Maybe I Should Stop Doing PWYC

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(NOTE TO READER: As you can see, this post has generated quite the commentary below and this from sharing it on social media. If it’s any reassurance, my practice of offering my daylong and weekend workshops on a PWYC basis is not under any imminent danger. I don’t intend to stop it any time soon. I wrote this piece more to reflect to all of us the immense consequence that everything we do and do not do has not only on our lives and the lives of others (intended or not). At this point, the reasons (selfish and selfless) for me to keep offering these workshops on a PWYC basis outweigh the reasons not to. So, I’m not looking for alternatives right now. I think with some adjustments, PWYC will continue to work well for me when I do it).

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Maybe it’s time to retire my PWYC pricing at my live day long and weekend long workshops.

I led a marketing workshop in Toronto last Summer.

It was a weekend workshop that I offer, as I have for almost 15 years now, on a PWYC basis.

Every time I do the workshop I tell people that it’s not a given that it will go on forever – this PWYC thing. If it stopped working, I’d have to stop doing it. Thankfully, it has worked thus far and people have been remarkably trustworthy in their instalment payments that they agree to.

But of that co-hort from the Toronto workshop (of which there were seven) there were two where payments were late. Two out of seven is a very high ration compared to the past.

It was left to me to follow up.

Over and over again.

It was a kind of ghosting.

Or carelessness. Or forgetfulness. But it all communicates the same sort of thing in the end. “This isn’t that high a priority to me right now.”

To be clear: the issue wasn’t the amount. I offer my workshops on a PWYC basis so that people can afford to attend it no matter where they’re at financially. And I’ve had people promise to pay me large amounts and then, months later, have to re-negotiate that as their financial picture had dramatically changed and I was happy to forgive that amount and let it go. 

I suppose it’s true for most of us: the big issue is communication.

On the personal level, it felt terrible. These were people I’d spent a weekend with. I’d paid all of my expenses up front to be there. I’d worked hard for them all weekend to help them grow their businesses. A certain level of affection grew. And then, after all that, they were treating me like this?

It reminded me of an ex-housemate who would take forever to pay his bills. But that isn’t what bothered me. It was that I was the one who had to follow up with him. He wouldn’t let me know it was going to be late. Then he’d promise to get me the money by Friday. And he wouldn’t. And then I wouldn’t hear from him for a month.

It was the lack of communication that stung the most. 

It reminds me of going to a friend’s house and sitting on her couch with a guitar. It was myself, my friend and two of her friends. 

“Are you going to sing us a song?” asked my friend, sitting on her floor with a bottle of wine. 

I nodded and began to sing a Corin Raymond tune that I love.

They listened for a while but, within sixty seconds, they’d begun talking with each other and weren’t listening at all. I stopped playing and set down the guitar. Besides the personal sting of being ignored, there was the song to think about. A song is a living thing and it was being dishonoured by that kind of behaviour and so, to care for it, I stopped it. It wasn’t fair to the song.

It reminded me of sitting at the Social Venture Institute at Hollyhock. We were in the kitchen. I was doing magic at a table. But people started grabbing at things. They were drunk. They were interrupting me and distracted. I stopped the show. They were shocked. One came up and apologized later. I think they’d all imagined that I would accomodate any level of rudeness they brought. 

It reminded me of one of my first magic mentors, Gazzo Macee who I had seen stop a number of street shows after five minutes because he could feel the tone the audience was setting wasn’t right. 

And so it was with these two people from the Toronto workshop. I would email and there would be long delays in even responding to me. In one of those cases, there were six weeks in which multiple emails were sent and no reply. The payments finally arrived but much good will was lost in the process. Perhaps it will be restored but I’m leaving that in their hands for the moment.

For the first time in years, I found myself thinking, “Maybe it’s time to put this PWYC thing to rest. Maybe people are taking it for granted too much.” I don’t need to lead live workshops. I can make better money online. There are no travel expenses, accommodations, venue fees etc.

I think that we often underestimate the consequentiality of what we do and don’t do.

We assume that what we love will be there regardless of how we treat it. Until the break up. Until we’re fired. Until that local bookstore goes under because we loved the convenience of Amazon.com instead. Until the local farmers shut their farms down because we all decided chain grocery stores were more convenient.

