As a self-described Millennial, I know how difficult it is to live paycheck-to-paycheck and to say "no" to potential money.
I grew up watching the American Middle Class disintegrate and entered adulthood with student loans I knew would be next-to-impossible to pay off. The thought of graduating from massage school even further in debt triggered more fears: that I wouldn't find a job or would be injured to the point that I couldn't work. It wasn't even wholly about the money -- it was about the emotional and time investment, where I had devoted a year of my life to learning this trade.
The thought of it all going down the drain was -- and still is -- terrifying.
I made a lot of mistakes those first few years, and still make mistakes from time to time. We talk a lot in school about contraindications -- reasons why we shouldn't massage a client. We also talk a lot about setting and maintaining professional boundaries. Against my better judgment and standard medical recommendations, I have said "yes" to certain clients when I should have said "no," for fear that I would lose out on that client's business, a paycheck, or even my entire job.
For the sake of your clients, your employers, and your own reputation and conscience, ask yourself if giving this massage or bending your boundaries is truly worth the risk.
I have massaged clients who admitted to drinking alcohol before their massage session. They often felt worse afterward and never came back -- so, I lost their business, anyway.
I have massaged clients who triggered mental red flags during a session. Even though I kept it strictly professional, investing up to an hour of my time and physical energy on someone who didn't appreciate it made me feel resentful afterward.
I have taken same-day bookings on my days off with new, random clients. These sessions often ended poorly for various reasons (i.e. red flags) and, again, triggered resentment. It wasn't worth it, and now I don't do same-day bookings for new, random clients.
I have massaged clients who had various, obvious medical issues. I tried to take precautions and maintained frequent communication during the session. They would seem to feel okay afterward, only for me to get a phone call later that week saying they'd been in a lot of pain since the session. My anxiety would spike and I started questioning myself as a professional. While maybe their worsened condition wasn't because of my work, it all could have been avoided if I'd trusted my gut and said, "no."
In these cases, it was so not worth it: it wasn't worth the money, it wasn't worth the physical effort, and it wasn't worth the mental and emotional toll on myself.
There have been a few times where I did successfully say, "No," and it was totally worth it:
One of my long-time clients was in a car accident and sustained a concussion. She tried to come in for a massage with a colleague who wasn't comfortable performing it and turned her down; she wanted to see me and I said, "let's wait a week for you to heal before we do the massage." Despite her obvious displeasure and the threat of taking her business elsewhere, I held my ground and convinced her to give it time. It wasn't until after the concussion passed that she realized she'd been in an altered mental and physical state at the time. She apologized. She's still my client to this day.
A gentleman came to the salon I worked at, asking to speak to the massage therapist. I was the only therapist employed at the time and didn't come into work until later that day, so the staff took his name and number. I was so busy that night that I forgot to return his call. The next day, there was a nasty voicemail on our machine where this gentleman went on an angry tirade about his money apparently not being "green enough" for us and that he was taking it elsewhere. At first, I hung my head with guilt, ready to call and apologize and offer for him to come in. After several minutes of thinking about it, I found my fire and said, "No -- no, I'm not going to apologize. He didn't need to speak to us like that over a simple mistake." My boss took the reins and called him, telling him we didn't appreciate the tone of his message. He hung up.
I took a mobile massage gig that included a 40-minute drive into the city and took me away from my office every other Saturday. The clients were only able to do 30-minute sessions, and I often only had two or three. There were many variables at play that made this gig a poor fit for me: my car was falling apart and I felt stressed, spread too thin, and wasn't breaking even -- financially or otherwise. I did this gig for about two months before I had to say, "I'm sorry, I need to take a break." By saying no, I was able to restructure where I was spending my time and energy.
What You Gain From Saying No:
- You have time and energy that can be used for finding or working on your ideal clients.
- You open a space for that ideal client to fill -- getting their regular business helps give you a sustained income, and allows you to do work that feels good to you.
- Should some terrible circumstance befall that client with medical contraindications, your conscience will be clear. (Yes, it might have been nice to make them feel good for a little while, but would it have been worth the risk of making them feel worse?)
- You have the opportunity to educate new or inexperienced clients about why you need to say no -- and you can give them the opportunity to come back another day when they're better prepared.
And please know that it is always, always perfectly acceptable to say, "No," for your own sake.