I’ve shifted through different jobs in the past few years. Even so, it has never been a breeze to price my work and my hours. I have done freelance work in the past, but I was never a hundred percent confident that I wasn’t undervaluing my work or that I wasn’t over estimating the work involved that I’d charge a client too much. It’s even harder, I think, when you grow up in a country where hourly pricing is not the norm and a starting designer would be surrounded by ‘clients’ trying to get his/her to work pro bono, if not totally free so he/she can put something in his/her folio.
Luckily, I met a designer back home who actively shared about his own experiences and principles when it comes to putting value on creative work (although at this point in time, both of us have started working outside the Philippines). There are a lot of articles nowadays by other designers themselves to never work for free, or how your free design will end up in the trash. Or books about how design is a business and a job. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, and in the end I learned how to value the work that I do. In finding a fair price for myself and my client, I also felt like I had value as a person. My role as a designer feels important, and it makes me feel like my client (or employer) cares enough that I can pay for my bills and feed myself to achieve self-actualization (or maybe they don’t, but it feels good that they care to be fair).
This change in perspective made me very critical of how salaries are typically made and done in the Philippines. My limited experience involved a lot of local companies that pay quite low for people in creative fields. It was only with foreigner-owned companies (or start-ups) or foreign clients that I felt that my value as a designer was recognized and appreciated. (Although this also wasn’t always the case. There have been foreign clients or companies and start ups who look to pay very low in the Philippines because they think we are a pot of cheap labor.)
I also became critical of how my boyfriend earns doing video production and editing work. I have been part of and have been an observer of production shoots. It’s very, very exhausting work. Knowing the overtime work and physical exhaustion and everything else involved, comparing it with my own work and salary at times, made me hope with every fiber of my being that he would find properly compensated production and film work abroad. In a third world country, creative work simply isn’t normally financially rewarding. And most common, still, is that good design is often a “plus” with products, not necessarily a must. One of my regrets have been leaving a company who actually valued me a bit too early, only because it always seems greener on the other side. But that’s another story.
It’s not about doing as much work as I’ve been paid, but rather, doing a lot of hard work (be it because of love, passion, responsibility, diligence, for whatever reason anyone has for doing well in a job) and having enough to recharge, eat good food, and be Human. The plus side: I can avoid financial worries in order to focus on improving skills and knowledge, leading to performing better with the team. Having associated the value of my work to my value as a person, it is much harder to be content with being underpaid.
It’s all part of the Circle of Appreciation
As a kid, I learned how to use Photoshop because of pirated software. I didn’t have purchasing power as a kid, but I really wanted to do design and there were very few options over a decade ago. As a working adult with disposable income, I now make it a point to purchase products I enjoy using. By buying stuff, I can support artists, makers, inventors, designers, developers, creatives. Because I want other people to put value in my work as a designer, I think it is only right that I support other people’s work as well. If I want to be paid fairly for work that I’ve done, so should other people reap the fruits of their labor. Because I now have control over how I spend my money, I buy games and apps from their respective stores. I buy design software I use to generate income. I’m an avid supporter of all of Iron Hide Games‘ Kingdom Rush that I purchase them as soon as a new game is out. I don’t mind having paid for Paper even if all the add-ons are free now. From time to time, I buy tickets to the cinema to watch movies that actors, directors, crew members and filming/editing teams worked hard on. I buy e-books and other published media where I learn things from.
I feel that by giving back to the community, I am able to enjoy more things that they provide. We all feel valued, we all contribute to this tiny wheel of self-worth. I’m not saying that you should base your self-worth wholly on how people value what you do, but it helps contribute to the love of self. Especially when most of our time we actually spend with our job, you might be like me who wants to find meaning in what I do. Never underestimate the feeling of being appreciated by others.