It makes me think of my dear colleague George Kao who brought me in to help his people for 90 minutes the other day and then sent me, thought I’d agreed to do it for free, $200 afterwards as his way of saying thanks.

It makes me think of how many indigenous traditions are based around feeding the holy in Nature with the beauty they make with their language and their hands and how many people go to Church wanting to get fed.

It makes me think of the difference a good and enthusiastic crowd makes when I perform improv with Rapid Fire Theatre in Edmonton.

It makes me think of the guests at my potlucks who help with the dishes throughout the night.

It makes me think of my dear friend Esther, a Mexican woman, who told me that when women of colour visited her they automatically began to help out with whatever chores they saw needed doing and white men who came to visit would simply sit and wait to be served with an air of entitlement. Helping out never seemed to occur to them at all. It makes me think about how I got up from my chair and began to help her with dishes once she told me that.  

My offering my live workshops on a pay what you can basis is not inevitable. Its future is not in my hands in the end. It’s in the hands of the people who attend them and how they honour or do not honour their word in what they will pay (and how honourably they act when they realize they are no longer able to honour their original commitments).

In offering the workshops in this pricing I expect more from people in their integrity than perhaps others do and I’m okay with that. I’ve got no plans on changing that. If we’re going to build a new economy, move towards the possibility of village-making, then surely our integrity in our commitments matters a great deal. 

If you love someone or a business, I ask you to imagine that the way you interact with it (or don’t) shapes its future. I ask you to imagine that the future of those you love and businesses you admire is in your hands. It’s too easy to imagine that they are inevitable. That they will always be there no matter what you do or don’t do. It’s easy to see those we admire as sort of bullet proof and not so vulnerable as we are. That they don’t feel the slights as deeply as we would. I can assure you they do. I’m not immune to it and have no plans to try to be intact (a word that means ‘untouched). 

Martha Nussbaum put it so well when she wrote,

“To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control, that can lead you to be shattered in very extreme circumstances for which you were not to blame. That says something very important about the human condition of the ethical life: that it is based on a trust in the uncertain and on a willingness to be exposed; it’s based on being more like a plant than like a jewel, something rather fragile, but whose very particular beauty is inseparable from its fragility. Being a human means accepting promises from other people and trusting that other people will be good to you. When that is too much to bear, it is always possible to retreat into the thought, “I’ll live for my own comfort, for my own revenge, for my own anger, and I just won’t be a member of society anymore.” That really means, “I won’t be a human being anymore.” You see people doing that today where they feel that society has let them down, and they can’t ask anything of it, and they can’t put their hopes on anything outside themselves. You see them actually retreating to a life in which they think only of their own satisfaction, and maybe the satisfaction of their revenge against society. But the life that no longer trusts another human being and no longer forms ties to the political community is not a human life any longer. Tragedy happens only when you are trying to live well, because for a heedless person who doesn’t have deep commitments to others, Agamemnon’s conflict [in which the king-protagonist has to choose between saving his army and saving his daughter] isn’t a tragedy… Now the lesson certainly is not to try to maximize conflict or to romanticize struggle and suffering, but it’s rather that you should care about things in a way that makes it a possibility that tragedy will happen to you. If you hold your commitments lightly, in such a way that you can always divest yourself from one or the other of them if they conflict, then it doesn’t hurt you when things go badly. But you want people to live their lives with a deep seriousness of commitment: not to adjust their desires to the way the world actually goes, but rather to try to wrest from the world the good life that they desire. And sometimes that does lead them into tragedy.”

And so, I’ll be paying attention at the future workshops and how people treat this PWYC offering. If the trend continues or expands, I’ll find some other way of proceeding that sustains me financially, respects my craft and makes my work accessible to those who need it. 

