Saturday, April 30, 2016

worth

Michael: Is this about the money?
Gob: No.
Michael: What do you want?
Gob: I mean, it's not about money in the sense that I'm coming here saying, "Here, Michael. Take some money." It's just more of a "may I have some" kind of visit.

So, money. This has always been an uncomfortable topic for me, but I have to talk about it a lot. Most of my income is from freelance work. This means I set my own rates and I constantly tell people how much money they are supposed to give me at the end of the month, or after an audition, or when I'm done editing a paper, or whatever it is that I have done and in turn need to be paid for.



It has taken me years to get to the point where I feel okay about charging what I'm worth. (Actually, I'm probably still lowballing it, but I'm getting there.) There are many reasons for this: I'm a woman freelancing part time in a field that is chronically underpaid and undervalued, where every move you make is scrutinized and your reputation hangs by a thread at any time. There are also a lot of gender divides within the field of music, and areas in the "helper/nurturer" category such as teaching piano or working collaboratively, are predominantly women. Additionally, I'm a mom with lots of family responsibilities that take up a lot of my time, and my meagre earnings are not our primary income, not by a long shot. 

Furthermore, I am still living and working in the same city and community where I went to school, so even now, years after finishing, I'm still trying to shake that feeling of being a student and all the inferiority and self-consciousness that comes with that. 


There's a whole lot to unpack up there. Basically, I am still working on maintaining my professional integrity, and a lot of that has to do with how much I get paid to do stuff that I'm trained to do and am good at.


In recent months it's really been a struggle. I've had several situations in which people balk at the fee I quote, or even the request to be paid at all. I can't get into any specifics, obviously. But the really sad thing is that the most problems I've had are with people who really should know better, like other musicians and colleagues. 



I have learned that I have to stick to my principles, even when it makes me feel like a jerk. I charge a rate that I think reflects my professional training and expertise. I almost never do gigs for free. I don't have written agreements with most of the individuals I work with, but I'm thinking it's time to implement, if not an official contract, at least policies in writing so the expectations are clear on all sides. In return, I deliver. I come prepared, I show up on time, and I never, ever commit to anything I'm not absolutely sure I can handle. 


It's still hard. I've had students pay me in installments because they have to wait for loans to come through. I've had parents post-date checks until after payday. I've had people skimp on rehearsal time to save money (and then panic during performance because we haven't rehearsed enough). I've had to turn away gigs because certain individuals or entities could or would not pay a fair rate. 


This whole professional self-worth thing is so complicated. After all that, the truth is that what I earn is a fraction of Stuart's salary, even though I feel like I work all the time.  Recently, someone pointed out that my work at home has value, that being available for our children before and after school (and during, sometimes), and cooking dinner every night, and generally keeping our lives organized and running smoothly is every bit as important as going to some office and bringing home a paycheck. I appreciate that sentiment in theory, and I know that having me as the primary caretaker saved us thousands upon thousands of dollars in daycare expenses. But not paying for daycare does not equal actual income that I'm earning. That does not make me economically equal to my spouse.


I love what I do, but it contributes exactly zero dollars to a pension or retirement fund.  We have a retirement investment account set up for me that gets a contribution every month from his salary, and you can imagine how I feel about that (not very comfortable). I will have to work until I die.




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