Part of Knowing Your Worth is Knowing When to Stop “Paying Your Dues”

Up until recently, I had just one rule about leaving a job: If you want to quit, do so only after one full year of employment.

I broke that rule for the very first time last week, and quit a job I had started just less than a month before.

The job itself was pretty cool — I was a content writer for a media website specializing in “nerd culture”, tasked with writing news articles, reviews, and think-pieces about my favorite comic books and Sci-Fi shows. The problem, was that they weren’t going to pay me; or, at least, not pay me very much. After I had already applied to and accepted the position (which was advertised as a paying job), I found out that my pay would be entirely based on the ad revenue generated from my individual posts. For a small and recently founded website like this one, that meant 60-cents to a dollar an article, at most.

I was devastated. After two-and-a-half years as a freelance content writer for mostly online retail companies, I was so excited for the chance to write about topics I was more personally invested in. I wanted this position to work out so badly, and spent weeks trying to justify my staying on: “It’s okay,” I thought, “I’ve never written about ‘media’ before, and I’m gaining experience; I’m building a portfolio; I’m just paying my dues.”

Only when I started telling myself I was simply “paying my dues” did I realize how ridiculous (see: crap) this job situation was. I am 25 years old with a Master’s degree and years of experience as a content writer — should I really still be “paying my dues”? To pay one’s dues in the professional world essentially means to spend time learning the ropes, gaining the knowledge and skill set needed to become apt enough in your chosen field to move forward and actually begin to make a living. But what have I been doing the last two-and-a-half years if not “learning the ropes”? Aren’t I at the point where I should already be making a living from this?

Now, the truth is that any job, no matter how experienced you are, should teach you something; but what would I be learning at this job that another, higher-paying job couldn’t teach me just as well, if not better? Especially at this point in my career, already “knowing the ropes” of online content writing, did I really have as much to gain from this experience as I originally thought? There are plenty of sites out there that would pay me a lot more money for the same sort of content, and with more exposure, as well. Not to mention, if I ever do want to write opinion pieces about media without getting paid for it, I could simply do it here (and I have). No matter how I looked at it, two articles a week for less than $10 a month was just not going to work out. So I quit.

The whole ordeal did teach me something, however; something even more important than what I had intended it to. Working through the dilemma of a dollar-a-week job forced me to admit to myself that I have value — a lot more of it than what this site was capable of recognizing, and more than even I was capable of recognizing until now.

Because I knew, even before I applied, that this was not going to be a high-paying job. I expected more than a dollar per article, but with only a couple thousand followers on social media and little name recognition elsewhere on the internet, I doubted this site would be able to compensate much. Strangely, this was part of the appeal — I expected about $30 per article, and this was perfect, I thought, because I honestly did not believe anyone would pay me any more than that for my writing. Despite having received a steady wage for my work for years now, my standards were shockingly low. I still thought of myself as a beginner, still “paying my dues”, because, come on — a decent, livable salary for my work? my opinions? my writing? I didn’t think I was worth it.

It took the shock of earning 60-cents an article to make me realize I am worth more than that. I wish I could tell you some beautiful, inspiring story about softly awakening into self-worth, but the truth is the realization came in anger. I believe, “I’M TOO F**KING TALENTED FOR THIS SH*T,” were my exact words (not to the employer, of course), and I’m writing this now because I want you to know that you are “too f**king talented for this sh*t”, too. No employer or client is going to tell you that, because the moment they actually admit to you what you’re worth they’re going to have to start paying you accordingly — and no one is going to pass up the opportunity to hire cheap labor. I feel like this happens a lot with writers, especially, because we are supposedly a dime a dozen and clients know there are people out there who will work for “experience” or “exposure” alone. And maybe, for them, experience is what they need — everyone needs to start somewhere — but recognize your experience as legitimate when you have it, and start working for what you’re worth.

The week I decided I had value, I contacted the clients for whom I’ve been working the longest and raised my rates. I based my raise on how much a professional web content writer should be making in salary (it’s $40,000 – $60,000 a year, at least), because I am a professional and need to be compensated as one. Knowing this may very well cause me to lose clients who aren’t willing to pay more, I went online and searched for other websites that will pay me for articles, because there are too many of them out there to waste my time on people who aren’t willing to properly compensate me for my labor. 

I am through settling for less and thinking that “less” is what I deserve. We all have to “pay our dues”, but I am through paying mine and it is time for someone else to start paying me, instead. It’s scary for me to say that, and as I read it over my instinct is to either delete it or apologize for coming across too strong. But people who know their worth do come across strong, and brilliantly so. It’s just something I suppose I’ll have to practice getting used to.

So yes, up until recently, I had just one rule about leaving a job. Now I have two: If you want to quit, do so only after one full year of employment…or if they refuse to pay you what you’re worth.

3 thoughts on “Part of Knowing Your Worth is Knowing When to Stop “Paying Your Dues”

  1. I am so glad you took the brave and right decision. Unless we, writers, get to discover our own worth, nothing brilliant is going to happen from the clients side. Getting stuck at unworthy jobs, for our own unsaid moral commitments and insecurities and deeper fears, is a usual occurrence, and I have faced much miseries due to this. Your honest words are so true that they gleam.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! This sort of thing is all too common in the writing community and it’s incredibly frustrating. I’m sorry you’ve gone through it, as well, but there ARE great writing opportunities out there and I wish you all the best in finding clients who know your worth!

  2. Pingback: Keeping Track of the Good Things | Coffee on My Keyboard

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