It’s not always win, win, win.
Sometimes it seems that way, and you make a mad dash forward, swiftly lifting your foot to kick the ball and make the goal, hoping and straining every muscle and ounce of energy in your body to make it to that moment when your hard work will pay off.
And then you bite it. Hardcore. Face in the dust. Knees and elbows skinned. Completely humiliated.
So this is me, getting up and dusting myself off after a hard fall. And here is what I’m learning from it :
I have to set a precedent.
Setting a precedent is necessary to anything we do in life – in work, in relationships, in physical health – because precedent communicates our worth. It communicates our standards, our work ethic, our values. When we don’t set a precedent, we leave ourselves vulnerable to others who want to set a lower precedent, one that puts their needs and values (or lack thereof) before our own.
Setting the precedent has to be communicated in tangible ways – a sturdy contract, a timeline of work, a paper trail. For fledgling freelancers like myself, subcontracting with the right agency can help set that precedent so that I’m not fending for myself with taxes, invoices, and my clients’ unruly administrative assistants who resort to excessive profanity over payments due.
I did not set this precedent for myself this time around, and I did indeed bite it hardcore.
Face in the dust. Knees and elbows skinned.
I learned the hard, humiliating, broke-ass poor kind of way that I wasn’t communicating my worth effectively.
Gritty details spared, my freelance client and I did not work with a contract, we parted ways, and there’s an invoice with my name on it that has not been paid.
You’re cringing right now, I know. I am, too.
I have read blog after blog after advice-giving blog about working with iron-clad contracts and adhering to strict deadlines and being firm about my hourly rate and when it came down to it, when someone began to question whether I was worth it, I eased up and compromised when I shouldn’t have. And it made me look cheap and naive, and therefore vulnerable. Easily manipulated.
I have questioned myself in a myriad of ways in the last few weeks.
Was this whole freelancing thing bravery or stupidity? Confidence or arrogance? Faith or false hope?
Why, when I’ve come this far and worked this hard, did I wind up in this situation?
What does that say about me and my work when I am so easily coerced into relinquishing my standards?
And what does it say about how I value my own work?
Am I just not ready for freelancing?
The thing is, there is value and then there is value.
There’s a dollar amount for the time and effort we put into work, but there’s also work ethic. In the midst of this conflict I was hit with the realization that it is not just about what my client owes me or what I am worth per hour. It’s about the fact that we have different work ethics. We have different value systems and they are not compatible. She set a precedent for fast, cheap, just-get-it-done work, and my desire to do things completely and correctly was irrelevant to her because it cost more than she was willing to invest.
It’s about self-worth.
Mother Teresa said,
“If you are humble nothing will touch you, neither praise nor disgrace, because you know what you are.”
As painful as it is to admit, it was a lesson I needed to learn in knowing who I am and what it costs me when I compromise that. I’m wiser and smarter for this experience, but it still stings a little, knowing that I am back where I started, that the invoice is still unpaid, that the conflict remains unresolved.
From here on out, I know how it works and that for every talent and opportunity given to me, I have to steward it more carefully than I did this one. I know now that if I want to be a writer, I have to start valuing my work and believing that yes, I am worth it.
Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you compromised the value of your work?
Freelancers, what is the hardest lesson you’ve learned when working with clients?
What is the best advice someone has given you about valuing your work?