I will start this out by saying that it does not go against the utopia vision I presented in my podcast “Systems of Power: I’m Alive”. When I say don’t work for nothing I am not talking about acts of compassion or kindness or goodness. I have spent countless hours helping people with websites, computers, chores, moving etc. I love helping people and I expect nothing in return.
What I am talking about is working for someone, where they exploit your labor or your skills for their own profit. We all sell our skills at a loss as it is, it is the basis of the system we live in. If the company you work for lost money in paying you they would fire you. If you have a job working for money for someone else they are making a profit on the surplus you generate. That is the core of the exploitation that is the employee employer relationship.
That is not what I’m talking about either though. I am more looking at things from a creative or an artists standpoint. Where people expect you to work for nothing. Or work for connections. Or work for the chance of making money one day in some vague future.
Unfortunately I have been exploited in this way one too many times. I love to do my craft, I love to work at things I enjoy and I love to help people and all too often people exploit that. A recent example was this “company” Dream More Studios. They not only stole my labor but they also stole a literal piece of film equipment. All under the guise of “helping” me while they pocketed the cheque.
To make a long story short, I had never done event videography before and they took me on to film a few events as a “test”. I spent hours filming and editing footage of these events that they used in promotions with the expectation that I would be getting paid gigs. Then I filmed a wedding for them under this same guise, edited the footage and delivered it all on an expensive portable hard drive.
They kept the hard drive, thanked me for my work and disappeared. They were paid for all these events, they were paid for the videos I produced and they took all that and ran. I was left with nothing but I was too naive to see it for what it was.
Then I realized that this kind of things has happened to me countless times in my life. Be it in producing product videos for a small store, or writing content for a blog, or even in working a days labor. These were all presented as “trial” periods wherein the employer took my labor and profited off it, then when it came time to hire me said no thanks. Often moving onto exploit someone else.
I took these as failures. I thought that I had just not done well enough to be hired. I have since realized that what really happened was people took advantage of me and my skills in order to profit. I have always struggled with depression and one of the ways it manifests is in self blame. I would blame myself for not getting the job, not recognizing that I had just been scammed. I would convince myself that I had done a bad job, not that someone had taken what I made and run off with it.
Maybe this comes with being a creative person. Maybe it is because I am too trusting or too nice or not good at reading people. I don’t know. I wanted to share this because I think that no one should work for nothing. Make sure to value yourself and your skills.
Don’t let someone convince you that just because the work you are doing is creative work that it is unpaid work. Don’t feel that because you enjoyed doing the work you are not entitled to compensation for it. I love writing and filmmaking and I share that art freely. If someone asked me to make a movie for them or write them a book I would ask them how much they were willing to pay. In the past I would have dove in and just been happy to have been asked. Now I know that my work has value. Don’t fall for the “just seeing your skills” that is what a portfolio is for. If you don’t like the portfolio then don’t hire me.
I am sick of people feeling entitled to artists and their work. Just because I choose to freely share my creations does not mean I am willing to freely work for you. As someone who struggles with depression and autism it is hard for me to value my work and so easy for me to feel rewarded in just the fact that someone consumed my art. Don’t be like me. Value your labor and don’t let yourself get exploited.
Extend this further and you see why there is a recruitment crisis right now. People are finally starting to understand that their time has value and that pocket change is not worth killing yourself at some dead end job. It feels great to see people realizing why I have always disliked the employer employee relationship. A relationship built on power and violence. A relationship of oppressor and oppressed. If you don’t like it just quit. That is not an option though.
People are starting to see that they have value. Their skills have value. That we have not been fairly compensated for that value for far too long. People are holding back and refusing to be exploited. It is really no different than me working for free. All the extra money you make that goes into your employers pocket is you donating time, skill and labor to them to enrich them.
For too long they have held the power over people, the threat of starvation and homelessness kept people in line. People working jobs they hated until they died just to survive while the ones employing them lavished in wealth. Wealth generated from the sweat, blood and stress of their employees. Every dollar paid to shareholders is a dollar stolen from an employee. I was exploited for far too long. You probably have been too. Resist. Realize the power you have.
Resistance comes in many forms though. It really is a matter of making sure that you do not generate surplus revenue for your employer while keeping them from catching on. It can be a tricky game but it is one worth playing. It is one that will help you value yourself more and approach the stress of the day with a new mindset. Do the minimum needed to achieve the solution. Nothing more, nothing less. Save your creativity and passion for yourself, not for your boss. Not to make some shareholders rich. Save it for you and what you love.
Take stock of what you do and do less. Most jobs have downtime. Make it seem like you are busy in that down time, don’t look for more work, don’t donate your time. Remember they need you more than you need them. There is this fear, this mindset, be grateful you have a job. That is what traps you and that is what creates a system where your employer can oppress you.
The goal of work should be to meet your needs, ideally you will do something you enjoy. Ideally you will be compensated enough to buy things you want in addition to things you need. Ideally you will only work for others until you can sustain yourself enough to work for yourself.
Life comes down to survival and comfort. If your work is sucking enjoyment from your life it has become something you need to cut out of your life. Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of.
I hate when I see things like “Sunday Scaries” start to trend. If the week ahead leaves you ruining your time dreading it something is fundamentally wrong. Something is wrong with that system. We should not accept these things as normal. I know it is not easy to change and that not everyone can just walk away from a job they hate or slack off at work. I understand, I have been there. This is not your fault, this is the fault of the power and oppression that is always seeking control over you, over us. If you are going through it I am sorry and all I can do is hope it gets better for you.
Always be on the lookout for a way out. The game is rigged against us from the start. We are trained from birth to be obedient little drones. It takes a lot to unlearn what is constantly drilled into us. Don’t be surprised that people recoil at what you say or how you act, there is an instinct to push away that which challenges one’s core belief. Just remember to focus on yourself and what makes you happy, do not do things you hate.
Don’t fall for the paying your dues line. That is bullshit fed to people by others who were exploited and feel they need to make sure you get exploited too. There is no paying your dues. Don’t work for nothing. Value yourself and value your labor. Survive, but don’t work for free.