I had this friend in college who was a talented artist and cartoonist. He was celebrated, even, on our campus for the strip he did for our college newspaper. Now, I’ve long had a thing about collecting talented people. I just love people who are passionate about their work. Beginning with my first real high school boyfriend – who had an amazing tenor voice – I developed this, um, method of kinda sorta stalking these people and coaxing them into being my friends. I did it with this cartoonist, too. We became very close friends.
At one point, he visited me at my parent’s home in Denver. My mom was volunteering for the Cancer Society then and was on the committee to put on their first big fundraising ball. She was in charge of invitations and asked my friend if he’d be willing to draw a little something for the invitation.
He said no. That he was a professional artist and therefore did not work for free.
Yes. I was furious with him.
And, in many ways, it changed our friendship forever.
Now, I’m a huge proponent of the concept that a professional does not work for free. We all know how prevalent this is in the writing community. There are tons of opportunities to write for free, or for copies, or “for the exposure.” I hate, really, how many new authors get suckered into writing for virtually nothing because they’re so very anxious for the validation. Not that I don’t totally understand – I do – but it’s rarely true validation if no one is coughing up money.
Mostly, I’ve had a rule that I only work for paying markets. Exceptions to this are high-profile opportunities, like prestigious literary magazines (that aren’t for-profit businesses anyway) and out of the goodness of my heart.
This is a real thing. Some people call it charity. Some call it “having a volunteer ethic.”
I come from a family that believes strongly in the volunteer ethic – hence my mom volunteering for the Cancer Society. I have some other friends that have it, too, regardless of religious background. It’s the idea that you owe it to the world to give something of your gifts back to it. To give generously of your talents, without the need for remuneration or attention, just for the joy of it.
I think that’s why that moment changed my friendship. Of course, I would have understood if he was too busy or didn’t support the mission of the charity. There are gracious ways to communicate that. But to refuse to give such a small gift of himself, well…. I never saw him the same way again.
So, yes – operate like a professional. Demand the proper remuneration for your work. Know what you’re worth.
And when you give it away – do it with an open heart.
I’ve always been a joiner.
Not sure why. I don’t feel much of a religious call to service or an obligation to volunteer. But I’ve long been a joiner of service groups. On some level, I do feel like these groups fill a need. On another, I think we’re often just bashing our heads against the wall or filling a bucket with such small drops as to be negligible. Arguably I do it for the social interaction: I like getting to know the people involved and working with them on projects. In many ways I believe the only true charity is anonymous charity — when you give and no one knows that you have. Volunteering in a service group seems to me so full of ostentatious giving that it can’t really count as true service.
This reminds me of a study on vampire bats I read a while back. (I know — you were thinking the same thing, right?) The study found that vampire bats who were fortunate enough to feed on a given night would share blood with bats in the roost that weren’t able to feed. It’s a crucial bit of sharing because their metabolisms are so high that the bats can’t go more than a couple of nights without feeding or they’ll die. The study pondered if this was an example of true altruism. In general, it’s thought that altruism does not exist in nature. Most animal behavior is driven by perpetuation of the indivual or, more precisely, the individual’s reproductive potential. The researchers attempted to determine if the donors gave blood only to close relatives, which didn’t seem to be the case. Eventually they concluded that perhaps the behavior was to perpetuate the entire colony.
An online friend of mine told me that I’m a really sweet person. This is noteworthy because I can’t recall anyone who knows me in person who’s called me sweet. One friend told me I have so many edges that I’m practically a cube. But the gal who called me sweet said so because I read her work and gave her writing advice. And because I continue to read and give feedback. To me, this isn’t sweet. I certainly don’t always tell her nice things about what she’s written. She says that she’s grateful that I take the time. I think, well, I can help, so I do.
And it doesn’t hurt.
Maybe that’s part of my edge: I’m just not into giving until it hurts. If I can give, I will. If I don’t have the time or the energy, I say no. More often I say “later.” This is self-protection. Lately, a couple of people in volunteer organizations I belong to have been unhappy with me that they’re farther down on my list of things to do. Worse, they’ve begun to harangue me about it. Now, I have a lot of deadlines to manage and I like to think I’m reasonably good at it. I have a pretty simple approach: I work on what is due the soonest. Logical of me. I also work on the stuff I’m paid to do first. Mercenary of me perhaps. I’m also easily seduced by the more fun things, so they tend to work their way up in priority ahead of their time. Frivolous of me, I’ll admit.
The thing is, I find I really hate being pressured to do something I volunteered to help with in the first place, especially if I don’t see the fire. Everyone has their comfort zones, I know. There are people in this world who panic if a deadline is a week away. I’m one of those who slides the deliverable into the email five minutes before COB Eastern Time on some occasions. When I’m being paid, I do things their way — I figure that’s part of the deal. But when I’m giving, I find my altruism dries up if I feel forced.
Maybe that’s how it works for the bats, too.