I just turned down a contract that would have paid me well. Again. The work to which I said “No” was squarely within my competence and uses the most highly compensated skill I have, RFP response.
Why on earth did I do that? First, for a logical reason: a risk that there would not be enough time to do the work to high standard, due to my other work commitments this month. RFP responses have a hard deadline. Miss the deadline and all the work that’s been done would be lost, as well as any opportunity to do future work for the client. Insufficient time available was the reason I gave my associate for turning down this contract.
The second reason I said “No” is one I don’t like to share in public. I don’t have the physical bounce-back from extended full-tilt effort that I did in my 30s. It doesn’t mean I’m frail, or off my game. In fact, my analytical skills are better than ever. I have the “10,000 hours” and then some. I bring this experience to my coaching, when I can advise a client in two minutes whether a given opportunity is right, or not right, for them. But I no longer embrace big crunches and all-nighters – and really, I never did.
Coaching done well is hard work, but it doesn’t involve 8-10 hours days at the keyboard, or pushing tiny, exact phrases and numbers into grids. And that brings me to my third reason for turning down the work. The focus of the work I‘ve been doing for pay and for pleasure has changed over the years, shifting from people to systems, and back again, and then to a place where both are important.
When I work with a mid-career professional to help them land more of the work they want, or with a small company to launch them into social media for the first time, I get to work from both sides of my brain. The left side continues to absorb and provide technical and analytical know-how; and the right, the ability to see a situation holistically, and to understand the emotional context that’s so important in any coaching.
I’ve come to understand that getting in the ring beside my clients, confronting the challenges and surmounting the setbacks, and sharing the victory when they succeed – is exactly where I want to be. I may never become completely comfortable with turning down work I’m good at that’s also well paid. And I know from experience that such tempting opportunities crop up for us – like a devil in the desert – exactly when we have resolved to focus on the work that calls most to our mind and heart. But when the risk is acceptable (family and life circumstances being equal), we have a duty to ourselves and to others to live true to the work that calls us. And that will reward us a thousandfold.