For a good portion of my life, I described my occupation as “troubleshooter”. I was the guy who got called in to fix things when they had been botched up. I was the guy who could rescue that project that was already behind schedule and over budget. I was the guy who would take on the job that no one else was willing to do.
In her career as a commercial artist, Katie gained a good reputation (and made a lot of money) as a pinch hitter. The illustrator you hired can’t come through with the goods? Call Katie. The client changed their mind and now you have to re-do all of the graphics before the presentation tomorrow morning? Call Katie. If you know it’s an emergency because everyone and everything is bleeding and/or on fire… call Katie.
Early in both our careers, we were flattered to get a foot in the door and get the work. Too late in our careers, we both learned to ask for large sums of cash. I have demanded ridiculous sums as a means of politely saying no, thinking they wouldn’t meet my fee; I was shocked when they did, and I had to take the job. Several times, I wanted a notarized affidavit stating that I would not be held responsible if I were unable to un-sink the ship. Even later in our careers, we learned to just say no and run, not walk, away from these situations.
Championing lost causes, being asked to swoop in and save the day, being called upon to restore order and make everything right with the world, can be a real ego booster. You feel good about yourself, people say nice things about you, and you think you’re the hero. It’s also tremendously stressful, not at all creatively rewarding, and frankly, if you think about it, it’s a bit insulting. You start to wonder why they didn’t call you in to plan and run the project from the start.
Coming in at the last minute, you have all of the pressure (moreso, really) and none of the creative input. You don’t get to do things your way, you only get to salvage other peoples’ bad ideas and flawed processes. If it was a truly good project, would it have gone so terribly pear-shaped? Is this really ever going to be a success, or are they trying to cut their losses? If this thing was worthwhile, why won’t anyone else touch it with a 10 foot pole?
There are far better things that you could be doing with your time, and you owe it to yourself and your reputation to only work on quality projects with quality people.