The Story Economy Blog

If Only It Was Like Taking Candy From Strangers

I’m having an inappropriate email relationship with someone. It started out innocently enough. But now, there’s coyness and innuendo. One of us is playing hard to get, and the other one has much, much higher expectations. I know that it won’t end well.

His name is Raymond, and he is the accounts payable guy at a magazine publisher. Raymond is definitely the one playing hard to get. He can do that, because he has the power. He cuts the checks. And I am just the silly girl lusting after her money.

I’d like to say the relationship is tumultuous, because that sounds interesting. But there is no tumult. There is only not caring. Raymond doesn’t care that my invoice got lost for months, that they only run checks one day every two weeks, and that their approval system is more complicated that the federal budget.

I’ve invented whole scenarios for Raymond. He’s a sadist who likes to torture writers. He’s a felon and this was the only job he could get. It’s his first job out of college and he has absolutely no training. His true passion is training carrier pigeons and he doesn’t even know how to add up a column of numbers.

When I used to belong to a popular freelance writing board, every day, there was a new discussion thread about not getting paid. The anger, the pain, the righteousness: it flew across the board. And I often joined in. Why were people trying to keep our money from us, we wondered? And why did we keep going back for more?

Those questions ate at me for a few years, until I finally left that life of waiting for publishers to pay up. I got tired of the Raymonds of the world, carrier pigeons or not.

Raymond—and the publisher he works for—represents my last foot in that glossy, airbrushed world. I was holding on out of obligation, and a little bit of sentiment: this was the first women’s magazine that assigned me a big feature. Even though their payment system has become more and more unfriendly to writers over the past few years, I just couldn’t bring myself to let go.

I see, of course, that this latest incident is my signal to make the break. Thanks, sir or madam universe: I get the picture. (Now can I please have my money?)

 If Only the Story Ended with Raymond

But in these past two weeks since my tortured relationship with Raymond began, something else happened. A bunch of other money didn’t come, for reasons ranging from a hurricane to clients with cash flow issues. And in that same space, all of my bills were suddenly due.

I wish I could blame Raymond the Sadist.

But it was all me. In fact, it was a situation I created myself, by being wishy-washy and hesitant and undervaluing my work. It took until Halloween night to realize this, first-of-the-month bills looming large, no cash in the account, and me, desperately trying to keep up with Spiderman and a lady bug, grumbling all the while about how no one was paying me.

I watched how my 2-year-old and 4-year-old had no problem going up to people’s doors and demanding bunches of candy. Over and over again. And when a sweet older gentleman would say, “Oh, take as much as you want”— if not checked by mama, they would reach in and take as much as would fit into their hands (and sometimes reach in again).

And all the while, they were joyful about it. No guilt. No obligation. No Raymond.

So, where was my joy?

Now, I have some terrific clients (you know who you are). The stuff going right is really going right.

But in the midst of the rightness, there is still angst, because a big chunk of my work now is less concrete. I used to have pre-determined models to know what my words and time were worth ($X/word or $X/hour).

But helping a business owner understand what their story is—what they’re about and why it matters to others—that’s not really about words. Words are only the final step.

The problem with selling ideas or clarity is that these things feel so unfinished to me. A magazine article or a script is finite: it’s written, filed, published or produced, repurposed maybe, and archived. But ideas, observations, and brand identities: they rely on the end-user to make something of them. And if the end-user doesn’t, it just feels like a waste. Which makes it feel less valuable. Which makes me hesitant to put a hefty price tag on it.

I paid a business coach a lot of money for clarity and ideas: and then I did a lot of things with them. So to me, that clarity and those ideas were extremely valuable, and worth every bit of the cost.

But when it comes to my own business, I’ve created angst around what if and waste. What if what I’m doing for this person doesn’t work because they don’t know what to do next? What if they don’t know how to embody it? What if telling their story doesn’t work?

And since I’m about to launch my first self-study product, I’m quite certain the timing of the money freeze and the angst was on purpose. It’s like my own inner voice said, oh sweet cheeks, you wanna struggle? You wanna live a Smiths song? You want to think you just haven’t earned it yet, baby? Go right ahead: here’s what it will cost you.

My inner voice, she’s sort of a bitch. But she knows what will make me pay attention. So I’m going on record and saying: You’ve got me: I’m listening. I’ve got to let some stuff go, and take the candy with joy.

And as for Raymond: can we still be friends?

PS. The picture above is from the World's Longest Yard Sale (The 127 Corridor Sale). Worth it to do just for the funny signs.


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