Sunday, November 20, 2011

Resolution: To Make Money...

Stop laboriously picking up peanuts from today.

A short and sweet resolution, because it's important.

Yesterday, I tied up a project of the kind I used to take on regularly. Low pay, relatively easy and enjoyable work, and slow going. Painstaking — which I tend to gravitate to. Painfully slow — because almost always revealed to be far more involved than it sounded on first correspondence. Painfully underpaid too, because the publishing industry has its own caste system, and freelancers are the scapegoats of it.

We get scalped, though often we do the lion's share of work on a book, save the writing of it.

We get condescended to, though we often end up with a clearer understanding of the texts published this year than the house editor ever will.

We get devalued because, ironically, we do it for the love of it and because we can't bear to see a hatchet job done on a manuscript with possibilities, and because in-house editors hardly ever edit any more, so that they are in danger of forgetting — or worse, never learning — what exactly it takes to do the job and do it well: the time, the effort, and yes, even the knowledge, both of the language and of the subject.

But we keep at it. For love and for money.

So why am I quitting?

Because I realized I can't afford a love so draining — emotionally, intellectually, temporally or financially. And conversely, because love can't be bought for peanuts. It's a costly investment. Beginning with the down payment of some respect.

I thought those few thousand rupees mattered too much to let go of, mattered enough that I could put up with less respect. I lost sight of the opportunity costs. No, I hadn't had to turn down too much other work to do it. Yes, I sometimes often let the house become a shambles because I was snowed under with this work I 'loved'. I had let myself become that bugbear: a workaholic, who has forgotten where work stops and other fun starts. And I had sacrificed time in which to find more fulfilling work, and skills that would help me grow into the life I wanted.

However, after many cutbacks and setbacks over the last several months, I have come to realize that no matter how messy things are, they aren't so desperate yet as I've made them appear to myself over the last couple of years. Which means I should not have been scrabbling for pennies (or paise); I should instead have been looking for meaningful, enjoyable work that also pays what it is worth in terms of my time and effort, and — dare I say it? — my expertise.

What was needed was not for me to scramble to do everything (I thought) I wanted to do. What was needed was for me to prioritize and do what was important to me.

I left it rather late — until lack of resources squeezed most other modes of procrastination out of my hands. But having to buckle down — to less impulsive food purchases; fewer wardrobe additions; no more books and magazines; hardly any it-all-adds-up nights at the movies and afternoons at coffee shops and fast-food dinners — and making do with less forced me to focus.

And once I focused on what was important, I saw in a few short months what had eluded me for several years lately — I saw what was really missing from my life.

I thought what was missing was money, because money can buy freedom. What I was really missing was freedom from constraints. I thought I needed to just throw money at my limitations, until they disappeared. Turns out all I had to do was live within my limits to have the life I had wanted all along — a life that was not missing opportunity or time in which to explore a new one. Once I started to work with my limitations, I felt liberated — because I wasn't wasting money and energy on the limitations, I could spend them on things that mattered.

It wasn't just money I had been wasting. I had been wasting time too — it's just that no one bills you for your time. (Well, not yet — but just you wait till someone figures it out.) And a lot of the time, I had been wasting time chasing 'easy money' — money it took far too long to earn... so long that it was devalued.

Because money that steals time also steals opportunity. It steals fun. It steals possibilities: A walk in the park; a run around the neighbourhood at dusk. Time to sing a song; time to sit down with friends. The leisure to enjoy the home I worked so hard to have; the leisure to curl up with a book in the sun. The chance to make time for family; the chance to make them a gift.

Too short-sighted a focus on earning money has robbed me of a chance to live my life a little more.

I can and should use my time better. To develop new skills. To take time for loved ones and loved activities. To give my brain a break from worry and drudgery. To stop and smell the flowers — really.

Making money should be an empowering thing. Not a stultifying situation I have to be stuck in.

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