Of all the lines I have difficulty drawing, by far the worst is knowing where to draw the line on disclosing personal information to people. You know that person that's always telling you way more than you wanted to know? That's me. My pie hole is constantly flapping. I usually end up sharing far more information with others than I intend to, and frequently leave conversations with people I barley know with my hand firmly slapping my forehead thinking "why did I tell them THAT?!". Sometimes it's irrelevant information, like how no matter what I do I can't seem to enjoy the taste of grapefruit, which is unfortunate because my fruit cup came with 2 pieces in it which ruined the flavour of the whole thing. Other times the information I share is not so irrelevant, like how much money I make illustrating a book. I was taught that it is inappropriate to talk about one's finances, or ask about anyone else's. The ease with which I open up to people about my life leaves me wondering if I'm repeatedly crossing a line that I can't see.
The problem gets even more complicated when you throw more standards into the mix. I have a number of business contacts who I deal with on a regular basis. Not only do I have to try to be appropriate on a personal level, but now I have to learn how to be appropriate on a professional level as well, which is even more formal than personal. Here's where my life turns into a swirling pit of confusion: I have a really friend-like relationship with one of my editors. When I go home to Newfoundland, I visit her on "business" but always stay and talk to her for an hour or two about other things. We shoot the shit. We canoodle. In this circumstance, all my rules are thrown out the window, and my yapping maw runs on its own.
Here's an example of a confusing event. I recently had to ask for time off from one of the series of kids books I illustrate. I need to put more time into my business, I want to develop and produce a line of accessories, and I'm trying to save for a house. What it all comes down to is that I need more time and money, and the books are stripping me of both those things. When I do a book, I basically work for free, living well below the Canadian poverty line for 3 to 5 months, and collect nickles and dimes a year later. I can tell this to my close friends, but it's not cool to whine about money to your professional contacts! But, I did have to give her a reason for needing more time, and that reason is money. It was really difficult trying to find a tactful way to say "I can't work for you because I'm poor".
My favorite book about freelancing, My So-Called Freelance Life, by Michelle Goodman, states that when dealing with a client, one should not divulge the the stupid banalities of one's life. If you need more time, say it, but don't go on and on about how your dog got sick, and you had insomnia for a week, and last night you had a bad dream, and then this morning you had diarrhea so you can't get the work done by Friday, and could you maybe pretty please have a little extension. At the very most, you could say "due to personal circumstances", or "family emergency". Such vagaries convey the sense of urgency, without making you seem like an amateur hack job who sucks at making up excuses and at life as well.
Being perceived as a professional isn't just about how efficiently you perform the task assigned to you, but also on your attitude and the manner in which you present yourself. It is hard to keep all this in mind when you aren't sure whether you're talking to a friend or a business contact, but perhaps it's best to err on the side of caution and talk about your gastric emergencies with your mom instead. As for my dealings with my editors, I'll just try to keep the business emails businessy, and the personal emails...um... less about diarrhea and my taste preferences regarding citrus fruit.