I’m an educator: I advise clients around the globe, speak to almost any audience that will have me, write on a myriad of important topics, and contribute to open source. Still, I’m often asked — occasionally by total strangers — if they can “pick my brain.”

No. Whether the price paid is a coffee, beer, entree, or night out on the town, my answer remains unchanged.

It’s not that I’m stingy with time or knowledge — anyone who knows me will, I hope, say otherwise. But it’s arrogant to assume my years of hard-won knowledge can be yours for so little. And while it may be difficult to believe, this answer isn’t fueled by arrogance. Every day, I wake up aiming to procure useful knowledge, then immediately distribute it to my clients and friends.

My central concern is how the question itself assumes a right to whatever knowledge I possess. This assumption transforms me from a human being into a public file cabinet of available knowledge, where anyone can reach in, riffle through, pull out the required information, and discard the rest. It’s degrading, mentally taxing, and often, leaves me in a creative valley. I doubt that I’m alone.

You may reply with an unoriginal catchphrase, citing that creative work is a two-way street. It is, but mental energy aside, your session may not fit into my schedule. If I have a choice to pour myself into writing, a consulting project, or another task that pushes me closer to creative happiness and work-life equilibrium — I have an obligation to decline your proposed meeting. Passion drives my hustle, and that’s something you may never fully comprehend.

It’s not that I’m ignoring you, but rather the result of a conscious choice to focus on what matters to me. Like my friend (and inspiration for this post) Marcus Whitney, I ask inquisitors to narrow their focus before I engage.

I’ll gladly answer a handful of questions that cover a specific topic, especially if that answer can be recorded and disseminated for the general public. That’s how I return value. But ask if I’ll join you on an hour-plus search for relevance in a field where you have no experience? No thanks.

Friends, who are actively investing in my life or business, I will help without reservation. Mentors or reliable business colleagues receive equally kind treatment. But everyone else should pay up, since my time and words are being used to improve someone else’s life or business.

This stance is not a luxury, my friends. It’s essential. In order to become, and remain successful at any form of creative work, you must master time (not the other way around).

Time is currency, energy, and power. It’s money, in the very literal sense. It’s art that hasn’t yet been realized. It’s an open-ended book, waiting to be filled with stories that inspire others who come after you. Yet, so many of us squander this precious resource on people who don’t appreciate it.

You must stand guard. The inquiries will never stop, but at least, in the future, you’ll have a track record of creative successes — owned by you, and you alone. Invest in yourself, that’s where the glory lies. And to think: all you had to do was just say “no.”