This idea seems vaguely unfair to me. Things shouldn’t work this way. But I have seen it hold true at least 264 times.

Here it is:

The person who cares less about a project, or cares less about a relationship, is the one who has control over it.

They determine how it goes. Or when it goes. Or if it happens at all.

Like the kid on the down end of the seesaw. She’s the one who decides what happens next. The kid at the high end doesn’t have much say in it.


You land an assignment that you are hot for, because (thank God!) it means good money from a high-profile client. You need this feather in your cap. You itch to get going.

But on the client side, things start to wobble. Your client’s boss — who was the one who instigated all this — has moved on to other things and has quit talking about it.

Which means, to your client, this project isn’t such a priority now.

So she is now steering this boat.

She can decide to go ahead as planned. Or, she could push things through quick and ugly, just to get it over with. Or, she can decide to slow-paddle it until you want to scream. Or she can ‘revisit the budget’. Or just let the whole thing drift into oblivion.

And until she cares more, you can’t do much about any of it.


You take on a new client who is so flattering of your talent that you can’t resist. They think you a genius.

But from the first day work with them, you want to leap from a window. They need too much handholding. They penny-pinch the budget. Their tastes make you cringe. They can’t make a decision. They send too many emails. You begin to lose your mind while losing money.

Yet, inexplicably, they love you and keep calling.

In this asymmetric situation, you get to decide what happens — if anything — the next time they call. Because you wouldn’t care if they went away.

If a freelancer wanted to be nefarious, she could pretend to care just a little bit less about a project, hoping the client might be a little more pliable.

And for sure, I’ve had potential clients play that ‘take it or leave it’ thing on me. In which case it is almost always better to leave it.

But simply recognizing this dynamic can take some of the sting out of lopsided relationships. You can simply shrug and move on.

And when you’re calling the shot, you can be less of a jerk about it.

The good stuff happens, though, when you both care.


How to be a badass this business, while still remaining human: Smarter Freelancing.