Friday, June 29, 2007

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is...II

...Or, You Get What Comes With It As my former hairdresser always put it, “Be careful what you wish for. Because if you get it, you get what comes with it.” Quite frankly, I would submit that that—rather than sheer gutlessness—is actually what keeps many of us from pursuing the path of courage I mentioned yesterday. Because asserting yourself means you have to take “what comes with it.” Sometimes, that can be terrifying. Or expensive. Or both. Long ago, I held a position where I was doing corporate newsletters for a major career consulting firm on a contractor basis. The CEO of the company was a pretty nice guy, as CEOs go, but he also had some typical CEO-type blind spots, and one of them was that he had no clue how to deal with me as a contractor. In his worldview, I was just an administrator of a satellite office out of Chicago, and so he kept trying to treat me like any other admin: expecting me to come and work Convention for the company for no extra pay, being slow to pay me for my contract work…you get the picture. Finally, I’d had enough of his office treating me like a second-class citizen; I’d had enough of never knowing when checks were coming, being lied to about when they’d been sent, and him expecting me to work 12-hour days at a Convention when that wasn’t even my job to do. But before I went into confrontation with this guy, my mentor, a career advisor with this organization, said to me, “Yeah, you’re right. And yeah, you need to tell him this stuff. But just know that when you make this stand, he may disagree. He may decide it’s just not worth the hassle to deal with you. So you have to be prepared to walk away.” This was a scary prospect, because I had no other income. But having income that you can’t depend on is almost as bad as having none at all…and so I went into battle with the guy. I sent him a polite letter and invoice indicating that he still owed for previous newsletter months, and so until he paid that bill, his office wouldn’t receive their mailing that month. To take such a step with a CEO of a company is not being “nice.” I knew that. And I knew when he called me, loaded for bear, I was going to get an earful about how “nice” I wasn’t being. The funny part was, though, that he started his diatribe with something along the lines of “I’ve never before had an employee do this—” At which point I politely interrupted, “You haven’t had an employee do that this time, either, Mr. Big. I’m not your employee.” At which point he sputtered, so I calmly continued. “Do you pay me a salary? “Well…no.” “Do I work in your office?” “No.” “Do you pay any of my medical benefits?” “No. “Do you pay toward my pension?” “No.” “Do you pay Social Security tax on me?” “Uh…no.” “Then guess what?” The bottom line was, what my career advisor friend had predicted would happen did, in fact, happen. Mr. Big decided that this “just wasn’t working,” and that he would bring the newsletters in-house. He had a potential editor already in mind for them, as a matter of fact, and it would just be “better” if they were in New York at corporate headquarters. (It wasn’t, of course. The person he hired was an artist, not an editor, and we went from a 14- to 16-page house organ chock-full of human interest stories to a 4-pager with some pretty clip art, but no photos, no personal stories, wooden writing, and four obvious typos in the first issue. To say it was a lame replacement would be being kind.) The impact upon my life was immediate. I got paid for the final newsletters I did, and then my association with that organization, and the money that came with it, was over. So was the hassle. But so was the security, sketchy though it was at times. And that, above all, is what terrifies most of us. Keeps us silent. Keeps us hedging our bets. Convinces us that a crumb off the loaf is better than nothing. We know that if we stand up for ourselves, we’ll get what comes with it. And sometimes, what comes with it can hurt. We may have to walk away from a book sale, when that’s all we’ve wanted for our entire lives…and we don’t know if we’ll ever get another chance. We may get vilified by “authorities” in our lives for being “too big for our britches.” We may even lose friends over taking a stand they didn’t take. And so the little voice in our head screams at us, and we knuckle under. We get that sick feeling in the pits of our stomachs—the one that tells us when we’ve sold ourselves short—but we rationalize it. We tell ourselves “no one” can do any better as a beginner, as a first-time author, with an industry as overcrowded with product as ours is, etc., etc., etc. We tell ourselves that there are thousands of people willing to take our places if we don’t buy in. And that slot will be filled with no skin off the publishers’ noses. All of that, in part, is true. But once again, it’s true because we’ve allowed it to be so. If we stopped contributing to our end of that equation, however, the same thing would happen that happened to that unfortunate CEO. He got an inferior product. He got complaints from the field. And he got, ultimately, much less than he could have had if he’d just been willing to meet a fellow professional on an even playing field. The question is, how many of us are willing to stand up to fear. To refuse to give it quarter. To act like adults, instead of scared children, and stop treating publishers, editors, or agents like “authority figures” when in fact, what they are is buyers of our products. In other words, customers. Of course, the name of the game is keeping customers happy. But I submit that we can keep customers happy without giving away our pride, our self-esteem, or the store. If we knuckle under too many times, it’s no longer a buyer/seller relationship, but a master/slave one. And none of us deserves that. We just have to be adult enough to take what comes with it. In the end, what comes with that stand is richer than we can imagine in our wildest dreams. I now have a way better job, and way better freelance writing gigs, than that corporate newsletter ever was in its best days. But to get to that place, I had to leave the old one behind…and take what came with it. Are we game? Janny


Deb said...

Are we game? Good question. Answer, like in most spheres of life, is: sometimes.

I would love to quit my day gig for a better one. I'm trying, and I'm willing to take "what comes with it." All that is a big bunch of unknowns right now, but I'm willing to pay that price.

What I'm not willing to do is what I can't do: announce to Hitlerina that I don't need this crud anymore, and walk. My family needs my income, and I need to be a big girl and face up to that.

When I'm ready, though, just watch me face down the fear. Just watch me!


Donna Alice said...

Yes, it is scary. But the freedom to do what you want comes with the price sometimes of losing the security of what you already have. Guess you have to weigh everything and count the cost.