I know people who are comfortable with the word “no”. In fact, I know many people who can provide a quick, instantaneous response anytime they are asked for help, advice, or pretty much anything at all. I know people who, if it doesn’t sound like it’s fun, simply use the word that I find so difficult to use, and without apology or explanation.
In business, you need to be comfortable with the word. I have been a part-time freelancer since 2010 and a full-time self employed person since February of 2013. At 43, I realize that much of my life has been the very responsible, traditional route of being employed, with a great job, great benefits and upward trajectory. I was (and suppose still am) so vanilla in my outward conservative nature. Responsible, hardworking, a saver, a frugalista … I know, it doesn’t get much more boring than that. I admire unconventional people, and certainly have my unconventional risk-taking streak, but secretly, I think unconventional people are irresponsible.
You know, the kind that brag about going on a world backpacking tour, and come home to find their car repossessed for non-payment? Not cool in my books.
I’ve said “yes” throughout my life, as a way of establishing relationships. I’ve said “yes” because I care about other people, and even when there is absolutely nothing in it for me, I’ve said “yes” and bordered on burning myself out, to fix problems that were never my responsibility. I’ve always been a “fixer” and the person that people can run to with problems. I do more than give comfort and advice though, those problems become mine to fix. That’s a big problem in both business, and in life.
Recently I was introduced to someone who was looking for my services. After five minutes of prospecting about the project, the person opened up to me about significant financial and personal crises. I buckled. I took on the impossible, which was to try to find a “free” option for her. It wasn’t free for me, as I poured more than 46 hours of my time pro bono, while I was heavily over scheduled with client work… and, well, buying a house, packing and moving into said house. For the last four weeks, things have been more than ape shit around here, and I have been trying to stay positive, energized and complain privately (only to Kevin, a little to Kim and sometimes to Diane). I’ve been moderating the complaining though… I want to be a positive person, even when life is a bit wacko.
I do not think the individual is a bad person; I feel she is a compassionate person. But as an older woman with a forceful personality, she triggered me instantly (if you know me, you know why). I added her to my personal Facebook (I keep my Facebook very private deliberately), and found her demands and expectations mushroomed weekly. It went from helping her find a new website, to implementing a new website, domain transfer and content FTP, sourcing security for her site, and then … code issues with WordPress. Then it became additional projects and unending expectations in terms of marketing products and services (which I never indicated I would assist with). I began to feel frustrated and trapped by ballooning expectations. Again, as she did not have budget to work with, I was desperate to help her given her personal circumstance. You know because, I can save the world and stuff.
You try finding a code writer to work for free. I double-dog dare you. But here I was again, in a situation feeling “taken advantage of” and knowing I had allowed it. Which pissed me off even more, because other people in my field? They would have ended that conversation three weeks ago with a statement like this:
“Hi, I understand that is a difficult situation. I recommend you work with the website you have and budget for a redesign, which typically costs $1,000 and up. When you are ready with a budget, if you would like me to refer you to some providers I trust who do great work, let me know.”
Ultimately I came to the resolution that I was unable to fix the problem pro bono. I apologized (but should I have to?) because I was not able to help her for free. It wasn’t free to me. While I do not believe she meant to do so deliberately, her access to my Facebook page allowed her to track my daily activities, which became:
“Oh, I see you are moving today. So, what is the update on my website?”
[My inner dialogue]: “The update is that I am out the equivalent of $1,400 worth of my billable time, and potentially $500 worth of content writing swapped with a developer in India to try to find you a ‘free’ fix. And you are not allowed to monitor my coming’s and going’s and apply pressure ma’am… I’m a volunteer here.”
Me: “There are code issues, I know you have no budget, and I am doing everything I can to find a free fix for you.”
I don’t like failing someone, but corrupt programming in WordPress is something that is beyond my scope of skill to fix. I know people who can work with me on it, but they charge a minimum of $1,000. And I had to resign the project, and say “no,” and it still came out as an apology. Is that fair representation to someone who poured herself into a problem that wasn’t hers, complicated her schedule for three weeks, dodged unreasonable expectations … without getting paid?
What the hell is wrong with me? No one else I know would do this. There is something seriously broken in my ego and soul, that leaves me wide open to being taken advantage of. And I think I am stronger and smarter than that. I’m very angry with myself for allowing it to escalate.
Yesterday I came to a breaking point.
Me: “The problems require a professional WordPress code developer, which I am not. I have invested 46 hours in the last three weeks of pro-bono time, and tried to make arrangements to swap my content for free services, but my provider declined to trade at the last minute. I have run out of options. My advice is to budget accordingly for a professional developer, and if I have time, when you find one, I can provide you with some free consultation to assist your branding and sales objectives. I am not able to carry this project further for you at this time.”
But that “no” didn’t stick. It was met with rebuttal from a friend of the individual, who was a code writer, but who (very much like a business man) simply stated: “This is broken, it would take hours to fix and I am not willing to do it for free”.
Fuck! Why can’t I be that direct and not feel bad about it? After 46 hours I STILL FEEL BAD, and this is not my problem!! (See … something is broken or bent in me and I can’t figure out where, because as an intelligent and confident business woman, I should be able to say it, mean it, and move on from it).
I had to reiterate my stance and decision, three more times yesterday to the point of getting very angry. My communication was polite, but in my little office here in Texas, I was fuming inside. Overtired, pissed off at myself for being this personality type (which is contradictory to my business success frequently). Do I really have to be an asshole to succeed? Do I really have to stop caring to grow in my business, and become more productive? I like caring.
And today there has been no rebuttal but I am still feeling like I did something wrong, which makes my husband shake his head, hug me tight, and tell me that he loves the loving side of my nature, that really wants to help and save everyone. But it comes at a cost to my mental and physical health, as I held a bleeding nose last night for an hour in bed, watching “River Monsters” and listening to three dogs and a husband snore, while I pressed the ice pack.
I love humans. I’m just not sure I like them anymore. And I am scared as hell to be loved back, even though I acknowledge that all my behavior constantly seeks that connection.
I should be angry at the circumstance, or at myself for allowing it to happen like a runaway horse. I am angry at myself for being so closed off, and yet so very eager to lay myself flat out for a stranger. What planet am I from? Who else does this shit? I should be angry that my read on the situation is that the individual will be angry at me, because she didn’t get what she wanted, despite not being charged a dime for my time (and aggravating the hell out of me with her demanding demeanor).
Today, I don’t feel any of the indignation I should. I just feel like a failure, and a bad person. Because a good person would have found a way to solve all her problems for free, right?
And assholes in business don’t have this angst. Believe me, I know a lot of them.