The Unwanted DM: “Can I Pick Your Brain About Something?”

"Can I pick your brain", Bespoke Hogaboom

This week I’m trying a few new techniques as I ice-dye and then chainstitch a custom coverall. I also researched and called for specs on a new fabric for a wrestling singlet, and sourced strip-interfacing and a new style of thread for one of my specialty machines. I took a piped buttonhole class. I spent hours on a video transcription. I’ll be trialing chainstitch on sateen fabric, a new methodology for a tracksuit zipper, and a new spandex appliqué technique. I retained a DJ for an upcoming mending lab, made a flyer for said lab (two form factors), submitted three press releases and sent the flyer off to the local printer’s.

This is just a glimpse of work I’ve done all in the last few days – and in addition to my regular workload of caring for a family and a marriage, writing my emails and this blog, creating custom wear for clients and, this last week, a successful abortion rights fundraiser).

I work hard investigating, making calls and emails, purchasing, trialing new materials and methods, recording, uploading and tagging, documenting and publishing.

I am my own Research and Development department!

And yet, I guarantee the moment I post these beauties and accomplishments on Instagram or my server or Facebook, I’ll get those comments and DMs:

“That is so cool! How do you do that?”
[Please give me the Cliff Notes version of the hours of unpaid research you put in]

“Hey my sewing machine is having problems blah blah blah”
[Stop what you’re doing and provide a detailed troubleshooting decision tree meanwhile I am not going to even bother Googling]

“Your website looks so cool! I am having trouble setting up my online shop can you help?”
[I know very well I should be paying for this OR doing my own research but maybe you, Kelly will provide a few minutes or hours of your time because clearly you have nothing better to do right now!]

The most confusing part is some of these DMs are from people who are just being careless. They don’t realize it’s gauche to ask for time without offering recompense; and if I send them a link to my tip jar or a link to schedule a paid consultation a small number of these inquiries would – if not immediately pay me – they would at least say, “Oh! My bad” and recognize what they are asking.

But most of them definitely expect me to help them for free and a fair number will be rude in whatever way I suggest – gently or firmly, briefly or through exposition – that they pay for my expertise.

I wonder if they realize how exhausting this is.

***

My brain, my mind is my biggest asset.

When you look at my art and even more so, when you look at my expertise in building a successful Creative and ethical atpreneurship – you are looking at the products of a brilliant mind, a lot of time in research, and a fantastic work ethic.

This shit did not just fall into my lap!

You are also looking at someone who has already put out thousands of person-hours’ worth of no-cost content: Instagram Lives, how-to Reels, livestream classes, low- and no-cost workshops, written and illustrated tutorials, guest blogs, Q&As, and tons of DM, phone, and email support. All at no cost.

It’s kind of amazing – and shitty! – that the more pro bono work I’ve done, the more likely people will try to greedily ask me to provide more (rather than Googling first! For feck’s sake I probably already wrote a whole tutorial you can find)!

This kind of pecked-to-death-by-ducks bullshit is one reason that a generous Creative starts to get stingy with their time:

 “Why should I keep giving and giving and giving? It’s never enough for these jerks!”

I promise – if you’re reading my blog, you probably already want to be a generous person. So pulling back into a “fuck allll y’all!” attitude probably isn’t the right call, either.

***

As a Creative we may move from being an utterly-unknown to having a follower base to, eventually, becoming a Public Figure (or in my case, so far: a semi-Public Figure).

And depending on the type of work we do, our gender, our socioeconomic class, our race, and a variety of other factors – 

We are not always treated with the respect we deserve.

As soon as we are seen as pretty good at our work, or even excellent or an expert – and especially if we’re a woman or perceived as one – 

We are assumed to have loads of free time and the responsibility to nurture everyone who comes along wanting to suckle.

(Weird image, I know! But: still!)

After all: we’re so talented! We have nothing better to do with our time than give, give, give!

(Someday I’ll write a piece on how being called “talented” erases all the hours we put in to get where we are! For that reason, I prefer the term “skilled”.) 

I like this piece at thinkgrowth (“Don’t Ask to Pick My Brain”), which gives a pretty good summation of why “picking my brain” is a pretty insulting concept:

“When you ask to pick somebody’s brain, you are essentially asking (often a stranger) if you can extract value without adding any value.

“For most knowledge economy workers or entrepreneurs, the only thing of value they have is their brain. They are not paid to produce widgets, but to think and solve problems. Their brain is their only asset. So, when you ask to pick somebody’s brain, you are asking them to give away for free what they use to earn a living.”

(Ironically the piece doesn’t say the first thing you should do when trying to “pick someone’s brain” – ask if you can book a paid consultancy session. In other words: let them know right away, you want to know their rates. But otherwise, the article is pretty good!)

So.

Therein lies the thorny problem.

Our brain is our biggest asset – these gorgeous things we produce, came from our minds first! And we work our minds so vigorously every day – we put in the discipline, we plan the projects, we weep over the (many) failures!

Next week I’ll cover what we can do about these people demanding freebies.

Because ultimately, we have to make a plan. We have to sit back and figure out how to keep giving generously – without lowballing our own value. 

We have to figure out a way to give, that is not overextension.

It’s fruitless to just people wouldn’t bug us. Because they’re going to keep doing it!

We have to figure out a way to live in community – but require some respect from the community in kind!

I promise: we can do it.

Next week: let’s talk about how!

***

Interested in hearing more about my WHOLE ENCHILADA course? I send out emails on Mondays, gearing up for the spring and summer sessions. You can sign up for those here.a