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I Don't Work For Free: The Headlines Project

November 13, 2015Will Leffert

I am a creative professional. I make my living doing graphic & web design, and also make a little extra on the side creating my own artwork, photography, music, and more.

I've spent years honing my craft. Getting a degree. Certifications. Purchasing the tools. Investing in myself, at the cost of numerous things many people wouldn't be willing to sacrifice.

Yet, those of us in the creative profession still get asked to do work for free. We're told our work has little value, because all we do is sit in front of a computer, draw, or just fiddle around on an instrument. Why should we get paid for it?

Let's turn the tables a bit.

All you did was take my order and bring me my food. My husband/wife does that for me every day!

All you did was push a few buttons on the calculator. Why should I pay you to file my tax return?

All you did was scan my items and take my money. Why do you want so much money?

If you said, "I did much more than that; you're just over-simplifying my job", or something along those lines, then you're halfway there to understanding.

Creative professionals do much, much  more than what most realize. It takes from us to create. We burn our brains to come up with the best design, riff, or theme. We struggle to find the beauty and concepts to communicate. We invent new languages with every creation to communicate our ideas.

Like many, it's not a simple flip of a switch and "boom", there's the idea. There is what I'll create.

Creativity comes in many forms, and cultivating it doubly so. I myself observe, and ruminate on the nature of the world. I listen. I taste. I hear. I feel. I soak up everything that many people take for granted, and allow it to occupy a deep, deep part of my mind.

It can, and has, hurt me. I sleep in fits. I'll spend hours crafting, writing, whatever, just to create, and my body aches. I sacrifice time with loved ones so I can share my vision with those around me.

Just tonight I'm skipping dinner so I can prepare everything for this headline before I head out to a gallery opening.

What hurts me the most, however, is the idea promoted by many that my work is worthless.

I'm thankful to have a great day job that treats me with respect. I have an amazing boss. I get to do what I love, and get paid for it. I wasn't always so lucky, however. I worked for a pittance early in my career, having to support myself by busking on the streets in order to help out here and there.

I've got student loan debt, health problems, rent payments, and more.

I can't pay for it all with exposure.

Interested in wearing this week's headline? You can download the printable PDF here, ready for temporary tattoo transfer paper!

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The Headlines Project is a social experiment where I print (using temporary tattoos) short "headlines" on my bald head with a web address on the back of my skull linking back to these posts. View the other Headlines.

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