Saying No To Work

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Terceira Island AzoresThere’s an island in the Azores waiting for me. I know most people dream of retiring to, or at least vacationing on islands in the Caribbean, or maybe Hawaii. Not me. In my dream, I have a house on Terceira, the third largest island in the Azores archipelago (hence, the name), up on a hill, overlooking pastures on one side, and the ocean on the other. It’d be great to win the lottery, pack up and move, and say no to work forever.

That would be a greater probability if I actually played the lottery. But that’s not the kind of saying no I’m talking about. I recently had to turn down a job offered by a regular—and really good—client. It wasn’t because I was too busy. It was a matter of principle, and that made it a little frightening.

Being a one-woman show, I have to keep a tight rein on how much work I accept. Yes, I need to reserve time for myself, to spend with my husband, and to do frivolous things like sleep. But it’s also a matter of quality. If I take on too much, something’s going to suffer, and I’ll be honest—it’s not going to be my sleep. No one wants to deal with that, trust me.

No, my work would suffer, and then what’s the point? In order to produce the high quality Web content for which I am building a reputation, I need to manage my environment, my time, and my well being. It’s sort of like the safety briefing you get when you fly. If you’re traveling with a child, put your oxygen mask on first, then the child’s. You can’t do anyone any good if you don’t take care of yourself first. I try to live by that philosophy.

And that also has a little to do with why I had to turn down that job. When I say it was a matter of principle, probably the first things that pop into your head are politics and religion, or maybe something controversial like abortion. Those might be topics that other writers have personal rules about, but they’re not even close to what I was asked to write about. In fact, I’m not going to divulge the specific subject matter in order to preserve my client’s privacy. What I will say is it was a topic I feel very strongly about, and with which I have some personal experience, both positive and negative.

The problem is, I was asked to write an article in favor of this subject. And I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself, knowing that something I wrote was out there, possibly influencing decisions people made, and in a way I strongly disagree with. To write that article would have been compromising myself, and I will not do that. Which brings me to the frightening part.

I have no problem standing up for myself, or saying no to something I disagree with, or that I feel will require my giving up a little bit of myself, of my integrity. But then we get back to that whole one-woman show thing. I’m an independent contractor, and a freelance writer. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. There’s no salary, no paid vacation, no paid sick time—no safety net. Just me. Turning down work for any reason other than I am already so loaded down with it that I’m wishing I had a second computer and two more hands is not something I do lightly.

Then there was also the possibility that, as great as this client has been up to now, they might not be too keen on me turning down a job. Maybe they wouldn’t feel the way I do about this subject. Maybe they just wouldn’t care how I feel. Conscience? Yeah, that wasn’t in the business plan. Maybe my balking would just cause them enough inconvenience or hassle that they’d think I was difficult to deal with, and our entire working relationship would be tarnished. And then, my worst fear might be realized—they might not want to work with me anymore. At all. Ever.

Could I get another client? Sure. But when you’ve had a regular client for a while, you get a little comfortable. You establish a routine, or at least a rhythm with them. You don’t have to prove yourself anymore, and they can rely on the consistent quality they get. It’s happy fun time all around, and it’s not something you want to give up.

It was necessary to say no, not only to keep myself sane, but to establish a precedent. There are just some things I won’t write about. Period. And it’s better for my client to find that out now. It won’t do anyone any good for me to give in now, then try to assert myself later. I would have no credibility if I did that. So even though I knew I had to say no or I’d never get rid of that nauseated feeling I had just thinking about writing that article, it was nerve wracking to actually do it. But I did.

And then something really great happened. My client said they understood. There was no reproach, no complaint, no attempt to talk me into it. And best of all, it had no effect whatsoever on the type or amount of work they continue to send my way.

We never talked about it again, but I like to think a couple of things happened that day. I kept my principles and integrity intact, yes. But I gained more appreciation and respect for my client because they respected me. And at the risk of sounding like a much-overplayed commercial, that’s worth a lot more than what I would have charged for that article. It’s priceless.

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About Michelle Lowery

Michelle Lowery is a writer and editor with more than 25 years' professional experience. She is a Co-Founder of Passion Fruit Creative Group, a boutique Web copywriting agency, and is working on publishing her first book, "Self-Editing for Indie Authors: 21 Quick and Easy Tips for Better Writing, Positive Reviews and More Sales." Connect with Michelle:


  1. I think at some point every freelancer comes to this fork in the road. And the only choice is to go with your gut, or you’ll end up disenchanted with the work you once loved.

    I’m glad it worked out for you, and good for you for sticking to your guns. It can be scary sometimes.

    • Michelle Lowery says:

      Thanks, Emily. I’m glad it worked out, too, because it could have easily gone the other way, depending on the client.

      And you’re absolutely right. Giving up integrity for a paycheck never turns out well.

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