Earlier this summer, I’d just wrapped up a reporting trip and other things too dull to mention, when I wrote an op-ed that went low-key viral. Low-key as in, I showed up in like seven more LinkedIn searches than I might otherwise (so like, nine total) and my inbox ‘SPLODED with people asking me to do things for free.
Wanna go on TV? On this one podcast? To write this thing for that blog? They were sliding into my Twitter DMs, my Instagram messages, and all three of my (theoretically) active email inboxes. So much attention! So in demand!
Okay, it’s nice to get noticed and to be asked to contribute to conversations. Legit! But, here’s the thing: I like to do things well. If I’m vacationing, I want to vacation for real. And if I’m bothering to work—in my case, to write and edit in exchange for money that I use to pay rent and eat—I really do put in the effort to make the output not suck. I value my time, and I value yours too. I want what I put out into the world to be worth it, for both of us.
When I overextend myself, I am no longer capable of doing work that is worth my while—or anyone’s. I lose the energy that’s required to be curious about the world outside of my list of to-dos, and thus become boring. I bore even myself! And then I’m liable to succumb to existential tailspin, wondering why I even bother to do what it is that I do, and start Googling things like “fastest safest trade apprenticeship.” (Which, no shade: good union jobs, no retina-searing laptop screens. But you get why this is a less-than-optimal scenario.)
Saying yes to doing things for free, whether for practice or professional development or self-promotion, is sometimes warranted and even valuable. But sometimes—often—it simply is not. There is no valor in doing the thing just because. And it feels great to say no.
There’s still a teeny twinge of guilt associated with this word. I may be a Type B+, but I was socialized female and, arguably worse, Midwestern. Humility, hard work, not letting people down: these are the cardinal rules of my people.
But my people also die too soon of hearts that explode from booze and kielbasa and the stress of withstanding the aforementioned virtues. We crumble under the weight of our stubborn refusal to slow down.
So I’m trying to ignore the twinge.
How about a no?
That’ll be a no for me!
I feel like a complete brat about 88% of the time. But otherwise, thriving.