Part-Time Proposal Work

Part-Time Proposal Work

Part-time proposal work: It’s an oxymoron. Heavy on the moron.

As I wrap up my last, last-ever proposal, and in my 70th year (as my husband is fond of reminding me, and yet he lives), I realize for perhaps the 70th time that I really can’t fix stupid. Stupid requirements. Stupid deadlines. Stupid corporate processes. Stupid expectations. Stupid people. Oh, sorry, that was my outside voice.

And, um, stupid me. Stupid for thinking if I just try harder, if I just try this other technique, that this time it will be different. Better, you know?

It’s always different. It’s rarely better.

As I waded through this last swamp, keyboard held high over my head, I heard from a proposal editor I know: another woman of a certain age and then some. She, too, was finding it harder and harder to keep up the required effort. How had it worked for me, she wondered, the “it” being my stated commitment to limiting my work hours. To limiting work so that I could keep up with my exercise program. So that I could keep up with my blogging, personal and professional. So that I could give the best that I’m capable of.

Well, not well. This last, last-ever proposal saw me working twice as hard as I wanted for twice as long as anyone expected.

How do you spell ‘extension’?

Is it always that bad? No.

Can you control how bad it gets? No. Once you cross the commitment line, you’re committed.

And so I think again of the guy whose company put fast-burners in the proposal department for 24 months max.

Excerpt from Buddy & Me: Five years


That’s, um, not stupid. Someone has to set a limit.

I know. I just reached mine. For the last time, I reached my limit for working on proposals. For maybe the first time, sadly, I reached my limit for believing that trying harder, trying different, would be enough. The problem with the proposal environment does not lie in me; the fix is not within my control.

Does it drive me crazy? Sure. Does it change what I have to do? No. So this is me, controlling what I can control: Me.

Go, thou, and do likewise, whatever that looks like. Proposal Land can be an OK, even a good, place to work. Just don’t try to live there. That would be, well, stupid. You can trust me on this.



  1. Jim Taylor

    But — the iconoclast in me wants to ask — what if you don’t WANT to get promoted into management, where a bunch of newly boffins can bust their asses doing the work that you used to do? What if you WANT to spend the rest of your life making bad writing look good? What if you genuinely get satisfaction of turning sows’ ears into silk purses?
    Surely there must be some way of protecting yourself from the all-night grind? (Other than cannabis, of course.)

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – I asked myself that question for 30 years, and convinced myself that the answer lay in doing something different. Or differently. I don’t think that’s true. A steady diet of working on ad hoc teams to hard deadlines with those stakes (corporate survival, sometimes) is too hard. (To draw an imperfect analogy, I think there’s a reason for that stereotype of drunken journalists. They have daily deadlines.)

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