Not everyone who asks you to do something for them for free is trying to take something from you. Sometimes, they are giving you an incredible gift.
I remember years ago, I’d taken a job for $10 an hour in a dirty little fabric shop after closing my own beautiful homewares business down. I thought I was going crazy, so frightened was I the cancer would come back, I started reversing my life into smaller, lesser and lower, to match how I felt about my future. What’s the point? I could die next year. I can’t have a career, a business. So many people will be hurt if I have a big life and get sick. I need to pull back, pull it down, close it up. Years after I went into remission from cancer, I started dying.
And then someone gave me a gift – they asked me to do something for nothing.
I was asked by someone to give a little talk at a council meeting about cancer services. Then I was asked to have my picture taken for the paper for a cancer fundraiser. Then they asked me to write a letter to the paper. Then they asked me to lead a group. At the time I was being asked to do these things and not get paid.
It was a trick though. I did get something. I got to do things I was really good at, and loved, and which helped people, and I learned to detach my sense of purpose from the necessity of making an income from it. This was a breakthrough for me. I did the talk, the photo and the letter, and I also led the group. And I loved it. I loved that I got to use something that was a liability as a strength. I learned that I had value even if I didn’t bring in an income. My cancer experience, and the opportunities I was offered because of it, helped bring out in me a set of skills I’d always had but never got to use – speaking, writing and facilitating – because before I got sick, I would only ever let myself do things that matched my idea of “worth”. I would never have dreamed of allowing myself to do those things. Not speak, not write, not lead. I needed a day job to get money to buy things to make me feel like my life had a purpose and meaning. I needed to sell useless things to people who couldn’t afford them to feel I was fulfilling my place in the world, bring people and myself some kind of brief pleasure. Moving useless objects around a rented space, taking money for that and spending it on more rent and more things.
No wonder I got sick.
I uncovered in those things I didn’t get paid to do a passion for communicating that has led me into a full time career telling my story, and helping others own and share their own. But without years of giving my passion away for free, as a gift, I’d never have allowed myself to invest the time I needed to, to become really good at it.
And you’ll never guess what happened. After doing all that stuff I loved so much for so long for free, I got so good at it, they offered me a job. A paid one.
I still love to give my gifts away, but I also love it when someone values what they do and what I do so much they are willing to invest in that.
I love getting paid for doing what I love.
Maybe the one who is offering you an opportunity you don’t get paid for is offering you a gift – a key. They may be offering you an opportunity to uncover what you’re really passionate about and good at. They may be showing you a patch of dirt, which actually contains a treasure, and you’ll never know unless you take the key and unlock the gate. How are you at yard work, friend?
You may not be able to give up your day job to follow a full-time dream right now, or right away, but keep in mind, there’s more to life than just what you can buy with the money from your day job. You have a wonderful story, and hidden within that story is a treasure that can set somebody on fire.
I’ll never forget the gift I received the day I was asked to give myself away. Nobody had ever asked so much of me in all my life. But I’ll never stop doing this, as long as I live.