I’m at my computer, halfway through my to-do list for the morning – all I have left to do is update the website, create a couple of new graphics, edit a press release, clean the bathroom, eat some toast, wash my hair, create and send out a newsletter, and return or organize about 30 or 40 emails. The emails, having to do with bookings, coachings, rehearsals and ordering of supplies, will require auxiliary work of their own before I can respond to them. As I lick some marmalade (made it myself) off my finger, the phone rings. I pick it up (mistake number 1).
It’s a person I know in show business and after the standard opening chatter, she says, “What are you doing next Tuesday? I want to buy you lunch and pick your brain.”
I get an instant headache. What’s even worse is the fact that she doesn’t even know she’s imposing on me. She may even think that her saying those words is a sort of left-handed compliment. “You, Cheryl, have a brain so full of good stuff that I want to pick some of it.”
No, thank you. I don’t want my brain picked. The very words “pick your brain” make me flinch inside. It’s like some magpie with a sharp beak is up there looking at all the shiny bits lodged in my gray matter. Like my head is a bin at a flea market, and hopefully I’ve got some stuff in there that she could use.
I have learned how to respond to the “pick your brain” request. If I like the person, and they deserve a break, I often say, “I do so dislike that phrase, ‘pick your brain.’ How about this? You tell me what you are trying to do, and if I have an idea, I’ll share it with you. We can spend up to 15 minutes at this. After that, we’re on the clock and I charge $75 an hour – and that’s my extra-special friends’ rate.”
If I don’t know the person well enough to make them a special deal, I cut straight to the hourly rate, and hand them my business card.
I’m happy to say that I have rarely been misunderstood when I offer these responses. Most people appreciate me being straightforward. I like to think that they will think twice before using that unfortunate phrase again. I believe they understand the implicit message, that advice one shares, after years of work at one’s craft, is worth something – that other people’s time and knowledge are worth something.
For those of you who might not know this already, the best way to get advice, free or otherwise, is to say, “I would love to ask your advice. What is your fee for a consultation?”