From small tykes, to small business.
Over the last month my kid was being bullied in her junior kindergarten class. Her ‘tormentors’ were ‘big girls’ in senior kindergarten. I’m still in shock that this happened for a number of reasons. First, I keep imagining the 3 little girls bullying her as gigantic hired goons decked out a la Road Warrior and not the wispy, sticky-faced, coconut sunscreen-misted terrors that they are.
Second, I don’t want to believe that she’s had to deal with this kind of confrontation at such a young age. No, wait. Scrap the last part. I just don’t want her to have to deal with this kind of confrontation. Ever.
At first I thought the friction between the girls was incidental. A playground affair. But after a week of nightmares and anxiety over school Vee finally got in touch with her anger and her sadness. I let her stay at home after yet another night of sleeplessness.
We didn’t dwell on things too much, but her aggression spilled out during playtime and her toys started to have violent interactions.
“Am I seeing anger here?” I asked her gently.
She started to cry, her whole body rigid. “I feel so small. Why did they take my things? They aren’t my friends…mummy I am ANGRY….”
I was so proud of my girl for using her words so well. I was so frustrated and hurting that she was feeling this so young if at all.
I talked to teachers, called friends for advice, and spent a lot of time monitoring my small Veenut. I wanted to guard her sweet heart but I knew that I couldn’t be there all the time. Luckily, our whole team (Cap, Ex-Hubs, teachers, family) actively and consciously reinforced concepts of friendship with her. Things were going well, but even after everything was resolved she kept wanting to be friends with these girls.
They ignored her on the playground as she trailed behind them. They would all of a sudden be ‘nice’ again and ask for things from her which she would give, thinking it would resolve the ‘yuckiness’ from before. Then they would ignore her again.
All the real friends, big girls and small fries.
“Friends don’t hurt you.”
“Friends say I’m sorry.”
“Friends don’t take things from you.”
“You don’t have to give friends anything. Only a smile and that’s only if you want to.”
“Friends like you just the way you are.”
I felt mama-bear-turbo-adrenaline coursing through me and making my heart slam protectively for my cub, but I also felt a glimmer of familiarity. Everyone did.
After a few of my own sleepless nights, I realized that this went beyond anger for my kidlet. I too had been bullied by the big girls on the playground. Except I had been calling it ‘business’. I called it ‘paying my dues’ and ‘earning my chops’. And worse, I had assumed this was normal behaviour. No— more than that, I had started championing this behaviour as professional.
How many times had I worked at cut rates and absorbed expenses over the last 5 years of my business? Forget loss-leadership strategies, I’m talking about everyday transactions. How many times had I agreed to be undervalued from supposed ‘friends’? Let myself be underestimated? Signed on the line because I’d be told I was ‘being given a great opportunity’ and then right-hooked with ‘you’ll never do better’ or ‘you’re lucky to be part of this’?
How many times had I heard beautiful, inspiring speeches from business people around me as they talked about valuing yourself, not budging on your rate when you’re told there’s no budget —only for them to offer turnaround and hourly rates that I wouldn’t have taken during my first freelance years 15 years ago?
How many times had I been told what a ‘fair trade’ was for my time and effort? Offered a swag bag for half a day of work? Had my work go uncredited? Had my effort go unthanked? And the worst part —how many times had I been approached again and again with expectations to deliver on increasingly stringent terms?
Fair is for kids, and for people who don’t like being bullied.
There are some in every industry. On every playground. That’s the way it is. But don’t think for one minute that these women and men are leaders. That they are mentors. That this is remotely ‘business’. Because it’s not. It’s bullshit. It’s bullying. And just so you know (in case you’ve been been told too many times), “It’s going to be great exposure for you” is not currency. Neither is “let’s see how this goes” or “I can’t pay you but I’ll link up to you”. The last time I checked “well can you just throw in a few more edits that are going to be hours of work after I’ve signed-off” or “can you send over all your native files so I can have them and then not credit you” didn’t have a performance index. And they never will.
Valuing yourself is probably the scariest thing in the world. And guess what? This isn’t a sweetly flippant piece that ends with a high-note sitcom resolution. Because the more you value yourself, the more you’ll realize how many bullies there really are around you. The more you’ll have confrontations, and the more you’ll fight to reinforce your boundaries and your principles. And that’s good.
Because for as many ‘connections’ and for as much ‘reach’ and exposure and impact some people may appear to have in their industries, it doesn’t mean they’re healthy businesses. If someone is not paying you, or making you feel like your rates are not ok, take a minute and stand firm. Don’t get swept up in their many successes. Instead ask this: “Isn’t this a thriving, successful business? If so, why the hell can’t they pay me?”
There may be situations where you say “I don’t care. I’m in.” And as long as you know your own heart and you feel great about it, I’m going to stay out of it. I’ve done it too.
But in any other case, I want you to say no. No. No thanks. I’m sorry, I won’t go lower. That will cost extra. Whatever you need to say.
You don’t need them to ‘do you a favour’ and give you an opportunity when they are the ones asking you to work for free. You are the asset. You are the one they want something from.
And yes, there may be some yucky feelings. There may be some confrontations. But I can guarantee you that your talent and success do not hinge remotely on those people. It’s the people around you, the ones that do want to play with you. The ones that hold your hand and yell at you to ‘send an invoice already’ who are rooting for you to win.
For each business bully out there, there are 3 amazing friends. They might not have the same big shiny appeal, but they have the integrity and the value systems that will make you all shine. And in the long run? That’s way better for everyone.
It’s like I said to Vee this morning.
“You are the only Vee in the world, honey. You call the shots. Never change for someone or do something for someone because they say ‘I’ll be your best friend.’ Best friends don’t say things like that.”
“Thanks mom. Those kids suck.”
And just like that my 4 year old passed Business 101.