{The title of this article came from Carmen Hawker, who floored me when she poetrically expressed something that I’d been using far too many clunky words to describe. Thanks Carmen. It only took 2.5 years to get written.}

One of the tragedies of kindness, integrity, values and principles, is how easily these can be exploited by those not burdened by them. With the Australian election looming, it’s too easy to see evidence of principled people being roundly criticised for any tiny, perceived hypocrisies, while those apparently without principles get off scot-free.

If you stand for something, some may see you as an easy target for exploitation. As a values-based business owner who works with other values-based business owners, I see this play out every single day.

I was victim to this many times in the early years of my business, attracting numerous charming narcissists and energy vampires who manipulated me into over-delivering, for minimal, or no, compensation. These guys will suck you dry, spit you out, and you make believe you’re at fault.

How do you know if your values have been weaponised against you? Oftentimes you don’t.

You may continue to be used and abused for years until burn-out changes your perspective. A sense of resentment and anger are useful indicators that your values are being used against you.

How to know if you’re vulnerable

Has anyone ever said to you:

“I can’t believe you get paid to do this! What a fantastic thing to do – the money must be an absolute bonus!”
“Other people would kill to do what you do.”
“We’re looking for people who are totally committed to this cause.”
“This is such a fantastic cause and the budget is really tight (or non-existent), but you’d know that you were doing a good thing.”

If so, then it’s possible that your values have been weaponised against you.

You want to live in integrity with your values. You want your beliefs, words and actions to be in alignment. So when someone suggests that your behaviour is out of alignment with your beliefs, you want to change so as to remain in integrity.

Ripe for exploitation

“They don’t make a job prestigious unless it sucks” is a saying from law school (not my law school, I’m an arts student). But it’s not just prestige that’s a gateway to exploitation.

Any industry or sector with fewer jobs than there are applicants, which is aspirational, prestigious, or feel-good, is also popular for energy vampires. This includes the arts, fashion, health and healing, politics and not-for-profit worlds. (This is not an exhaustive list.)

But this phenomenon is also industry-agnostic because conscientiousness is beyond industries and sectors.

When you’re committed to doing the best job possible, you’re easy to exploit.

“We were expecting more.”
“This job hasn’t been completed to the standard we were hoping for.”
“There’s more to do.”

It can be hard to distinguish between constructive criticism and deliberate exploitation. Sometimes it’s difficult to objectively discern whether you’ve done a poor, adequate, good or great job.

But the good news is there are things you can do to ensure that your values aren’t weaponised against you.

How to protect yourself

Boundaries are essential.

Boundaries are really important for all business owners, but especially for those who socially active, empathetic, and/or sensitive. You may like to remove your mobile number from the internet, create smarter website forms to reduce back-and-forth conversation, and have a clear pre-quotation briefing process, before a price is given or alternatively, state your prices on your sales pages.

Divorce self-worth from sacrifice.

The martyr or saviour complex is still alive and kicking, thousands of years after the philosopher Socrates was condemned to death in 399 BC for “refusing to recognise the gods” and “corrupting the youth” of Athens. Your self-worth has nothing to do with how much you sacrifice or who you’re attempting to ‘save’. Embrace ‘selfish’. While it’s meant as an insult, it’s really a sign that you’ve got your priorities sorted.

Make your proposals or quotes more detailed.

Especially if you do creative work, your proposals or quotations need key details, including the number of revisions, timelines, and requirements (with deadlines) for clients.

Don’t work for exposure.

You can’t eat exposure. After a certain point in your business (when you’re busy and earning good money), don’t work for exposure. You can still do pro bono work, but this is different.

If you do pro bono work, make your process clear.

Whether or not choose to openly share that you offer pro bono, make your process clear. You may choose to offer a set number of hours per month, or per paid hour (ie: for every six hours of paid client work, you give away one hour for gratis). Whatever you decide, write it down and display it where you can see it. Write down what causes are dear to your heart too, so you can more easily see when some passionate person comes along with a cause that’s not your cause.

Invest in your resilience and joy.

It’s far easier to spot an energy vampire or charming narcissist when you’re well-rested and happy. It’s far harder when your tank is empty, and you’ve lost your joy, perspective and self-trust.

Work for love and the money

Binary thinking is a contributing cause of a lot of exploitation: specifically, the persistent misconception that work is either creative, or it’s well paid. Either it’s fun, or it’s well paid. Either it’s prestigious, or it’s well paid. Either a million girls would kill for your job, or it’s well paid.

Of course there are other valuable things we gain from work apart from money, including gaining skills, knowledge, new clients, experience, contacts and – yes – exposure.

But this binary thinking that tells you that highly paid work must be difficult, time-consuming, or uncreative, is not just untrue, but is actively stopping you from growing a dream business – where you work for love AND money.

You can use your values and integrity as a brand point-of-difference, to magnetise similar people with similar values to you. Protect your enthusiasm – you are your biggest business asset. Invest accordingly.

Want to work for love AND money? Our flagship program enables you to do just that. It’s especially for values-based business owners who want to grow, without compromising their values or integrity. Jump on the interest list now – we open soon!