When To Say "No" To New Work

World Domination Summit 2013 - Portland, OR

I can't begin to count the number of interviews I did over my years in personal finance with authors who wrote about the difficulty of saying "no" when you work for yourself. I heard all the advice, asked all the right questions, and then promptly forgot all of it when I started working... for myself!

I had a "normal," salaried job for more than 20 years. I knew exactly what my paycheck would be each month. I knew exactly what I had to do to earn that paycheck. I knew what my employers' expectations were of me. And I knew what I had to do during those 20 years to advance my career and my work profile. I had a plan, I stuck to it, and it worked. It was a trajectory, and with a couple of exceptions, I didn't deviate from what was a pretty straight line to the top of my profession.

Venturing into Foreign Territory
But working for myself? Foreign territory. I had no idea what my value would be on the open (freelance) market. I had no idea if or when I would have a paycheck. And I had no idea how I would define whether or not I was being successful in this new venture.

I also didn't want to read any more advice books that could answer those questions. (I should've paid attention the first time around.)

So for most of the past year I've alternated between times of panic, because I didn't have any projects on my plate, and times of feeling utterly overwhelmed by all the work I'd managed to score. I'll leave the panic times for another post (hint: it's not pretty). In the good times, I find that the biggest issue is deciding what to say yes to, and what work to turn down, despite the fact that I want as much money coming in the door as possible. It seems almost foolish to turn down ANY work when you're out on your own. So I've said yes to things that I wasn't excited about, purely for the paycheck. And I started asking myself why I didn't just stay in the job I had if all I cared about was the paycheck? It was silly to say yes to anything that I didn't truly want to do.

But it's really easy to say "Oh, I'll just turn down anything I don't love..." until you remember you have a budget that needs an accounts-receivable side, not just an accounts-payable side. So making those decisions has been much harder than I expected. I'm currently involved in two projects that don't really float my boat, but they pay ok. I'd much rather be living by the Derek Sivers model of "No more yes. It's either HELL YEAH! or no." But reality gets in the way sometimes.

What I really strive to remember is that I left my job for an adventure. Adventures should be fun and new and exciting and rewarding. That's a lot to ask of a job -- but I don't think it's too much. I still have to figure out the acceptable ratio of adventure to need.

What's your ratio? I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Share your stories in the comments section below and email me at jobsedit@teamaol.com.

And come back here every Wednesday morning for my next post.