How Freelancing Helped Me Discover My Self-Worth — And Ask for the Pay I Deserve
October 24, 2018
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We all have regrets — money regrets, that is. But, like all mistakes, we wouldn't be who — or where — we are today without them. In our "Money Fails" series, real people share how they bounced back from financial slip-ups, and what they learned along the way.
Here, an eager grad accidentally sets herself up for a lower-income trajectory.
I was in fourth grade when I first told my parents I wanted to be a writer. Salary projections weren’t yet on my radar. Later, when I discovered a love for politics and social justice and went looking for a career that combined both passions, I knew it wouldn’t be the most lucrative profession. But being fulfilled was a trade-off I was willing to make.
Starting out with these low expectations had long-term effects on my income and morale. It wasn’t until I started getting serious about freelance writing that I realized I could have both — a well-paying career and personal fulfillment. Here’s how freelancing helped me discover my self-worth and ask for the pay I deserve.
When I graduated from college in 2011, I wasn’t concerned with my starting salary. The economy was still reeling from the 2008 financial crisis, so when I was offered a $10/hour internship at a newspaper, I gladly took it. The low salary meant moving back in with my parents, but I had no other offers.
After that internship ended I again found myself unemployed and floundering. When I was finally offered my first full-time position at a nonprofit where I’d been volunteering, I eagerly accepted the $29,000 salary without trying to negotiate. I just felt lucky to be employed.
I didn’t know it then, but that desperation set me up for a lower-income trajectory. I could only negotiate a marginal increase each year, meaning three years into my nonprofit job I was still making less than my peers — around $33,000. While I was thankful for the experience and truly enjoyed the work, I started to feel stuck.
Looking for a change, I started considering graduate and law schools — even applying and receiving acceptances to a few law programs — but realized these would only be a distraction from what I’d always wanted to do: write.
So I reached out to some of my colleagues from journalism school and started asking questions about getting published. I joined online writing groups and connected with freelance writers all over the country who graciously offered their help and expertise, as well as insight into their surprisingly substantial incomes.
I landed my first writing assignment for $50, which I knew was low, but since I was just starting out and needed to build up my portfolio, I accepted without question. As I got more clips, I started negotiating with editors while also pitching to publications I knew paid well. The more money editors offered me, the more I knew my work was deserving of decent compensation, and I began to get a feel for standard rates in the industry.
Two years later, I love writing every day. I’ve also significantly increased my income in a short amount of time: After selling my first piece in 2016 for $50, I made a little under $3,000 my first year. This year, I made $3,500 in a month.
Now that I know what my work is worth, I’m more selective about which assignments I take. I say no to low-paying jobs because I recognize the value of my time and my work.
I never realized that my low salary made me feel small until I saw my income make a difference for my family. We’ve been able to finance vacations and purchase a new home, and my husband is relieved that he isn’t shouldering the financial burden alone. Making a significant contribution to our family’s goals and knowing the work I do is valued (and duly compensated) has given me a pride I never experienced before.