Taking one’s own medicine is a bitter pill. I’ve spent hours helping my spouse look for his keys. Almost always I say, “This is why I put mine on my key leash in my purse and never move it.” I have made this a habit to the point of exclusion. If my keys are not on the key leash, I don’t know where to look for them. They have vanished from the universe. Which happened this morning. I don’t even know where to look. I take my car keys off the leash to drive, and put them on as soon as I lock the car. My imagination doesn’t extend beyond that.
There are two big factors involved. The keys have not shown up. I could understand putting them on some flat surface–my desk, my art table, the dining table. But the fact that they are gone speaks to a scarier type of forgetfulness. The second is the beating up we give ourselves for routine errors, run-amucks, or forgetfulness. I can’t just have been really busy, I have to either be completely stupid or this is the beginning of dementia.
The other factor is that one mistake tips the domino into stupidity for me. If I make one mistake, the other one is near. What can I beat myself up for along with the key-losing? Of course, the inner critic shows up with a list so long, I thought he found a sale on paper towels. The inner critic will also “helpfully” suggest looking in the last place I had it. (Another reason to hate the spiteful little creep.)
This morning, a potential client, one for whom I have willingly jumped through flaming hoops, asked me to consider my pricing. She told me there were multiple bids, mine among them. And she asked, in a completely neutral (and not wheedling or threatening) voice, “Is this your best and final price?” That one sentence pushed a whole bunch of buttons, some of which made assumptions I automatically jumped to:
- I want this job.
- Are other people underbidding me?
- Would she ask a man this question?
- I haven’t raised my prices in five years, so how can this price be too high?
- I want this job.
- Should I lower the price?
- I’m not perfect, maybe my price should be adjusted.
- I’ll lose the job if I don’t lower the price.
- I want this job.
She kindly said I had a day to think about it. And I took a deep breath and said, “Thank you for offering me time to think about it, but this is the price I’ve charged clients for a while, and it would not be fair to them to lower the price now.”
For the next hour, I cringed at my boldness. But after another hour, when the inner critic was exhausted and napping, I had a different thought: The price is fair. I’ve been charging it and getting it for years. I have worked really hard to become an expert and my evaluations are consistently high. The one thing I didn’t want to admit was that I deserve to charge this amount because it is consistent with my level of expertise and my ability to entertain and teach at the same time. That fault lies in my head, not hers. It’s so peculiar that I want to be rewarded for hard work, effort, and years to study, but when the time comes to stand up for just that, I also want to back down.
The core question: if I don’t value myself, how can I expect someone else to value me? It is my work to do.
And then something wonderful happened. I realized that if I lowered my price and got the job, I would entertain the idea that I got it only because I underbid someone. By leaving my price where it has been for five years, I am being fair to my other clients, I am being honest about what I charge, and I am valuing myself without letting others limit me.
The rest, the decision to hire me or not, no longer matters. Yes, I want the job. It would be wonderful to get it. But if I don’t, I will have peace and self-respect. There are no line items for those. We have to live peace and self-respect every day.
–-Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing.