A little background may be helpful here.
I’ve been cleaning up other people’s screw-ups my entire career, whether it was my responsibility or not, whether I wanted to or not. I might have and probably did provide communication, information, options, consequences, etc., which were ignored, then projects hit the fan, things needed to be fixed AND NOW, and since I was the only one who had bothered to know the rules, regulations or requirements, I was the one who had to fix the damage, right the ship and get the project moving forward again. AND NOW.
It was that or lose my job.
Unfair? Sure. The reality of a young woman working in a male-dominated field? Absolutely.
I’ve never before had the opportunity to refuse to burn my resources and abilities on the alter of others’ self-created problems, at least professionally. When I started working for myself, I created the opportunity to say no. I’ve not had to use it, and have had really good relationships with my clients, who for the most part take my advice and recommendations and work seriously.
Back in January, someone I had worked with in a personal capacity a little over a decade ago messaged me to ask if I could help with a project. He explained the project, what he was trying to accomplish, and it was certainly something with which I was familiar and could do fairly easily and quickly. I named a friend-discounted price, lined out expectations and requirements, and committed to doing my part to meeting his timeline, which was NOW. The project needed to go through a regulatory approval process, and I wrote a lot of emails and text messages to back up phone communication about the process and the information I needed from him in order to facilitate the approval.
He never gave me the information I needed to complete the application process, and a month later I completed a partial application so part of the project could begin. More written and verbal communication about requirements and process, information needed highlighted, questions answered again, and still did not have the information I needed to complete the application.
It’s been a few months without communication, and yesterday I got a text that part of the project that was not part of the partial approval was complete.
Sorry, what? Did someone complete the application without me? Was there approval I didn’t know about?
No, this was a repeat of so many situations before. I laid out the project requirements, was completely ignored, things got messy, and I got called in to fix it.
But this time I said no.
I got enough of the status to know what I needed to do, declared that I could not continue with the project, stated why, restated what needed to happen next and repeated that it would not involve me.
As it so often is when you reinforce boundaries after the boundary was ignored the first time, there was shock, then surprise, then a lot of questions that were not based on a clear reading of the information presented, then a promise to do better next time and a plea to give him another chance.
I didn’t even respond. This was shortly after I had missed a speaking engagement and crawled home in distress and embarrassment and had decided I needed a day or two to reset and try to figure out what was wrong. I was not having this mess. As much as I’m in business to help connect people who don’t have the knowledge, experience or resources to engage a large firm for their projects, and as much as I am here to help people achieve their goals and run the business of their dreams, I am not here to fix self-created problems that come from ignoring what I’ve already communicated. I have done enough of that. Now he can pay someone else a lot of money to fix his problem, because I’m not even interested in the money. And he is already late on paying a small invoice/hasn’t even read the email with the invoice so I know he isn’t that concerned with following my instructions, which have to be complete for the approval, so I have no confidence that there will be either adequate compensation or adherence to the requirements. More than that, I don’t think I’m interested in continuing in old patterns in which my boundaries are not held and my abilities not valued until a hammer is threatening to come down.
I slept on the decision. I talked to trusted friends who are very successful in business. I talked to a couple of friends who prioritize my interests and well-being. I haven’t changed my mind, I’ve only reinforced my decision (and so did my friends). The only sticking point for me, the only reason I hesitated to exit the project, was that long history of fixing the problems. It’s almost muscle memory for me, to jump in and make it right. To ignore the history and the predictable future and to help out – putting the greatest burden on myself – without stopping to check if this is even a healthy thing for me to do. And it hasn’t been!
I’m exhausted at this step in healing alone. My joints hurt (common when I’m beating back the ghosts of the past) and other than a phone call and an invoice sent out, I haven’t worked today. I went to breakfast with a friend. I’ve run a few errands I’d been putting off and watched TV. I’ve done a lot of thinking.
I finally fired a client.