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I Survived The Client From Hell During The Pandemic

Here's how I took back my dignity—and my sanity.

Her Voice

Twenty-five—including eight in one day. That's the number of times he called me in a week. He left no voicemail, sent no text, let alone an email. Nothing. He just kept calling me, at inappropriate times of the day and night, all while I was attempting to get some rest on my week off. "He" was one of my clients that I'd been working with for a little while and was recently forced to let go of because of his toxic behavior.

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The phone calls episode represented just a small—and soft—portion of the things he was capable of doing. Even though the several women who preceded me had warned me about him, I was surprised when he showed me his true colors for the first time, which was weeks after we began working together. Mind you, it's not that I didn't believe these women, but as a newly self-employed creative and personal assistant, I needed to secure my bags. Working with him seemed to be a good opportunity at the time. It would allow me to make a decent living doing assistant work for 16 hours per week while still giving me plenty of time to focus on creating—the latter being the most important part to me. Because of that, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. At worst, I'd get to see his toxic behaviors for myself.

Quite frankly, it wasn't the best decision to make. Take it from me, where there is smoke, there's definitely fire. Had I learned my lessons from the reasons that pushed me to quit my 9 to 5 back in 2019, I wouldn't have put myself in a position to be burnt in the first place. And yet, here I was, trapping myself into the same cycle again.

The first time he acted out of line was when he yelled at me as though I was his child. As a matter of fact, my father has never addressed me in such a manner. On the days this client was more irritable than usual—which became more frequent as time went by—what helped me keep my composure was repeating to myself that it wasn't personal. "Perhaps he's in a bad mood or perhaps he's bothered by something I'm unaware of," I'd think. Either way, what I knew for sure was that it wasn't my fault, I never did anything wrong, and I was extremely cautious not to allow self-doubt to rear its ugly head again.

Once people like this 40-something-year-old man succeed to make you question yourself and your actions—when they succeed to get to the heart of your mind and soul by testing your limits and shaking you off balance—that's exactly when you know they've gained control over you. From there, you can be sure that you are losing or have already lost your power.
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Image via Giphy

Another huge red flag was when he tried to negotiate my hourly rate after we'd already agreed on one when I was first hired. How did I suddenly become too much of an expensive cost to him and his business, and how could he say that I shouldn't be "the only one gaining from us working together"? Sir, did you not need me? The moment I completely lost it and found the courage to tell him that I wouldn't work with him anymore was after extremely disrespectful words came out of his mouth about my passion for writing.

Let me explain.

While he was attempting to make me lower my prices, he was also trying to have me spend more time working with him which wasn't feasible for me. The only reason I offer PA services is that I must make ends meet. It's not because I enjoy it—at all. When I kindly told him that I didn't have the bandwidth to dedicate 10 extra hours of my time to him and his endeavors, he joined the list of the most condescending folks I've ever come across in my entire life. "If you only come here to collect your coins and keep doing your little businesses on the side," he responded, "then I'm not interested."

Truth be told, what he said didn't hit me right away. It only did a couple of minutes later when I began feeling uneasy in my gut while I was driving back home. It was the kind of uneasy feeling that manifests itself when you're faced with unfairness and nonsense. The kind of uneasy feeling that leaves you at loss for words wondering, 'Did he really just say that?' It's the kind of uneasy feeling that leads you to explain the situation to your loved ones and ask them for confirmation that you're not crazy.

I spoke with three women in my family on that day. Each expressed the same reaction when I laid out the facts, and they all gave me the same piece of advice: Ask for your due and leave. Now.

I knew that terminating our work arrangement was the right thing to do, even if it meant that I was giving up on my biggest source of income in the middle of a pandemic when bills are piling up and jobs are difficult to find. With that said, two years ago, I promised myself that I would never allow my professional life to dim my light ever again. It's just not worth it.

Tapping Into My Masculine Energy

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While I'd consider myself a confident woman most of the time, I must admit that one of my weaknesses is that it's easy for others to manipulate me into thinking that I'm not good enough. When my client first began negotiating my rate, my immediate reaction was to revise my prices and calculate the minimum I needed to earn so I could survive. I was willing to sacrifice myself just to help him save a few bucks. Let me tell you, sis, this is not how you want to do business. Just like in love, you are the prize in this case, and you must act accordingly.

It's your clients that need you, not the other way around. And if they ever try to flip the script and tell you how much you're worth, then tap into your masculine energy so much that they start feeling bad for thinking that they had the permission to fill in your price tag themselves in the first place.

Self-confidence is key in general, we all know that. But it's even more important to embody it when you're your own boss. No external factor should be able to shake the foundation of your business—you, for instance—to the point it ultimately collapses.

The moment I tapped into my masculine energy, my mindset changed. So, when my client told me for the umpteenth time that he's going to "spend less if he hires an assistant through a certain organization," I responded that it was his choice to make. One thing I wasn't going to do was sell myself to death. You either want me or you don't, period.

Believe me or not, he never discussed my rate again from that moment. I'd won—and I knew that I was going to because he needed me.

Putting My Eggs In Multiple Baskets

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A fellow freelancer once told me, "I'd rather work with several clients that make me earn a small amount of money each than making a ton from working with only two big clients." It's probably one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given in business.

Even if this client was my biggest source of income, it wasn't that big of an issue to stop working with him because I still had other streams of income. Of course, my income significantly decreased but fortunately, money was still coming in—enough for me to at least pay my bills. Imagine if I did grant him his request for those 10 extra hours. That means I would've lost even more money in the end. I probably wouldn't have been able to walk away at all.

Building Myself A Financial Safety Net

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Building yourself a financial safety net isn't easy, I know. I know the struggle of not having a penny left to save when the end of the month approaches, let alone the difficulty of choosing between living your life to the fullest or eating every day. Trust me, I've been there and done that, both while living on my own and as a child when my parents got divorced and my mother could barely afford us to be alive anymore. However, you know how the saying goes, "Nothing worth having comes easy," and the older I get, the more I understand the importance of building ourselves a financial safety net. Especially in such uncertain times when we're forced to operate in sink or swim mode.

Had I not stacked all the money I earned for a year—which I must thank the pandemic for—I probably wouldn't have been able to walk away from such a comfortable and secure income. Since March 2020, we've all been stuck at home, forbidden to travel or entertain ourselves doing anything that would normally involve spending a lot where I live, and I'd been transferring all the money that I earn to my savings account. As of now, taking into consideration the loan I have to pay off, rent, and less significant bills, I can survive for at while without working. Needless to say, it's a pretty big amount that I managed to save, although probably less than you think since life is kind of cheaper in Europe. Every day, I'm tempted to spoil myself and surrender to my need for luxury, but I don't.

As self-employed women, we remain in boss mode at all times. We cannot afford to ignore our budgets and let money burn holes in our pockets. We must keep in mind our plans for the future and anticipate any financial disasters that may come our way. Self-employment is a synonym for freedom, but freedom is expensive.

I make sure to never lose sight of that.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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