When the tool is frustrated, she might stop working.
There's a better way to collaborate than seeing people as tools.
No one wants to be a tool.
The master craftsman receives praise for the beautiful chair he’s made. No one cares about the hammer or saw. The tools are necessary, but not the point. This is not a blog post on the undying search for praise, but one about the search for a new way to work with people instead of using them as tools.
In my many years of freelancing, there have been fewer frustrating things than being someone’s pixel pusher.
The client wants something—graphic design, drawing, logo, website, printed marketing materials—but they don’t have the skills or technical know-how to do it. So logically, they would find someone who does. We hire plumbers, electricians, designers—the Yellow Pages are an ode to our inability to know how to do everything, and that is good for the economy and for insurance companies.
Yet for too many people, that ode becomes one of pixel-pushing.
“That’s nice but I’d like to see five more options and then also move that a pixel or two to the right and then make it a slightly lighter blue thanks.”
Try that with a plumber.
Within reason, a professional works with the client. But a pixel pusher uses the professional as little more than a tool, someone who knows how to boot up her computer and muck about in software and adjust the nameservers for the website and get everything all set and then be told to move out of the way, all recommendations and warnings of what would be a better outcome completely disregarded.
“You have the saw, you started it up, just hand it to me and I’ll build the house now.”
The terrible logos that I did not intentionally design still live on my hard drive; I pray to God those clients didn’t turn them into a sign somewhere in front of their business.
I get there’s a general distrust of experts. The pandemic and 2020 in general took a flamethrower to the art of trusting professionals.
But I’m not just some talking head white coat stranger on TV. People who connect with me tend to actually know me. They approach saying that they appreciate some particular skill or ability that they’ve seen in my work, or a friend recommended me. Yet when it comes down to brass tacks, once the tool-heavy work is in place, they disregard the professional advice on how to handle what’s been started.
“Thanks for moving in the piano, but we don’t need your help tuning it.”
I’ve sat back and watched as something I’ve highly recommended to be done or not done, some writing or design or whatever it is that I’ve carefully thought up, be disregarded, and then the very thing happens that I warned would happen. All I can do is think that I wasn’t totally sure I was an expert, but I was totally sure that what I said was a stupid idea really was a stupid idea.
It is frustrating.
When I was younger and desperate for money and any paying job, I allowed myself to be used in this manner, with the worst pixel pushers still on my list of people who never paid their invoice (yes, I remember after all these years).
Two decades of impostor syndrome whispering around in your mind is bad enough without having people reinforce it by their actions. The question I want to ask of such folks is what, out of about 25 years of experience in (art, website design, copywriting, online marketing, etc.) led you to ask me to do something or provide recommendations to act on, and then, on the flip side, what, out of that same 25 years of experience, led you to completely disregard it?
This year, considering family health issues that seem to scream out to avoid stress and anger, I am working on reducing frustration. To pinpoint areas of building frustration, I am paying attention to conversations with my friend in which I keep blathering on about the same annoyances.
As with any problem, there are two options for solving it:
Change the situation.
I’d love to proudly announce I’ve managed to change myself, flitting about in wings and a halo, no longer frustrated with pixel pushers or their cousins, the micromanagers who can’t help themselves from dipping their fingers into the work you’ve been entrusted to do and are fully capable of completing if they’d stay in their lane.
But I haven’t.
Consider the shirt I bought myself last year, and the notepad someone in the family wisely chose to give me this past Christmas:
I know I have problems. I’m buying shirts announcing them, for crying out loud.
Why won’t this person just let me do my job? Why won’t they take my advice? I am not going to clean up the mess that inevitably develops.
Okay, Julie, stop. Just try to understand. Try to see it from their view. You’re probably just as stubborn as they are. They mean well. They are just trying to do their best. They just have a Type A or controlling nature. They just tend to fret. They just can’t trust people to do their job. This is what it looks like when they pursue excellence. THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.
Alas, I still generally remain frustrated. Throat punch scenarios are still looming large.
So that leaves option two, the Joseph-and-Potiphar’s-wife option where you exit stage right and never say or do the thing that’s brewing in your small, small little mind.
Sometimes it’s just better to leave the situation than to sin.
“I’m sorry. I’m not the designer for you. I’ll invoice you for a kill fee and you can find someone else to help you out.”
“I don’t think my input is needed any longer. You have a pretty good foundation for this project so you go ahead and run with it.”
If I am not strong enough to not blow my top at someone or let frustration turn to internalized anger and cause damage, I have to consider Romans 12:18 and understand that in some cases, getting along with everyone means leaving the room, the project, or the organization.
For anyone who recognizes yourself in this blog post, whether as the pixel pusher or micromanager, or the one thinking about optimal stances for a throat punch, just know I feel your pain in some way.
But I’ll be in the other room because right now, that’s the solution.