothly, with meaningful encouragement from my mentor and the HR department, who supported me throughout the process. The real fun began when I set the dates and began planning—reconnecting with friends around the world, arranging meetings, organizing long-dreamt trips to exotic locations, indulging in old hobbies, and spending quality time with loved ones.
While all these activities significantly contributed to my well-being, the sabbatical period also provided an opportunity for self-reflection. It gave me the time to contemplate my professional goals, stepping back from the hectic daily routine. This reflection allowed me to revisit the initial ambitions I had when I started my career and align them with the professional and personal experiences I gained before the sabbatical. It helped me formulate a long-term vision that became a driving force in my professional journey.
Fast forward to my eighth year in consulting, and I found myself in a similar position. However, this time, the solution was clear. Encouragement from FTI Delta was higher than ever, aligning with the renewed, more flexible policies introduced after the COVID-19 pandemic. Taking a second three-month sabbatical proved to be instrumental in maintaining and achieving personal goals while renewing my energy and motivation for my consulting career in the ever-changing, fast-paced TMT (technology, media, and telecommunications) space.
As I approach the end of my ninth year in the job—three times the average tenure of a management consultant—I can confidently say that taking these sabbaticals was a wise decision. They allowed me to grow as a trusted advisor and reap the benefits of the profession even more. As I look ahead to continuing my consulting career, my advice to any colleague, including myself, would be to take time off when needed to cool down and reinvigorate. It is crucial to maintain a balance in life and keep things in perspective.