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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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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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