There are certain things I just won’t do to make a dollar.
I don’t even know what all those things are. I haven’t had to find out. But one thing, right now, that I utterly refuse to do is work for peanuts out of fear or insecurity. My professional and personal ethos simply will not allow it.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve led a blessed life. Charmed, whatever you want to call it. I haven’t suffered. I’ve never been hungry, and I’ve worked hard to sustain a hunger-free life where I enjoy a high level of freedom and comfort. I’ve had times where I didn’t have much money. But even then, I didn’t struggle. I always had enough.
I can remember my twenties. My dad had just died, and funnily enough, that same day, I got fired from my job. Obviously I got over that quick – it was a sorry ass company I don’t even remember the name of. They ceased to exist not even two years later.
Even had the company been worthwhile, I had more important things on my mind. My dad was gone. And my dad was one of my ribs. He was part of the reason I never worried. I knew if I got in trouble, he’d be there.
But now he was gone, and so was my job, and I still had rent to pay on this brand new apartment I’d just rented in South Shore. Beautiful hardwood floors, lots of space, and I was depressed. I’d go on job interviews, something would remind me of my dad, and I’d start crying. People were sympathetic. They offered Kleenex and a few kind words, but you ain’t gettin’ that job, and you can’t blame them.
I kept trying though. I went on many interviews, and I’m sure people could see that I was broken. It was also fairly early in my career, the time when you take crap jobs at low pay just to get experience. It’s a time where employers take advantage of young talent, and both sides are more or less okay with it.
But I’d been doing that for a while, and I knew I was worth more. I knew I could do more, be more, in the right place. So when I was offered a job, at a lower salary than I’d had for the past two years of my working life, I said no.
My gut knew I wasn’t missing anything. There was no silver lining, no fabulous learning opportunities or beneficial new skills to acquire. I could tell the culture was crap, my assigned tasks menial. My prospective new boss seemed like he wasn’t all there. It would have been a bigger mess than I was at the time.
And frankly, I was insulted by their offer. Me with my writing skill and my degree from the best journalism school in the country. Right or wrong, I decided there and then, there were certain things I was not going to do just to make money. I was not going to accept less than what I thought I deserved. There was no point. I could not do my best work and resent the person I worked for at the same time.
And I thank God I had the luxury to take that stance. I had no children to feed, no mortgage to pay. I’d never been tested.
I still have that luxury. And I’m still thanking God for it because yesterday, a man offered me a freelance gig that I would simply describe as, disgusting. I won’t provide details. In good conscience I can only sanction so much attention to that fuckery.
Suffice to say, I would have created a crazy amount of content for a pittance, literally less than a penny a word. He planned to use that content to position himself as a thought leader, to help him secure a better, likely six-figure position. What was in it for me you ask? A shared byline.
Me. An award-winning writer and editor – a fact he knew since we’ve worked together on and off for a good 10 years – whose bylines have been read around the world for just as long.
It wasn’t even that he had the audacity to offer such a pitiful thing when he knows that I’m a full-time freelancer who makes her living ghostwriting, speaking and taking on media projects. It wasn’t that he felt comfortable suggesting that a writer/editor/journalist of my skill and experience would consider such an arrangement. That’s what clients do. They try and get a deal, and you either tell them no, negotiate, or you accept what’s being offered.
What blew me away was my reaction to him. Instead of laughing down the line and efficiently and with considerable charm exiting that call with a polite, “good luck in your search,” I said nothing. He went on talking, and I continued to listen. For a moment, a brief moment where fear and insecurity reared their ugly, pointed heads and whispered filth in my ear, I actually considered doing it.
And that blew me away.
I’m still shook that for even a few minutes, I considered taking far, far less than I’m worth, just to make a few bucks. It’s why I’m writing this.
It’s why I’m saying – to working women especially – whether you work for yourself or someone else, you have got to have a strong sense of self. You have to cultivate it, nurture it, prop it up, build it, feed it, protect it. If you don’t you’ll end up shook like I was. That after all I’ve accomplished, it would even occur to me to consider such an unsavory, unsatisfactory arrangement? Shook might be the least thing you’ll be.
It’s like Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of VaynerMedia, said in a recent YouTube video, “I want that balance of ego and humility, rock stardom and just another sales person trying to make it happen. There’s some health in those polar opposites, having the humility to know that you’re not shit, and having the confidence to know that you’re special.”
That’s important. You have to have confidence in yourself, in your abilities, in your capacity to provide considerable value to others. You have to know your worth. You have to believe in what you’re doing and in who’s doing it. Otherwise you may lock yourself into agreements where you spend a ton of time and effort for very little reward.
You’ve gotta have deal breakers. Otherwise you may begin to think that enough is enough for you, and that’s death. That’s accepting that your $.67 to every man’s $1 is actually okay despite all your hard work.
So, no. There are certain things I just won’t do to make a dollar. I don’t even know what all of them are. But I do know that at this level in my game, creating a ton of fabulous content for someone else for far less than my established rate, is one of those things.