Optimism Tax Paid in Full

Earlier this year, I had a designer drop off the face of the earth. She is an extremely talented, and respected designer and I’m very sad to lose her. She worked with me at E.Webscapes for four years. During her time, her work was always stellar, customer service above par and work ethic beyond reproach.

A few months ago, she just disappeared without a word. She didn’t just vanish – – she left, in her wake, seven projects in various stages of completion. Some almost completely done… some only halfway done…. some just started. Seven of them. One, I had already paid her in full for. Some, I hadn’t paid her for, yet (thankfully).

I tried, in vain, to get in touch with her. I tried every single email I had for her. I even called — international long distance calls to Hong Kong (cha ching!), several times – to no avail! I begged. I pleaded. I put myself on the line.

After several weeks, she did get in touch with me – on February 7, 2008, after about a month of trying to get a hold of her. She apologized several times – – sorry she let me down, sorry she put me in such a spot and promised to deliver and get right on those projects and see them through to completion.

Hi Lisa,

First off I am so, so sorry about everything. I never meant for things to get this bad and I owe you the hugest apology and an explanation as well.

She proceeded to explain. School got too busy. Family issues cropped up. All of this stuff, I understand. Life happens. Believe me, I know!

…I’ve had the files prepared for ages but need to give myself a swift kick to go finish up. I’m not sure if you’ve jumped in with any of those, but I’ll go through the tickets to see what needs to be done where. I know how unhappy they all are and I feel so terrible about not having been there and for making such horrible messes….

I was relieved! Happy to hear from her.. knowing that she’s ok and that she would get these projects completed shortly! I offered to help where I could – – told her to give me a shout if she needed anything… anything at all! Whew!

…..

I never heard from her again. Neither did her clients.

I attempted a few more times – – several, actually – – finally I just gave up and emailed her and asked her to PLEASE send me the files for the projects that she had been working on. I said “You don’t even have to say a word – – just attach the PSD’s, any code, CSS, programming, etc and I’ll take it from there!” My last email to her, requesting the files, was on February 27, 2008.

Nada.

Of course, I just couldn’t afford the time, any longer, to wait and see if she would resurface again. Time was running out.. and in some cases, time had already passed me by.

Having a full queue of client projects, myself – it was very difficult having to absorb her projects as well and, as a result, I was faced with the very difficult task of offering my apologies and completely refunding several projects and, in some cases, referring some projects out to other shops.

Some clients I refunded completely and yet still finished their full project. In most cases, having to start from scratch because she didn’t send any of the files. I only had rough design mock ups to work off of.

One client she had done a fair amount of custom programming for. Programming which was broken and a complete fiasco, I had to outsource for in order to get it fixed.. on my dime.

Another client is so upset with me – – she’s spitting nails.

Yet another client did a not so very nice post about his experience with me – making me sound like the devil incarnate. In all honesty, I don’t blame him a bit for being upset.

Some of the clients I just refunded completely and sent them off to someone else to complete the work.

Other clients, I was late on deliverables because of this incident. While they have their project completed and they are happy with the end result — a couple weren’t too happy with the time it took to get it completed.

So I have a handful of very upset clients, my stress levels reaching critical mass and I took financial and PR hits because I was too worried about giving her the benefit of the doubt and wasting time trying to give her the chance to make good. I had no reason to think she wouldn’t – – in the four years she had worked with me… I had developed a very strong trust in her as a person and designer.

I feel horrible on so many different levels. For my clients, for my family who had to bear the brunt of my stress filled days and nights, to my friends who didn’t hear from me…the friends who called and constantly got my voice mail.

Not too mention that, on a personal level – this hurt. I had grown to like her a lot and considered her a friend.

I really started worrying if she was ok – – ya know, still alive? This was so UNLIKE her. I started asking around if anyone had heard from her. My worry quickly vanished when another designer friend of mine mentioned that she was regularly updating her Facebook. She still is to this day. And I still haven’t heard from her, not even so much as the courtesy to send me the project files she had been working on. The project that she initially took responsibility for – then abandoned, leaving me to clean up the huge mess she left in her path. Not too mention, she was PAID for things she did not complete!

