When to quit serving

I’ve always been told that the best way to do business was to serve people. “Find a need and fill it,” they always said. It’s a great formula on the surface. It tends to make you a more sensitive person, more observant to the needs of those around you. It also builds up your faith at times, as you struggle to serve someone beyond your normal comfort zone, which can build your character and lift you to new heights. Today was different, though.

Today, I quit serving someone, and it was tough.

It’s hard for me not to serve people. I have an extreme amount of whatever it is that causes you to be a people-pleaser. It’s served me well at times, but at this particular point, it was causing more harm than good. That’s right, at the risk of sounding paradoxical, it can be harmful to serve someone at times.

The situation was a prospective client that I’ve been caring for in some fashion for a number of years. I had found a way to get my foot in the door and in a virtual capacity, was handling some email administration duties for them. It was routine work, really just a holding ground until the opportunity came along to grow it into something more. That opportunity came late last fall. I took the chance to step out from simply handling their email accounts, to actually building, growing and managing their entire website. It was a literal dream of mine to reach this point for the last several years. I had a lot of sure-fire ideas on how to grow their revenue (and the experience to boot), which they shot down. They told me that my quotes were too high, and not even a monthly payment would cause them to change their mind. Deeply disappointed, I disengaged my thrusters and gave up the chase, settling back into just the routine maintenance.

After all, it was routine work, and really it was just a holding ground until another opportunity came along to grow it into something more.

After this “routine” ran it’s course for the umpteenth time in just a few weeks, I finally decided to take some initiative. I guess I was thinking that if I showed them a plan to fix the problem, along with the data to prove it, they’d have to give me my shot and in turn they’d begin to see I was right and trust me to take on more. So I presented my solution to this problem they were constantly coming to me with, and I even offered to do it for free, because I saw it as a stepping stone to bigger things.

They seemed to ignore it entirely, replying with only “This is what the boss wants, so we need to give him what he wants.”

It was at this point that it finally dawned on me. These guys were never, ever going to give me that shot. My years of loyalty hadn’t earned it, nor had my experience, ideas or even the cold, hard facts I presented to them. With that realization came another: I was not an employee. This “boss” was not my boss. I had been volunteering my time, effort and experience on the hope that something might come of it, yet I was finally seeing that nothing was going to happen. Finally, one last thought came careening into my mind in a flash of pure clarity. The understanding that every moment I spent pursuing this elusive “dream” that I had was one that was not spent on clients that were already giving me their shot. They deserved my time and attention much more than this leech. It was time to stop serving them.

I replied to their email with a statement that calmly but firmly explained that there would be no more free routine maintenance for them. I turned over admin duties to one of their actual employees and with that final email, metaphorically washed my hands of them and shook the dust from my feet. I would not waste another minute on them.

I had other clients to serve.