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How To Assess The Value Of Your Creative Work

12/12/2016 13:40 GMT | Updated 12/12/2016 13:40 GMT

We'd all like to get paid more for what we do. But we have a habit of feeling our stuff is impossible to value because we develop an emotional, personal relationship with it. Doing business with our creative outputs can feel like selling off a section of our very soul.

The great thing about labelling our work as Extremely Valuable is that we can then blame everyone who disagrees with us, on our poverty! After all, we've told them what we're worth! We know! It's not our fault if literally everyone else on Planet Earth disagrees. I mean, who could be better at deciding on the value of the thing we've poured our soul into into, but us? We know exactly how important and insightful, how inspired and affecting our work is.

Now, on one level, all of this is true. Of course your thing will mean more to you than anyone else. And it's true that there are plenty of reasons creatives are underpaid and undervalued that have little to do with our attitude to it.

But in some circumstances, this way of thinking might be a trap.

Here's one way of looking at it:

Feeling good about our work keeps us doing it. In a sense, the main purpose of the confident, positive feeling about the work is its perpetuation. It's like an evolutionary tactic that the work deploys, like a bonding hormone, to ensure we keep feeding it. And it will wring us dry. The work doesn't care about us, the wicked little parasite! It just wants to keep being produced forever, at all cost, and it'll keep making you feel good as long as it keeps getting made.

I'm not suggesting you experiment with feeling badly about your work. But I am recommending you do not see the urge to make as automatically serving your best interests.

If you want to sell it, you need to consider what it's taking from you as well as what it's giving you.

Creative effort draws resources from you which need to be replenished. These resources aren't mysterious, divine or otherwise inexplicable - indeed, that kind of thinking is part of the problem, and part of the reason we might think the effort is basically impossible for the normal economic world to restore. No, the things it hauls out of our lives are, at their broadest, easily comprehensible things like time, energy, money and positivity.

To value our work we must learn, at least temporarily, to detach from it, to appraise its cost and see its potential benefits beyond our benefit (which might, in the end, be no more than just that lovely addictive feeling of creating). We must get used to leaving it out on the doorstep overnight like those Spartan babies. Chances are it will weather those nights just fine. In fact, they'll toughen it up.

If you think your stuff is worth nothing financially, then you may be overvaluing it, spiritually (relative to the market). And if you think it's worth nothing creatively, well... no wonder no one wants to buy it!

This week your task is just to remember this catchy maxim: you are not your work, your work works for you.

See you next time.

This post and others appears on my blog http://www.leilajohnston.com/blog/ and newsletter: leilajohnston.com/newsletter. Also check out my podcast, which goes 'behind the scenes with creativity' twice a week hackcircuspodcast.com.