What’s in it for me?

To be honest I blame my Church of England primary school. I spent my formative years being told to serve, to help others, to put others first and no one ever really talking about when it might be ok to put a hand up and say ‘I am the person who needs helping’ or when it might be ok to prioritise personal need. I internalised the lot. As a consequence I have a long history of giving more than is good for me.

The question ‘what’s in it for me?’ is one I need to be asking. Not least because there’s a significant percentage of people who just don’t value what’s freely given. I may be trying to do gift economy, but if I deal primarily with people who aren’t, then I end up giving, and giving, and giving more whilst being treated like something of lesser worth because I haven’t put a price tag on it. This is not clever. I’ve done it repeatedly, persuaded that my work is needed and it’s totally reasonable to have nothing come back to me.

I spent time in a space some years ago that had a mantra of service. Give, and give more. Give and don’t ask for anything in return. Don’t ask for recognition, or support, or status, don’t ask to be acknowledged or valued because that’s about ego. Give. Keep giving. I ended up exhausted, broken and useless.

What’s in it for me? It doesn’t have to be all about the money although it’s nice to be able to afford to live. I have to remind myself that I’m as entitled as anyone else to be paid for what I do. However, many of the things that need help have no budget. So, I’ve been working out what has to be in it for me if I’m not being paid for what I do.

I have to believe in the project. I have to see its innate worth and see why there’s no funding, and that it’s fair. If I’m inspired enough, that is enough to get me moving and keep me viable.

I have to feel that the work I do is useful and valuable. Not someone else’s hollow vanity project, not pointless effort for the sake of effort, not being set up to fail to do impossible things for someone else’s amusement (yes, I’ve done all of that and worse).

I need to feel valued and respected. If I am reduced to my utility and not allowed the space to be a person, it’s not good for me. If I am treated as worthless because I’m unpaid, it’s not a good space to be in.

Something should be flowing back to me. That might be opportunities, exposure (I know, it’s often what we die of) chance to do things around the work that will enable me to earn money (as with contributing to events). It might be that what I get out of it is companionship and the chance to do cool things with awesome people. It might be inherently good fun, or something I haven’t done before where the experience will be interesting, or will teach me something valuable. It might allow me to do something I want to do as a trade off.

I hold some responsibility for what’s in my history because I’ve been slow to recognise unfair setups. I’m not good at holding the idea that I deserve better. I have been easily persuaded that I’m so useless, so worthless that I should be glad people want to bother with me enough to exploit me. I’ve dealt with people who, rather than thanking me for the effort, told me I should be grateful for having been given the space. No more. There are better people out there, and better ways of getting things done.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “What’s in it for me?

  • Anarchivist

    As always, I so appreciate how well you articulate the complexities around situations! So much public discourse is based on either/or simplifications, which is frustrating and unhelpful, and your ability to see through that stuff was one of the things that first struck me about your writing. Anyway, thanks for this post. Just recently there was another round online of people preaching how we all need to get paid for our work, we shouldn’t do things for free, etc. I’m in this same bind — obviously I need to eat, so I need to participate in the existing economy, and get paid, and be valued, and not be exploited — but I also want to get past the idea that things are only valuable if they’re profitable. I started out as a poet, and oddly, I have occasionally been paid for that, which I wouldn’t have guessed, but if I’d waited to get paid, I’d never have written. Right now I’m finishing up a lengthy non-fiction research project, and again, if I’d only have done it with a grant, or funding, it wouldn’t exist. I started it because I wanted to, and because I believed in it, and the idea that I shouldn’t have done it without getting paid is ridiculous. The reality is full of conundrums! This post gives me some guidance, though, in keeping on track, judging individual situations, and since I do take part in gift economies, a reminder not to do that with too much idealism, since that can lead to disillusion.

    • Nimue Brown

      thank you for sharing that. And yes, what we create when we only do what someone will pay us to do… is often only things that look like things people have already done. if no one takes a risk, nothing new happens. Not a way to be, i feel.

  • Jen - Liminal Luminous

    Oh yes, I know this one and am constantly giving till I’m exhausted. I have a chronic illness, I ended up in a wheelchair from utterly utterly getting exhausted. Still I haven’t learnt my lesson, you would think that I would have by now.

    I think it’s also something we are taught as women, far more than boys are. I hope to learn to look after myself a lot better.

    • Nimue Brown

      Here’s to the finding of better ways. I think its easier to see when someone else does it, as well, and we can learn to rethink through empathy with each other perhaps, where going it alone doesn’t work so well….

  • John Davis

    I also have suffered from the “others first” mantra. Back in the time of my being a C/E parish minister I took myself, and my family, to the brink of destruction. It is not healthy, nor holy, to exploit family or your own self by becoming totally exhausted…hindsight is a marvelous thing! The problem was that it was expected that others first, self (or one’s family) last was very much the way of it. I have seen so many good clergy broken down, clerical marriages destroyed and children of the vicarage left feeling uncared for and under-valued…I was but a whisker away from all of these myself. I broke free of the ‘curse’ just in time. I now set very firm limits on what I’m prepared to do….as the makeup advert says: “You’re worth it”. John /l\

  • heedful moon

    Boy, can I relate with this, and with all of the comments already posted above. During my years-long involvement with a spiritual community many years ago, I constantly used up more energy than I really had to spend, thinking that this was somehow the right thing to do, and I burned out over and over again. I often wonder why it is that we find it so hard to extend the same kindness and space to ourselves that we try so much to extend to others.

    • Nimue Brown

      I’m reading Brendan Myers Reclaiming Civilization at the moment, it turns out to be highly pertinent on this subject. Most of us are pre-disposed to co-operate, we get sorely messed about when encountering the people who are inclined to exploit that.

      • heedful moon

        Thanks for the alert to this new book. I just looked at its table of contents on Amazon, and it looks exactly like what I need to be reading at this point. Thanks again!

  • Anarchivist

    I’m going to look that book up too!

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