THE BLOG
11/14/2014 11:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Does Working for Your Worth Look Like?

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Over the course of the past year, I've realized there exists both great pressure and criticism from the outside when it comes to choosing to approach work and life differently than what is considered to be the societal norm, at least a norm amongst my fellow Americans.

At the beginning of 2014, I decided it was time for me to quit my full-time job in the journalism realm, go my own way, figure out how to be a writer on my own terms, launch a vegan-inspired blog, and train for my first full marathon.

Following a recent geographical move across my home-state of Florida, I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked, "Are you moving for a job?" or "How's the job hunt going?" I've finally come to a more confident place when I respond, "There isn't really a job hunt," at least not in the brick-and-mortar sense.

I recognize that choosing to no longer confine myself to a traditional nine to five, 40+ hour per week, employment setup is a choice that takes a certain amount of privilege and freedom. However, trust me when I say, it's a choice that comes with an equal amount of sacrifice, risk, uncertainty and discomfort.

Through the choice to put the pressure entirely on myself to make it work and make enough money to live, I've made a valiant effort to minimize spending, cut out any excess and move toward a more simplified way of existence. Above all, I've come to a greater understanding of what working for my worth looks like. Spoiler alert: Most days it doesn't look like sitting around and leisurely writing in my journal.

The reality is creative work is still work.

Although from the outside it might seem like creative work is all play and little actual work, I would argue that is far from the case. I find myself constantly pursuing creative projects, while battling the internal struggle that naturally comes as a result of trying to continually foster creative energy to execute the projects at hand. Unfortunately, unless you are a robot, this energy is dispensable.

Some of the projects I undertake offer monetary compensation. Others I simply do for the sake of and love of the art, or for the inviting doors they could open. Regardless of whether or not the work I do is paid, creative work literally becomes an extension of you, and it never stops. The research, the outreach and the idea generating demand so much energy, many days I don't even make it to the actual writing part.

Since electing to do freelance creative work full-time this year, I've found several processes and practices to be incredibly valuable. If you find yourself in any realm of self-employment, perhaps these offer you some insights, or if nothing else, serve as positive affirmation.

Input v. Output: Whereas during my nine to five setup I knew how exactly how much money I would be bringing home each month, no longer is this the case. I now think of every dollar I spend in terms of my work output. How much writing does it take for me to go out to dinner? Or, how much freelance work do I need to do to offset the damage I just did on the Whole Foods hot bar? (You fellow health nut foodies know what I'm talking about.) Basically, every single dollar I spend on bills or on an experience is either a dollar I am spending from my current income, or from savings I've accumulated over a decade of work. Each time I move money around from my savings to my checking account, it isn't something I turn a blind eye toward. It's something I take seriously. While I've learned (the hard way) that it's important not to let this way of thinking consume you or paralyze your productivity, it does make each choice of spending that much more thoughtful.

Barter and Trade: Since jumping into what I like to call the freelance freeway, I have been working to make use of the barter and trade system, an invaluable system that is age-old, yet has seen a revival in recent years. I view barter and trade as the opportunity to extend my value to someone else while taking advantage of a product or service they have to offer. I like to think of these opportunities as strategic partnerships and meaningful relationships with room for growth. It is important to note that while you can't barter and trade with everyone, you can utilize this practice to forge mutually beneficial partnerships.

Cost v. Benefit: Whenever a personal or professional opportunity comes my way, once I get past my initial excitement, I take a step back to analyze the cost v. benefit. I ask myself, what is the cost on my pocket book, in relationship to the cost or benefit to my health, mental state, creative energy, stress level, etc.? This allows me to hold fast to my efforts to say no to the good things so I can say yes to the better and best things, and in turn, make positive investments with both my time and money.

Time and Money: Speaking of time and money, in many ways, time truly is money. Still, it's important to realize that neither money, nor time are infinite entities. This time last year I was spending 60+ hours a week with my head down at my desk, churning out work. Granted I was doing what I love (writing), I was doing zero living outside of my office. I knew I needed to make an overhaul to establish some balance in my life and stop resenting myself. Today balance still remains a struggle and it probably always will. (Life is a balancing act after all). That said, whenever the struggle is feeling especially burdensome, I remind myself I would rather get paid less to be able to put thought into the work I execute, than put out so much work that I'm creatively drained and start to resent writing. The upside of my current freelance setup is although the pressure is totally on me (and only me), it's still all up to me. Meaning, when I feel burnt out, I can just take a time-out for a couple of days (or weeks if I plan accordingly) and reset.

Pay Out v. Pay Off: Will the life I'm choosing to live and the work I'm choosing to do at this present moment in time ultimately provide a pay out, or pay off for me in the end? The truth of the matter is, I've spent too much time in my life worrying about the future, and missing out on the present. Quite frankly, my future isn't what I'm worried about anymore. I want to live and experience my life in the present with those I love now, while they are here to share it with me. And right now, the decision to do things differently, is affording me the opportunity to do just that. Sure, my goal is to make enough money to live and invest in the things I care about. And if I can continue to find ways to get closer to doing that while doing the thing I feel called to do, then in my humble opinion, I'm doing just fine. In the meantime, allowing myself the time to live and not just simply exist is worth its weight in gold.

What are you working for?

Everyone can work for their worth, not just those who are choosing to go out on their own. Regardless of your work-life setup, I think the important question to stop and ask yourself is, who or what am I working for? Is my current situation building me up or breaking me down? Is the time and energy it takes worth whatever sacrifices I am making in the present? Ultimately, is it worth the pay off?

No matter what you choose to do next, answering these questions is half the battle in understanding what working for your worth looks like.

Sarah McCartan is a writer, runner and vegan foodie. Follow along with her veg-escapades at veganontherun.org.