December 2, 2020

Hitting the wall

Read time Min.

“I don’t want to get fined for GDPR, but I still want to do whatever it takes to get people’s email to send them my offers.”

“Well, honestly, I don’t think they’ll be able to enforce GDPR or fine me for it since I’m not in Europe.”

How about we use the cookie anyway and if they don’t accept it, then we take it off? I just don’t want my GA numbers to drop.”

“Can you make the unsubscribe link white? so it’s still there but they won’t see it? Or maybe very light grey so they could see it, but they have to look really hard?”

These are actual comments from real people I’ve worked with in the past. Throughout my career, I have complied with these demands. I tried to explain best practices, make a case for doing the right thing, and think of their users. I would just shrug and say yes. Thinking “You’re the client. It’s your website and your money, so your call.”

The Setup

Starting your own business is hard, doing it while moving countries every couple of years is an extra level of difficult. I was living in places with little knowledge of the local language or the environment, with no network or support system to speak of. To add to that, I was managing increased living expenses, unfavorable currency exchange rates, and the anxiety of having no backup plan. I was in a position where I had to take any and every job, no matter the conditions or what it entailed. I felt I had no choice.

Little by little, making those decisions ate away at me. I held private, sensitive data of people, unencrypted and only secured by a basic password. I was expected to use that information to produce significant engagement, to design with an emotional approach to make people feel they are missing out. I was told that privacy doesn’t matter, because the target audience is in South America, where regulations are not as strict as in Europe or the US.

During this time, I learned that people who hold these attitudes in one part of their lives carry them across everything they do. These clients were always the nightmare clients, the ones calling my emergency line at 3am for “a quick question”.These were the clients flexing the “I pay your bills” muscle. The ones who would threaten to ditch their contract knowing I couldn’t afford to sue them over it. The people who feel that hiring someone to perform a service for them establishes some kind of hierarchy and entitles them to mistreat people.

I had prospective client make unwanted sexual remarks at me and then have to interview with him for a project months later, with a fake smile pretending nothing happened. I was called hun, babe, and sweetie by the people I have worked with, and bitch when I made it clear it was NOT OK.

I heard remarks about how “my people” do things. People thinking they were complimenting my speed and efficiency by saying they would’ve never guessed I was Latin or they could’ve sworn I was a true German (whatever the hell that even means). Even working as a freelancer, with non-profits, and being the boss, I was still surrounded by toxicity, discrimination, sexism, racism, homophobia. I was choosing to work with these people.

I wish I had a better word for it, but all I can say about it is yuck! Being grossed out and burned out by my job took over until I ended up hating getting to work in the morning. I hated the things I had to do, the people I had to work with, and being put in the position to put up with it all to make ends meet.

Hitting The wall

Hitting the wall is a phrase used in sports. It’s the name runners give that point during a race when your body decides it has had enough and can’t go any further. When you feel you have nothing more left to give and you can’t take a single step forward.

But before anyone gets the false impression that I’m a runner, let me clarify I have not enjoyed a single moment of exercise in my entire life. I have, however, enjoyed Haruki Murakami’s book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, and that has to count for something, right?

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Say you’re running and you think, ‘Man, this hurts, I can’t take it anymore’. The ‘hurt’ part is an unavoidable reality, but whether or not you can stand anymore is up to the runner himself”.

Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

Many runners, including Murakami, say the wall is real in a physical sense; but there are ways to overcome it mentally. So I paced myself to build myself up again to a place where I could perform at my best.

My business went into slow mode. I was not taking on any new clients or projects, cutting down my client list. I was only working with people I trusted, could see eye to eye with, and share ideals. People I was sure I could provide value to. I’m not going to lie: I also kept a few because I still need to pay the bills, but they were not the very problematic ones.

This time in my life coincided with moving from Germany to Sweden. What better moment than a relocation to start anew and regroup, and what better place to fill myself with new ideas than school?