Know Your Worth
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How to stop shortchanging yourself
“I will never sell myself short again.” I made that promise, aloud, while sitting in my living room alone.
I spoke those words as I pressed the “Save and submit” button, sending an article I had written to what I will call “The Website.”
That article earned me a cool $65. It took me two-and-a-half hours to write and another one-and-a-half hours to edit.
Do the math.
Yep, $16.25 an hour. Minus self-employment taxes. Minus regular taxes. I cleared, at most, $10.75 an hour.
Let me give you a little background:
- I’ve been writing professionally for 15 years.
- I have an MFA in creative writing from a program that was, at that time, ranked in the top five in the country.
- I’ve published two anthologies, and I’ve written three books of my own—one memoir and two poetry collections.
- I’ve taught in both undergraduate and graduate writing programs.
- I run my own business providing writing, editing, and coaching services for companies, nonprofits, and individuals.
I share all this not to brag about my accomplishments but to clarify exactly how foolish I can be when it comes to respecting my own worth.
With an advanced degree and 15 years’ experience in my field, I knowingly and willingly agreed to work for $10.75 an hour.
Why did I do that?
When I signed up for the gig, I would have said that the topic sounded fun, the editors are nice to work with, and it would be another clip to add to my portfolio—all justifications that sound relatively legit.
In hindsight, though, I believe I did it out of fear, bowing to that nagging inner voice that tells me all kinds of horror stories:
- I’m a Solo Mom with big bills to pay. I need this gig.
- It’s bad luck to say no to potential income. I need this gig.
- What if no one else ever hires me again? I need this gig.
- This might lead to something better. I need this gig.
- They like my writing, and they give me compliments. I need this gig.
- What if I’m suddenly incapable of bringing in more than $10.75 an hour elsewhere? I need this gig.
- What if all other revenue streams suddenly disappear? I need this gig.
Sure, in accepting that assignment, I gained a couple things: I earned $65 and the praise of my editor.
But if I had honored my own worth and declined the assignment, what more could I have gained? Time to build my business, time to set up more lucrative gigs, time to . . .
You get the picture.
As a Solo Mom, it’s easy to get caught up in “I can’t afford to”:
- I can’t afford to follow my dreams; I need to put food on the table.
- I can’t afford to leave this lousy relationship; I don’t want to be lonely.
- I can’t afford self-care; I don’t have the money or time.
- I can’t afford to take a career risk; I need to plan for a secure retirement.
- I can’t afford to go back to school; I have too many other responsibilities.
Any of those sound familiar?
Do you know what we Solo Moms really can’t afford to do? Sell ourselves short.
When we sell ourselves short, we cut off opportunities to learn, get stronger, and grow. When we sell ourselves short, we shortchange our kids, who benefit from watching us operate as empowered women making a positive impact in our communities and beyond. When we sell ourselves short, we give up on our greatest task as human beings: to discover and share our unique gifts with the world.
And no one wants to do that, right?
So, how do we stop selling ourselves short? Here’s a plan:
1. Take a close look. In what ways are you selling yourself short? In what ways are you interrupting your own empowerment? In what ways are you underselling your talents and gifts?
No really, take a moment (remember, you can’t afford not to), and write down your “shortchanges.”
It could be something that happens at work (e.g., you shy away from sharing your own ideas). It could be something that happens socially (e.g., you befriend people who take but don’t give). It could be something that happens in the area of self-care (e.g., you find the time and money to support your kids’ hobbies, but you don’t invest in your own).
Spend 15 minutes writing your list. Even if you think you have nothing more to say, keep writing. You might surprise yourself.
2. Make a commitment. When you’ve written down all the “shortchanging” examples you can think of, choose one—just one for now—and commit to making self-affirming choices in that area.
For example, I have a new rule. When it comes to setting my rates for freelance writing, coaching, and teaching, I’m setting the rate where it belongs—no cringing, no backpedaling, no bowing to fear. My services cost what they cost. I’m worth it.
And so are you.
3. Share. We’re more likely to honor our commitments if we speak them aloud. So share your self-affirming commitment with someone who will support you and hold you accountable to fulfilling it.
If it feels appropriate, you might share your process with your children also, not to rely on them for support but to show them what it looks like to set a goal and go after it, even when you feel a little shaky at first.
4. Notice. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re making your self-affirming choices. It can feel pretty awkward at first. It can be a fake-it-till-you-make-it thing. But ultimately, standing for what you are worth builds confidence.
The first time I quoted my real rate to a client, I felt anxious. But I pretended like it was no big thing. I voided my voice of any tremor of apology. I named my price, and my client didn’t blink. He signed on immediately. I believed I was worth it, so he did, too.
As you practice self-affirmation in the chosen area of your life, you might begin to notice a new confidence spilling over into other areas as well.
5. Celebrate. As that sense of empowerment spreads through your life, give yourself a moment to celebrate the changes you’re making. Raise a glass (or a sippy cup) with your confidant, with your kids, or even by yourself.
Because you know what? You’re worth it.
Cheryl Dumesnil, ESME’s LGBTQ Resource Guide, is an author, educator, writing coach, all-around do-gooder, and one of two moms separately coparenting two amazing boys. You can follow her on Twitter at @cheryladumesnil.
Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.