The Power of Saying No

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Recently, I had the pleasure to say no to a project that:

  1. Was not a good fit for my creative practice,
  2. Wanted to exploit my knowledge, skills and talent at close to zero £ compensation while building a potentially global brand,
  3. Had a very short deadline to complete (in my world, a short deadline means higher costs. In reality, you either have time and can afford to shop around for the cheapest price, or if you don’t have time, you need to pay more to have the job done on time),
  4. The project wouldn’t help develop or grow my practice.

Being able to say no to something that would have taken away my creative power while making me feel terrible about myself and my choices felt mega-empowering.

I was only able to say “no” because:

  1. I already have a paying job (kind of creative and organisational at the same time, and I love organising and getting things ticked off my checklist),
  2. I have savings and investments, which give me enormous financial confidence,
  3. I began respecting my experience, creativity and talent, and I know what I’m bringing to the table and what I am capable of. Experience doesn’t come cheap.
  4. I respect my time as this is the only commodity I can’t buy more of, and working on something semi-creative that isn’t creatively satisfying or innovative, nor pays well, is not what I want to do with the time I have left. My newly reformed attitude towards money and earning money led me to appreciate how precious time was.  

Like most things, learning about finances has been a process for me. I began my financial education accidentally during the first lockdown (March 2020). The stillness of life, which led to substantial slowing down, made me appreciate what was important to me. That, in turn, kick-started binge-reading financial blogs, followed by financial audiobooks, which I listened to during my long walks around the car park with Baby M. The more I read/listened, the clearer it became that going back to the pre-pandemic existence wasn’t an option. Capitalism, with its destructive glamourised consumption, lost its appeal to me and grip over my life choices. I wanted security, and mindless consumption would have never given me that. Security should come from within, but very often, the within needs help from the outside world, such as secure job, healthy finances or confidence in one own abilities and skills.

There are as many different paths towards financial security as there are people. Of course, specific actions or steps could be copied from others, but everyone’s journey will look somewhat different. 

At this stage of my life, security means having a job that covers my and my family’s basic needs. Unfortunately, creative and art jobs often don’t offer that. As if doing art should be a reward on its own. Creative jobs are still jobs that need to be compensated for, just like any other positions that is considered not creative (I would argue though, that creativity is part of any job). 

Amid the global pandemic, I began building financial security to give myself the financial cushion (everyone talks about that, but not to people in the arts). Having a financial cushion allows me to feel a bit more secure about my future, gives me the brain space needed to develop my projects, and relieves the anxiety when I don’t work or work less. 

My artistic integrity, experience, knowledge, and working with people who respect me are important. The assumption that creative talent can be bought for a fiver is incredibly damaging to the creative and art industry, and unfortunately, a lot of creative people feel they have no choice but to work for so little to be able to work at all. As for me, I am happy to work on friends’ projects for free if they are happy to work on my projects. But I never work for free on commercial projects, including start-ups.

Having a financial cushion together with other streams of income allows me to say no to toxic projects and people who believe that creative work is “inspiration” or not “real work” and shouldn’t be financially compensated for.

Not everyone is in such a good position as I am. To be in that position, I had to compromise a lot, work in jobs only remotely connected to arts and put up with a lot. 

However, if I’m frank with you, I could have avoided work-related drama, anxiety and unfulfilling toxic jobs if only I had started investing when I began earning money. The sooner one starts their investment portfolio, the sooner that person becomes financially independent or secure (whatever the goal is). Don’t listen to people telling you to treat yourself to things you don’t need or are outside your means. That advice might be good for them, but most likely not good for your finances. People who say that financial education is too complicated too boring should be avoided at all costs.

I suggest that all women in the creative industry should set aside a monthly amount that goes towards their investments portfolio (minimum £/$/EURO100), 10% towards cash cushion and 10% should be your play money, in my case, holidays and travelling but that could be anything you want. This is a modest proposal as I realise that women still earn less than men in the art and creative industries. However, this is just the start. I do the bare minimum every month regardless of my income. When my income increases, as it fluctuates, I put aside more money towards my investments, cash cushions and holidays. For this to work, you need regular monthly expenses, which don’t increase when you earn more in one month. Of course, there are instances when you will spend more on gifts or events, but your total monthly and yearly budget will be more or less the same. Use the cash cushion for unexpected expenses (when your washing machine breaks, unplanned emergency travel, etc.), as this is what the money is for, or for taking time off to focus on your project or creative practice.

Putting a financial stability system in place as soon as possible is as important as deciding what job you want to do in the future or what university you wish to attend. 

Don’t focus your financial future on one big check to solve all your monetary insecurities. If that happens, that would be a great boost to your investments and savings. But if it doesn’t, you already have a plan to take care of your future finances.

Financial security develops confidence and gives back control over our own lives. Just run some numbers through an investment calculator, and you might be pleasantly surprised by what compound interest can do, especially if you start investing when you turn 18. If you are a big spender struggling to keep money or you start investing late in life, early retirement may not be on the cards for you. But you might still build enough financial security to say no to toxic projects and yes to your dreams.  

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