I had an old employer reach out to me the other day asking if I’d like to do some contract work for them. As I have in all these situations, I recalled Atomic’s guideline for Atoms—we should not do work on the side that competes or conflicts with Atomic’s business.
While it’s immediately clear how such a guideline protects Atomic’s business, I’ve also found that it’s really helpful for me personally.
Sustainable pace is an important Atomic value—one that attracted me strongly to becoming an Atom in the first place. It’s something I strive to live out personally, and something I watch my fellow Atoms for, so I can help support them if they’re feeling stress and are at risk of spending more energy than they have.
Atoms commit to a roughly forty-hour week, spending the majority of that delivering value to clients, and a small part sharing responsibility for the business and for each other. We go home and pursue other interests every day, which keeps us in balance, not just to give us the energy to do good work for our clients the next day, but also to make us richer human beings.
Moonlighting threatens sustainable pace by asking us to push past that sustainable pace. It erodes our ability to be the best we can be during the day, as well as after we close our computers and leave for the day. It turns us from healthy human beings into constantly-drained machines, never getting the chance to recharge our brains, wiring them to do just one specific thing instead of being all that we can be.
Working for a past employer again specifically can also stunt our growth. Positions we’ve held in the past are part of us; they have made us better consultants by giving us a wide range of experiences. But returning to those positions is often a return to old mental pathways well-explored; it’s better for both us and those employers that new people come on to bring new perspectives and add to their own experience. Atomic can even help them here, if it makes sense for them to work with us, by letting them work with new-to-them faces from our own team.
To be all you can be as a consultant, and as a human being, I believe diversity of experience is critical. Being able to focus on each challenge at Atomic in turn as we move from project to project, and being able to put it all down, live and have a healthy balance in our lives, makes us stronger at our jobs as well as better human beings.
And that’s why I have to politely decline when an old employer asks if I’d like to do work on the side for them, and why I steer them toward working with us, if it’s appropriate. Moonlighting is not just something that’s in competition with Atomic; it’s very much in competition with me being my best self.