I shouldered it all… the disappointment, the angst, the stress – – I apologized my head off and felt so horrible because in the 10 years I’ve been doing this, I have never been in a position where I let my clients down like this… let myself down like this. For some, it was to the point where the apologies were trite and not accepted. Some were wonderful, and understood my position. But, this is business, ya know? You don’t just play around with people’s money and time just because YOU happen to be having a bad day/week/month with one of your contracted employees.

The money I could refund. The time I could not.

In the end – it is my business and the responsibility is my own, ultimately. I do take a lot of pride in what I do – – a lot of pride in what I’ve built… this just really crushed me for a time.

I have since recovered from this and things are now back to normal – – but dealing with the fall out from her disappearance took a good couple of months, and a few very dissatisfied clients from whom I will never regain trust.

This is the price I pay for putting too much trust into one single person.

Or is it?

I don’t want to become jaded, pessimistic and untrusting of people. What kind of life is that to lead – – either on a personal, or professional level? I came across a post that Matt did about Optimism Tax – you should check it out, and then click the link in his post and read the story. I’m thinking… this situation with my (ex)designer is my Optimism Tax for the year.

It’s the price I pay to remain optimistic and trusting that, by and large, most people ARE good.

I dunno. Maybe it’s someone else who is updating her Facebook account? Ya think? Well, I was forced to move on, the way you do when relationships dissolve. If you happen to see her around, her name is Becca – let her know I’m still kinda worried about her.

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30 thoughts on “Optimism Tax Paid in Full”

  1. Thank you, David – it is a very sad story, to be sure.

    I know full well how hard it is to face someone you have let down – – it’s extremely hard.

    Eventually, it’s a choice to either face it.. or walk away from it and hope it goes away (:|(:|

  2. Wow, Lisa. What a hassle. But, I think Matt had it right, “Losing faith is much worse than losing some stuff.”
    Most people ARE good, and your ex-designer is probably good. Sounds like she just suffered a major meltdown and didn’t have the maturity to pull herself out of it.

    Thanks for the link to Matt’s post. I’ll have to remember the optimism tax!

    (» Read This Eclectic Life’s last blog post..Bananas Make Baby Boys?)

  3. Shelly – Matt’s post about the Optimism Tax story struck a chord with me for sure.

    And I think you’re right about the meltdown and maturity – unfortunate as that is.

    At the end of the day, it’s not worth losing faith in people, overall – that’s for certain.

  4. Hi Lisa,
    I’m sorry this happened. It hurts on so many levels when something turns out this way. “I bet on you and I lost.” is a bad feeling that can taint every relationship after.

    Those who know you understand your integrity. You kept your promises as best you could, despite a decision that you regret. Bravo for you.

    (» Read Liz Strauss’s last blog post..Is Productive What You Really Want to Be?)

  5. Hey Lisa. What a sad story indeed, and I’m so sorry you had to deal with all of that stress and discontented clients. Few things can be so much a blessing and a hardship at the same time as your own business.

    Just wanted to give you a smile (:) – there ya go) and say that I never really think that it’s a mistake to trust people. This may certainly affect the way you handle some of your business relationships (e.g. how much you pay out in advance, etc.) but I hope you don’t let it affect the way you approach your relationships.

    I have certainly paid “optimism tax” in the past, but in the end I think I’m generally a happier person for not starting out everything with a cynical edge. I have little doubt you are too!

    (» Read Deb’s last blog post..All Quiet On The Eastern Front)

  6. I so feel you on this. We’ve been on that train before and it goes nowhere except to Angerville with a brief layover in Guilt Town.

    What kills me is that said person knew about our situation from when said person worked with *us* (if ever-so-briefly) and then said person went ahead and did it to you, too! What is WRONG with people?

    (» Read Joelle’s last blog post..We All Love Ella)

  7. LOL. Everyone else’s comments are so nice and supportive. Meanwhile I rant on! I just so connect with the hurt feelings of betrayal and anger, I can’t help but relate.

