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.

The 5 Best Anthropology Books for Non-Anthropologists

Anthropology is an incredible discipline, responsible for a wealth of scientific, social, and political contributions, and possessing a keen ability to propose whole new ways of thinking about human life. The problem I have with most anthropological writing, however, is that such important works are often weighed down with so much jargon that they become inaccessible to non-academic audiences, who generally (and understandably) don’t want to wade through pages and pages of dense, tedious text in order to learn something new and exciting.

This strange loyalty to jargon-coated information and the academic/non-academic divide has always bothered me, especially in a field like anthropology, which just has so much cool knowledge to offer. I think anyone, anthropologist or not, can greatly benefit from reading anthropological research, and luckily, there are many wonderful books out there that are very much accessible (and bearable) to non-academic audiences.

Here, I’ve compiled a list of books, in no particular order, that I consider to be the best anthropology reads for non-anthropologists. And I promise, these books are as informative and engaging as they are jargon-free.

Happy reading!

The Pastoral Clinic: Addiction and Dispossession Along the Rio Grande,
Angela Garcia

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The Pastoral Clinic is a powerful and confrontational depiction of heroin addiction in northern New Mexico’s Española Valley, home to the highest rate of herion-related deaths in the country. Intimate and frequently jarring, Angela Garcia’s award-winning ethnography chronicles the lives of several Hispaño residents as they navigate a landscape of addiction littered with systemic and institutional violence.

Arguing that widespread heroin use in the region is historically rooted in the material and cultural dispossession experienced at the hands of colonialism, Garcia’s work is a scathing critique of the institutional disparities that continue to fail the people of the Española Valley, and a loud call for reform. Beautifully written and heart-wrenching in content, Garcia’s narrative brings to light the politics (and the failures) of institutionalized care in the United States, and is a forceful invitation for us to reconsider the space between life and death, addiction and recovery, and the past, present, and imagined future.

Insectopedia, Hugh Raffles

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Yes, this book is about bugs. Let me explain:

No matter where in the world we live, we are surrounded by insects. Those teeny-tiny creatures encourage some of our greatest fears and annoyances, yet we know very little about them and rarely pay them much mind until they’re crawling along our bedroom wall. Raffles is a long-established anthropologist known for his interest in human/non-human relationships, and in this book he aims to explore all of the varied and complex ways in which humans relate to and understand their co-existence with insects (like it or not).

Insectopedia takes the reader all over the world, from China to London to Raffles’s own New York City apartment. The chapters are arranged in alphabetical order (like encyclopedia entries), and range in length from one- to two-page vignettes to full-length essays. Through conversations, meditations, memories, and observational narratives, Raffles tells a beautiful and engaging story that, for me, succeeded in doing the one thing I never thought possible – it actually made me care about bugs.

Lost in Transition: Ethnographies of Everyday Life after Communism,
Kristen Ghodsee

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Lost in Transition brings together Kristen Ghodsee’s twenty years (1989 – 2009) of fieldwork and research in Eastern Europe. Immersing the reader in a narrative of political transformation through a lens of the everyday, Ghodsee brings to light the struggles of life in Bulgaria as corruption, unemployment, and complete social upheaval followed the tumultuous transition from communism to democracy in the former Soviet bloc.

Through captivating stories that chronicle a whole range of personal experiences (including her own), Ghodsee shatters common misconceptions of what the transition out of communism actually meant for people, and shows us, instead, how and why many remain nostalgic for the days before democracy. Haunting, raw, and brilliantly crafted, Lost in Transition is the story of the former Soviet Union no history textbook will ever tell you.

Ordinary Affects, Kathleen Stewart

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Kathleen Stewart adopts an interesting ethnographic approach in Ordinary Affects, in that the project is, in essence, a prompt for us to turn an ethnographic eye on ourselves. Arranged in a series of vignettes, Ordinary Affects is aimed at looking at how our little, everyday encounters work to shape the way we see, feel, and react to the world around us.

Though the vignettes are based on Stewart’s own observations and experiences (many of the passage are, in fact, quite autobiographical), she writes in third person to further demonstrate the ways in which politics of the body, emotion, and perception are linked to the outside world. With its lyrical passages and keen insights into the most intricate experiences of the everyday, Ordinary Affects will leave you with a heightened sensitivity to the world around you, and will not be a book you will be satisfied in reading just once.

Do Muslim Women Need Saving?, Lila Abu-Lughod

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In the words of the author, “Anyone seriously interested in Muslim women’s rights must follow them as they move.” This is precisely what Lila Abu-Lughod does in this book, inspired by an article she wrote in 2002 of a similar name and premise. Chronicling the lives and experiences of individual Muslim women, Abu-Lughod addresses (and tears apart) the common tropes that have come to surround Muslim women in today’s socio-political narratives.

Through a close look at how headscarves, the burqa, and arranged marriages have become just some of the issues at the forefront of the Western crusade to “save” women in the Middle East from Islam, Abu-Lughod presents a poignant counter-argument to considering women’s suffering solely within the context of their religion. Islam, she argues, is actually a source of empowerment for many Muslim women, who are much less inhibited by their religion as they are by Western military intervention, border controls, a discriminatory legal system, patriarchal family traditions, and widespread poverty. A sobering tale with a brilliant post-colonial feminist edge, Do Muslim Women Need Saving? is one of the most important books on women’s rights and international politics to surface in years.