As a gun for a hire, it can be challenging to turn down work. Whether you are well-established in your creative entrepreneurial career or just setting out in your pursuits, there will be times when client values and goals are at odds with your own beliefs. They might be in stark contrast – a direct violation of your own ethical code or personal values – but more often, they are subtle. Hiring processes, operations, business structures, practices, or product goals may leave you with an uneasy feeling.
So how do you know where to draw the line?
When money is tight and your portfolio would benefit from the project, it can be hard to say no.
At our bi-weekly Design Discussion on May 29, 2017, we debated the pros and cons of taking questionable creative work. Everyone had a different opinion and used different criteria to navigate sticky career situations, but one thing was clear: strong values can provide a sustainable and guiding foundation for a creative career.
Here are some highlights from our discussion:
There’s a gap between an idealistic world and the realistic pressures of our society. It’s easy to say “No,” to a hypothetical situation. It becomes harder when you’re faced with financial security, new opportunities, and exciting projects. A certain amount of compromise may be necessary to survive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t set your own terms while being realistic about your own boundaries.
Context matters – but staying true to yourself matters more. The terms of the contract, type of service you provide, timing, and company involved will have a huge impact on your decision. If you let the moment dictate your choice, though, you’ll likely end up following someone else’s path for your entire career.
Do the timeline test to gauge if the cost is worth the reward. Ask yourself the following questions:
- 3 months from now, how will I feel about this?
- A year ago, would I have said yes?
- 5 years from now, will I look back on this as a career milestone or low point?
- 10 years from now, will I be proud of this work?
Picturing your past and future self in relation to the job can help you create some distance between you and your current views. Creating a career of integrity leads to more longevity than one that is rooted in quick-grab opportunities and guided by dollars.
If you’re not even sure how the costs and rewards stack up, it’s time to make a good old-fashioned pro/con list. Understanding the professional development opportunities and keeping personal development and satisfaction within the same picture will give you a real sense of how the project will impact your life. Be honest and write it down.