The arduous art-form of saying “No”

Understanding contractual language and saying no to bad business deals

Artwork by Neha Lee

2020 has been many things but most importantly, for me, a teacher. “How could the most disastrous year of my life teach you anything”, you ask? Well for starters, it helped me find my voice.

Don’t get me wrong, if you know me you’ll know that I always had one–an introverted and afraid one–but things are different now. Growing up, I was always concerned about what peope would think/say about me. But what I’ve learned, with time and many unpleasant experiences, is that if I don't want to be associated with such people then I personally do not care what they have to say.

We are taught to purge ourselves of negativity, toxic behaviors and bad habits. We spend years building our talents, habits, routines, friendships and social lives but why weren’t we taught to apply these good behaviors when it came to doing business?

Why do we accept a bad deal even though we know it’s bad?

Why are we not taught to say “NO” when it comes to a bad job just like we are taught to say “NO” to a bad touch?

Why are we treated like another cog in the machine when we aren't cogs, but people?

We read, we talk, we walk, we speak, we understand. When did we become things and when did human value become disposable?

I am an Art Director and have been successfully freelancing for approximately a year now. I have always enjoyed contractual work and have found it liberating. Above anything else, I feel respected- my opinions, ideas, creativity, expertise and most importantly, my time, is respected. In these 12 months, I have seen many clients come and go. I’ve have had fantastic experiences and some really terrible ones too. I learnt to say NO. I learnt to stand up for my skills and my experience and I have walked away from opportunities that did not make me feel good. Of course, it was difficult at first…

“Maybe you shouldn't be so picky, Neha”

“Maybe you are over reacting”

“If you say no who knows when you’ll find your next gig”

“Am I being too emotional?”

“Hmm.. I could use the money right now”

“This would look great on my resume even if it doesn’t pay well”

“If this is the standard contract that the other contractors have signed it must be fair….right”

These are just some of the thoughts that would fill my day when I had a new opportunity come my way. I am lucky and blessed to have a job during a global pandemic and further blessed to be in a position to choose who I work with/for. I have learnt that self love is applicable not only in my personal life but in my professional life as well.

Here are 20 things I have learned as a freelancer in 2020:

When we are children, we learn (almost everything) through practice. If we do not practice saying no, then we will never be comfortable saying no. We learn from experiences and mistakes, and we all learn differently. I find that hourly work especially in the design/art world is often disrespected. Rules that apply to most hourly professions don't necessarily apply to us as our work is “JUST creative” and not analytical enough. As artists and designers we have spent years honing our skills, shown great resilience every time someone said “This should be a hobby” or “There’s no money in it” and worked as hard as anyone else. If you, or a friend, have had similar experiences, let’s chat!

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