Have you ever been asked to work for free? Maybe the request came in the form of additional projects being added indiscriminately to your workload or getting a promotion without a pay raise. Very often, we say “yes,” hoping that something good will come in return. 

The allure of perceivable opportunity can lead us to do, do, doing in order to prove, prove, prove our capabilities, and even our worth as a person. Being asked to work for free used to send me into a tailspin for weeks, trying to convince a potential client that I had value. Today, I don’t need to prove my worth, but the opportunities to remember are still offered to me. 

Case in point, last week, I received a voicemail from Chris, a potential speaking client, raving about the positive impact of one of my books on his team. Then, a few moments later, this email landed in my inbox—

“I have a secret… 

Go with the higher end of your speaker range.  I have not shared it with anyone… 

The secret.. don’t share this email… YEAH!” –Chris 

The email came moments after he introduced me to Heather, the woman responsible for speaker placement at his company. I was confused. It had been two years since our first interaction, and I didn’t even remember talking about my fee range. 

A few minutes later, after talking in circles on the phone for several minutes, Chris said, “If I was you, I would speak for free,” further confusing me. Irritation rose up into my throat, making it impossible to verbally kick him in the shins (thank you, inner wisdom!). Wanting to scream, “Dude, I get paid to speak. That is my profession, and I’m rather good at it. Go watch the talk I sent you yesterday. I can bring value to your organization.” 

Instead, I paused for a long minute, and then squeaked out—”Thank you, Chris. I will think about your suggestion.” Hanging up, I physically shook off the confusing, manipulative, power-struggle of energy I had just been wrapped up in. Why can’t people just be direct, honest, and generous, I commanded of the Universe, as I went about cleaning my kitchen and preparing dinner. 

Has this ever happened to you? Have you found yourself feeling like you need to hustle to prove yourself, even though you’ve already demonstrated your capabilities? It doesn’t need to be this way. We don’t need to count on confusing people to grant us a sense of value in a world that sometimes feels scarce. There are plenty of opportunities for us to shine, and they command from us that we remember our value and the value we bring. 

I used to live in fear of not being good enough, of not mattering in the world. I used to try so hard to manufacture mattering through books, clients, talks, and sports. Today, I know that I matter, and I’ve come to trust that the right business opportunities will come because I am talented and have helped foster remarkable results for years. 

The need to prove ourselves is removed when we remember who we are and the value that we bring. We no longer need to hustle to be seen as valuable when we see ourselves and our skills clearly (need help with this? Pop me an email.). When we are grounded in our ability to contribute meaningfully, we will know what to say “no” to, thus we may be available for the right opportunities. 

We know opportunities are for us when we feel respected, seen, and able to be of service. We know opportunities are not for us when the hustler within us feels like s/he needs to prove her/his value and find a way to be respected. That doesn’t mean that we don’t need to demonstrate our capabilities. It means that we already have. 

If you don’t respect yourself, know the value you bring, and trust in it, nobody else will. Speaking for free is not beneath me – I’ve done it many times. Speaking for free to a company that can afford to pay me says that I need to hustle for my worth. I don’t. I can speak for free on my own terms – to organizations and teams who need it, not to prove myself. 

In the beginning, we may need to demonstrate our capabilities in our careers, but at some point, we have to decide to see and own our own value—as a person and a contributor. If we don’t, we can be assured to gather more Chris’s of the world, happily showing us the real work we have to do in life—becoming intimately familiar with our value as a human and the value we can bring to others. 

Here’s to your greatness, 

Misti Burmeister 

Misti Burmeister helps companies and leaders motivate and inspire excellence. For nearly 20 years, she has facilitated communication that results in trust, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit https://www.MistiBurmeister.com