And, perhaps, I’ll need to speak to this more directly in my future workshops. Certainly this will be so. It’s a good reminder to all of us that when patterns of poor behaviour begin to emerge in our clients, it’s time for us to reflect on what systems we need in place to change that. I will need to name this pattern and say something like, “My friends… I trust you will pay an amount that is right for you and post date those payments for dates that work for you. And I understand that things change. It’s how it is. If you need to delay a payment for a while or you realize you’ll never be able to pay me… all I ask is that you tell me as soon as you know. Don’t make me follow up with you about the payments. Don’t make me send multiple emails asking you where things are at. Don’t make me chase you. If you promise a payment on June 1st, don’t wait until June 2nd to tell me it’s not coming. Or June 30th. I ask that you bring the kind of integrity to this you’d want your clients to bring to their financial commitments with you.”

Maybe it’s time to retire my PWYC pricing at my live day long and weekend long workshops.

I’m not there yet. But I’m no longer where I was a few months ago. I’m not assuming that things will continue to go as they have gone before. I can’t tell yet if this was a one time aberration or a change in the winds. I can tell you that, if this trend continued or worsened, I would pack up my pay what you can pricing and put it back in its case out of respect for it and the good people who are behaving so poorly towards it (why lead them into a situation they can’t handle and cause more shame for them?).

Maybe it’s time to retire my PWYC pricing at my live day long and weekend long workshops.

I suppose you’ll all let me know after my future workshops. 

About Tad

  • Jason Guille

    hey Tad.. thanks for the thoughts and sharing your process & experience. I wonder if you have a sense of how many people you’ve used PWYC with, over the time of your workshops? I wonder what percentage of those people have been solid, and honouring, and integral with you? If this recent experience is truly an anomaly amongst a long history of people contributing… perhaps PWYC retirement is premature. You’re not here mentioning any other significant historical breakdowns in that system?

    You might also consider tweaking to ‘value levelling’ model we created for Living the New Economy Summit – where we assert a value up front, people pay that value to participate, and then at the end people decide what the event was worth – and can ask for their money back (up to 100%) or they can ADD more money if they feel we exceeded their expectations and they received more value than they paid for. This model has been quite successful for me over many uses now, and removes the risk of not being paid at all when people say they’re going to.

    Personally, I’ve always greatly appreciated your PWYC model and I know a number of friends who have benefited from your work as a result of that contributive flexibility. Bless!

  • Yasmin Jones

    Wow that was a long tedious rant… I think you are misusing the idea of pay-what-you-can. What you can! So harassing people who made promises for future payment seems completely out of bounds for the concept of recognizing that individuals have varying abilities to pay. I’m guessing the debtors as you class them likely made a promise out of embarrassment of poorness. If they gave you nothing Tad they are still honoring the pay-what-you-can code. Let It Go it feels like you have attached all kinds of emotions and triggers to this non-event. Please develop a new plan for payment with a new name, and stop generating bad feelings for individuals who have at least come to your event. Perhaps seek some therapy to resolve those issues from the past For a guy who claims to be so clued-in, you sure miss the boat a lot.

  • Kwan Yin Healing

    You know, it’s interesting — I’m experimenting this month with a money back guarantee (by the second session). I won’t do it again because people who need the work have opted to pass and continue in long-term pain because money back isn’t good enough — they want up front free. I sometimes get people up front asking me for free things, and when I say “Sure!” and point them to the hours of free offerings on my YouTube channel, blog, and newsletter, they aren’t appreciate. So I pass.

    I tried PWYC once — and had the same experience as you, with people who undertook the program in good faith neglected to honor their end at any price unless I chased them down. So I stopped. People treat me better when I charge them full price up front.

    As a client, I know you give multiple times the value you charge, and I’ve reaped the benefits of what I paid many times over. I know most of your clients feel the same.

    Shrug off the negative vibes if you can — some people don’t understand how you work, how much integrity you put into your systems and offers, and just how much you bring to the table, to your clients, and to the world.

    Keep on keeping on. And as your magician mentor knows, sometimes you’re just playing to the wrong audience.

  • I find this a courageous share. Thank you.

  • I found Tad’s post very thoughtful. Sometimes people don’t realize the back end…all the aspects of being self-employed, the time and effort involved… and it’s good to be talking about these things. Tad is a sweetheart. He just needed communication from these people. We all should expect respect and integrity from people, to hold that standard- for our own highest well-being ad well as theirs.. and for that matter, the trajectory of humanity.