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Defining worth (is it always in dollars and cents?)

With tax time coming and bills never ending, money is on a lot of our minds right now.

It’s weird being a freelancer – in my industry, but I’m sure in a lot of yours as well. Whenever you work from project to project, you spend a lot of time worrying. Whether it’s when the next great assignment will come, or when you’ll get paid for that assignment from six months ago (believe it or not, it happens sometimes) – you are always just a little bit uneasy.

And then there’s the reality that your worth is always in question.

I was doing a little online window shopping last night — my own way of decompressing when there’s no wine around – and I realized that this shirt shares a really important message.

Love Don’t Pay the Bills Tee ($40), is rather blunt. And I’m sure it’s about how love is great but can’t really end all our life issues – but it also speaks of the world that we, as freelancers, are in — and it’s a little bit about the loss of innocence, sadly.

I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to make a living doing what I’m doing – doing what I love. Making a living as an artist in any field is not easy. I have musician friends, visual art friends, fellow writer friends – many of them are living hand to mouth or ended up in a completely different field just because ultimately, they had rent to pay and passion wasn’t quite cutting it.

But I do (pretty much) make a living doing what I do. It’s hard. I live in an apartment I’ve very much outgrown. I worked from an ICU bed because I was petrified on losing out on a project. I met a deadline the day of my grandmother’s funeral because I was told I had no choice other than to. I’ve spent days in glorious locations in far away lands sneaking away to find a wi-fi spot so I can make sure to answer an important email. (Which often doesn’t end up being that important after all.)

And people – the people who do not live in my world and understand how stressful a lot of it is, how you are often forced to be “on” – how even trips to beautiful lands with beautiful sites are not vacations but very much work – tell me how lucky I am. A friend once looked at my box of beauty surplus and she was like DO YOU KNOW THE WORTH OF THIS? It’s like in a way you make double the income you think you do because you never have to buy these things.

Except…sadly, my landlord — a lovely elderly gentleman who just raised my rent, again — does not accept night cream as payment. Can’t imagine why. Time Warner Cable — lovely as they are to come to my apartment two weeks after I reported a problem — didn’t see a flat iron as a fair exchange.

I know, makes no sense to me either.

So while the stuff in my life is lovely -and something I’m grateful for — nothing really replaces the value of currency. Currency that is universally accepted.

A lesson I learned many years ago from a dear friend – himself also an independent contractor in an artistic field — in our line of work, whether you are writing articles, editing content, or engaging in some sort of partnership – your time is a currency. By agreeing to ANY job, you are trading time for money – and it’s important for you to set your own worth forward by making sure you are doing work that’s worth your time.

Many of us left “day jobs” attracted by the promise of doing fulfilling work on our own terms. But along with that independence comes a dizzying array of decisions. One of the toughest of these is how to price your time. And what to do when we have to react to someone way underpricing said time.

The other day, I was on the phone with another freelancer friend, and she reminded me if you don’t value your time, no one else is going to. It came up because I was crying about one job — a site I’ve written for in varying capacities for many years — who had recently greatly increased their asks in terms of editorial responsibilities and yet not increased my fee.
ALY! My friend had scolded me: You are prestige, stop letting people treat you like you are drugstore.

It’s actually a problem I face in all areas of my life – from romantic to professional – and I see her point. But yet, I had countered, doesn’t our situation at the moment dictate just how “valuable” we are? Sure, we can afford to blow off opportunities that don’t pay respect to our experience and skills when we can afford to pay our bills, but when we’re currently in said state of hand to mouth, do we have no choice but to let people get away with things we know they shouldn’t, just so as to not spite ourselves and sacrifice the cash flow we do have? When you are the master of your own destiny, as we freelancers are,  we can’t help fear the day that we won’t have any work coming in at all. And yet, if we undersell ourselves, we just may end up miserable and broke anyway – and disillusioned to the one thing that we were doing because we were passionate.

I decided to broach the issue with the site I’d been contributing to – since way before I’d even entered the blogosphere, mind you, and drafted a letter about why I thought my increased editorial responsibilities necessitated a reevaluation of my salary. These are among the topics I considered before writing the note:

The main ingredients to making yourself more valuable are your skills, experience and reputation. What have you done – for the site, for the publication, for the magazine, for the song writers collective – anything – that shows your dedication, yes, but that you believe the work you do is good enough to invest in. If it’s lacking, consider some sort of certification course in your field.

Going the extra mile for your boss is something that’s always a great idea, whether you are on staff or freelance – things like submitting assignments early and doing things without being reminded matter. Each time you go above and beyond for them, you become more valuable in their eyes. And if you don’t, you may not have had much value to start out with. This should make them feel like you’re on their side, like you want them and their business to succeed. They’ll view you as a team player instead of just someone working for a paycheck. Team players meet deadlines even if they are one day out of a coma, don’t they? That’s right. (Yes, I’m crazy. But the point is, I did it.)

So, guys, in any field of work you are in — do what you love, but love who you are, and stand up for yourself. Make yourself be heard, and listen to your heart. And thanks for listening to mine — will let you know how it turns out!



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