    (» Read Joelle’s last blog post..We All Love Ella)

  8. I’ve been on both sides of the coin. I’ve subcontracted out and been burned by someone who never finished their work and just disappeared. And recently I was the person who was subcontracted and I had to turn in files a week late because of the sudden loss of my gramma, who I was taking care of following a stroke. I felt like crap because my personal life inconvenienced the other designer, but I also kept her in the loop and turned in the work as soon as I could. I even offered to take a pay cut for being late. I’ve also had a situation where I turned in my files and then the other designer disappeared after I informed her the check bounced.

    To just disappear and not say anything to the person who is depending on you in a work situation is very irresponsible. We all have issues in life, but communication goes a LONG way in keeping an inconvenience from turning into burned bridges.

    Unfortunately, it’s hard to gauge when a person just wigs out, so to speak. And when it happens it truly sucks. I’m sorry you had to go through that all. I wish I could help you out. But I send more hugs > {{{hugs}}}.

  9. Pingback: SOB Business Cafe 04-25-08 - Liz Strauss at Successful Blog - Thinking, writing, business ideas . . . YouÒ€ℒre only a stranger once.

  10. Hi Lisa,

    I feel your pain. This is sadly one of the burdens you have to bear when you are in business.

    I’ve had it the other way around. I was employed by a client to write a complete CMS for his business. He was very demanding and actually quite rude but I kept going and wrote a highly detailed and solid system which his staff found wonderful.

    But when I billed him he only paid part of it because he said he wanted more features. He piled on the extras and in the end he was virtually blackmailing me to keep working so that he could get new business so that he could pay me. I worked and worked and I still didn’t get paid.

    And guess what – he went bankrupt and I got nothing. I even lost my car.

    It was then that I decided that I would never again work for someone else – I would only work for myself.

    If it makes you feel any better I would like to thank you for your Xmark theme which I am using on a couple of my blogs. I’ve looked at your code and it’s good stuff. Keep on keeping on!

    Sarah

    (» Read Sarah McHarry’s last blog post..9 Ways To Make Money From Your Blog)

  11. @Deb – thank you for the smile πŸ™‚ I do wholeheartedly agree..you are right when you say that I, like you, am a happier person for choosing optimism over pessimism πŸ™‚

  12. @Joelle – Angerville and Guilt Town haha For some reason that has put the song in my head.. “Won’t you take me to… Funky Town…”

    Ok ok…I know you sympathize a great deal on this one, so rant away! πŸ˜€

  13. @Michelle – thank you! communication IS key, no doubt. I really wanted to snap my fingers and make it all go away – – I’m still working on that ‘i dream of jeanie’ head nod lol

  14. @Sarah – nice of you to stop by and share your experience.. what a nightmare! That it empowered you to work for yourself, though.. I guess is the positive thing that came out of it πŸ™‚

  15. It was a royal mess, but I knew we’d be able to pull out of it. And it sucks that people were upset, yet understandable. Knowing all sides, I think you handled the situation the best way you could have. I know that after all that, I’d still hire you 😑

    (» Read Lindsey’s last blog post..One year later . . .)

  16. Of course it is possible to get burnt out, or to experience some personal issues, but when another person who relies on you and tries to get in touch, there is very little excuse left for disappearing without a notice. What a nightmare it was for you!

    Did you try enlisting someone’s else help, or did you continue the work on your own?

    I wish you to never ever go through another nightmare in work, and get more clients and recover all the money you recently lost because of this.

    If you ever need any help with programming, give me a shout – will be glad to offer my services. I do design too, but I guess you’ve got enough designers employed.

    All the best to you!

    (» Read inspirationbit’s last blog post..PROs And CONs Of Going Solo)

  17. @Lindsey – and thank you for all your help in helping me pull through it. A great VA provides rock solid support when needed and I appreciate you more than you know 😑

    @inspirationbit – I didn’t enlist anyone’s help, really. I dug through it on my own. Her projects were in several phases of completion – it was hard enough for *me* to weed through it and get things to where they needed to be.. I didn’t want to stick anyone else with the dirty work. Although, my other designers did step up to take on the new projects I was not able to because of this – – so, in that regard, I did have lots of help.

