As a creative, the most important lesson that I’ve learned is to nurture my gift and to value my own time and labor – even when no one else does.
What often happens when you’re good at something is it seems effortless — a natural talent even— to others which often results in them devaluing your work because hey, it’s *easy* for you to do and therefore not “real” work. People don’t understand that making something look effortless only happens after a lot of dedicated and disciplined practice.
I had a very recent experience with someone that highlighted this.
In September of last year a young woman was looking for assistance with an admission essay. Because she was a young, Black woman that I knew from professional circles, I volunteered my editor skills. I ended up doing a full developmental edit, completely restructuring and creating a new outline for her and guiding her step-by-step in creating a new essay that told her compelling story and nailed all of the requirements. It was a damn good essay. She got a coveted interview and was ultimately accepted into her dream medical school. While I didn’t charge her for my work, it was still costly for me to do in terms of time spent on multiple drafts/restructuring and in the effort of creation.
About 6 months later, she contacted me again because she needed my editing skills to create three more essays. She offered to pay me (not something I’d ever discussed with her) and after looking at the scope of the project and my own availability, I agreed to the terms she offered and I again, did a developmental edit and guided her through the process, meeting her scholarship deadline.
I sent her my PayPal info, but she didn’t pay me. I gave it a week and spoke to her about it again and then, at her request, sent my bank account info. Still no payment. I sent a PayPal invoice 6 weeks after that, no payment. A couple of days ago, I resent the invoice. After 2.5 months, she sent me a snarky message and later that night, the $450 she’d agreed to.
Other than being trifling, her ultimate problem was that she didn’t value the labor or time that I had given to create those essays. She didn’t understand the amount of effort it takes to scope and restructure, to mold a piece into coherence. She didn’t care to either.
In a far-more-polite-than-she-deserved message, I reminded her exactly how good I am at what I do and the reason why she came to me in the first place. I simply posted the first draft of her initial essay and then the final draft that I had midwifed into being. I told her:
“I’m good at what I do and my work is valuable. I don’t need your confirmation (or future business) to know that.”
You’ve got to believe in your gifts. Because your skills and talent can help people get the things that they most desire and they will still tell you that your work is worthless – that it means nothing. Don’t believe them. What you do has great value —what looks effortless to those outside is always costly in terms of your labor efforts, time and energy expenditure. So get money and don’t feel bad about charging folks for your labor or sending an invoice.