One of the things bloggers know to do is to blog regularly and I made a promise (aka New Year’s resolution) to myself to spend at least 30 mins a day on my blog. However, I have already let that slide, you see its been 6 days since my last confession, I mean blog. So, because I’m away from home and don’t have too much time on my hands, today’s post is not about a festival or travel or dance. It’s about something we all face everyday especially in our jobs. Self-worth or the value we place on ourselves.
People with steady jobs usually expect an annual increase and a bonus and often get disappointed when they don’t get them or when the amount is less than what they hoped for. So how do we arrive at that amount in our heads of what we think we deserve? Generally it’s based on the amount of time and energy we put into our job over the course of a year. As a freelancer things are a bit different. We usually are contacted by a company, we get a brief description of the job and the amount we can expect to be paid. As most freelancers are always hustling for work we generally say yes to any and every job, or at least that’s how it is in the dance industry. So what ends up happening in our eagerness to work, is we don’t look at the finer details and barely glance at the contract. What generally follows are weeks of hell. For instance, we get paid less than the other artists like singers and actors, we work the longest hours, we sit around doing nothing, waiting for the other artists to show up, we get put up in the worst accommodation, we are expected to perform even under terrible conditions like in the boiling sun or freezing cold, on a stage so slippery you fear for a career-ending fall at every movement, in costumes that don’t fit, are unflattering and are made of the cheapest and lowest grade materials. But worst of all is the fact that most dancers are too afraid to say something. Oh we complain all right, but to each other and not to the people who could actually do something about it, like the company director or the event organisers. The reason for this is that there is so little work around and nobody wants to be perceived as “difficult to work with” because then you wont get offered a job by the same company in the future.
Well I have decided this year is going to be different, another New Year’s resolution of mine. I need to decide what my value as a performer is. While I am by no means the best dancer in the world or even in South Africa or even in Jo’burg, I have been doing this for 10 years. I have worked with the country’s top choreographers, performed overseas and made a small name for myself through So you think you can dance. I am also extremely hard-working, professional and so incredibly passionate about dancing that there is nothing I wont do to become a better dancer. So on the Scale of Self-Worth I should rate myself well above average but you would never say that if you saw the types of conditions I put up with. But no more!
What we all need to realise is that standing up for one’s self and complaining are two sides of the same coin. That is why all people, not just dancers are afraid of speaking up for fear it comes across as though they are complaining. No one wants to be around a miserable old fart who never has a good thing to say, so it is up to you to judge whether you really are being treated unfairly or whether it’s all in your head. Having an honest friend or partner to help you judge the situation can help in this respect.
Ultimately, what I have learned is that if you are good at what you do and you are professional (always on time, prepared, motivated, self-disciplined, show initiative,speak firmly but politely and with respect to those around you) then there should be absolutely nothing to fear from standing up for yourself. If you are unhappy with something, nobody is going to swoop in and change things for you. Why? Because no one cares. All people care about themselves first and so they will see that their needs are met before yours, so you are the only one who can change your circumstances.
Now to put this into practice is the hardest part. For me, I am going to scrutinise every sentence on that contract. I will add and subtract clauses as I see fit. So if the contract says something like “You will be contracted to X company from this date to this date” I will insert a clause stipulating that I will not work on Sundays and Public holidays and that I must get at least 1 day off a week (yes, 7 day work weeks are what dancers have to put up with too). I will also consider the amount of time I am expected to make myself available and if, when on the job that time is not being used productively, I will discuss this with the director. The same goes for anyone in a regular 9-5 job. Consider the amount of time you put into an assignment and the quality of the work you produce compared to your colleagues. Consider your travel costs and time spent away from your family on work. Consider your stress levels and how many hours a night you spend lying awake and whether all this extra stress and effort has helped you move up the corporate ladder or just become the guy/girl everyone can rely on to do the bulk of the work while never getting any of the recognition.
At the end of the story, how you value yourself is how other people will value you. If you continue to put up with it, others will continue to give it to you. I sincerely do not believe that your bosses will punish you for asking for better pay or better working conditions, if you deserve them. People hire people because they are good at their jobs, not because they are the cheapest or because they are the quietest and complain the least.
Know what you are worth and then have the courage to go out there and get it.