    I am, possibly, looking to bring on another designer in the near future. . . drop me a line if ya wanna chat about it: lisa AT lisasabin-wilson DOT com. πŸ˜‰

  18. Pingback: Promise Yourself to Build Your Confidence - Liz Strauss at Successful Blog - Thinking, writing, business ideas . . . You’re only a stranger once.

  19. I am totally sad and honestly? Very confused. I wouldn’t have thought in a million years that someone with such a sweetness about them would just vanish without a word. I absolutely adored her, and I hope she’s okay, too.

  20. Yea, I passed confusion right after bewildered, perplexed and astonished. Now, after I’ve gotten this off my chest.. I’m just kinda… meh.

    I will always, always hope that she is ok – beyond that? *shrug*.. can’t fret over things beyond my control.

  21. I think the biggest question for me would be just “Why?” I mean, is communication that hard or difficult? To just tell you that, for example something along the lines of… “hey, I’m in over my head, here’s the files I’ve done so far… maybe in a few months when things settle down I’ll be back and hopefully this doesn’t burn any bridges… really sorry to leave you in the lurch.” Something like that, right? I mean, hell, anything is better than just being dropped like that. Even an obituary. At least then you’d have known why. People are so weird.

  22. Yeah….well….as a person who actually pulled the disappearing act…I can give you some insight….hopefully.

    I have been a responsible, reliable, great person my entire life.

    I am there for my family and friends and any business relationships and I always go the extra mile.

    Unfortunately, last summer, I totally lost it.

    I disappeared and refused to answer emails or voice mails or anything else. I actually had one person send the police to my door. ( I live in another state from most of my friends and clients. )

    My actions were entirely undefendable….however, in my defense,…..I was moments away from suicide. There were only two choices at that point….walk away….or stop.

    Many of my clients took me back after a 3 month walk-away. Some didn’t. I had always been reliable in the past and then I just snapped. I had to have the hard conversations about how we could keep them from being let down in the future….but I did it.

    Coming back took a lot of soul searching and figuring out what I really wanted in life.

    So….please don’t take it personally that your designer simply disappeared. And you might even want to work with that person again. I’m unlikely to pull the disappearing act again…I do learn from my mistakes and I don’t generally let people down.

    But sometimes…you just have to do what you have to do. And the most sane thing you can do is to protect yourself from the world that is literally about to kill you.

    Hope this helps!

  23. K – Thanks for your insight, and I’m sorry to hear about your troubles. I know, very well, the pull of depression and how it can affect life around you, including people who love you and count on you, no doubt.

    Life happens.

    I understand it and fully emphathize with it. A note to say “Hey, I’m falling apart, catch you on the flip side” would be great, sure…but there may not be the ability to do even that.

    It’s hard.

    After my experience, would I hire that person back again? I would never say never – but it’s pretty doubtful.

    I care about her and wish her well and will always be here as a friend.. but from a business standpoint? Honestly, she can flake out on someone else because I don’t ever want to go through that again.

    Thanks for stopping by and hope things are better for you now πŸ™‚

  24. I am so glad that you didn’t lose faith in the rest of the world during all this. Things like that hurt on so many levels. The friendship you thought you had, the fact that acts like that mess with your livelihood and the reputation you try to hard to keep unsullied.

    I have a web design shop and a business partner. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) we haven’t found a need to farm anything out yet. And I’m not sure I could; I have deep control issues. And it’s hard to find someone who has a like work ethic. That’s why I’m so grateful for my partner. He is the best.

    From the perspective of the esrtwhile employee, I guess once you pull a stunt like that, it’s hard to face someone. That was a very cowardly thing to do. Had she been a secretary in a law firm, she would likely have been terminated nearly immediately. (This is tantamount to not calling in sick for days, weeks.) And that blot would be on her employment record. What kind of checks and balances are in place for freelancers like that? Someone else mentioned that they’d also been burned. Interesting.

    Lisa, I’ve always admired your work, your talent and writing skills from afar. This post just underscores what a nice person you really are. I hope no one else attempts to take advantage of the “nice girl” and that you indeed will remain optimistic and not become hardened and jaded. God knows in this business, our clients can do that to us well enough. πŸ™‚

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