When was the last time you really held something in high esteem? Or looked at a product or piece of art or plate of food and became incredibly overwhelmed by the time and thought that went into making it?
When was the last time you thoughtfully purchased something, truly considering the workmanship, production, and the careful selection of materials?
When was the last time you chose to support a company or store that supported its people and missions?
When was the last time you really honestly “valued” an experience or a product or person?
I’ve been contemplating all of these questions a lot lately as the concept of “value” has been a reoccurring theme in the last couple of months. Not only the value of worth but the values to which I want to align my business and the clients I want to work with… and personally for myself. It seems at every corner I can’t avoid the conversation, and more and more I’m in situations where I have to make decisions about what I value and be confident in explaining my worth to others.
Let me explain.
I have been that girl who scours the endcaps of Target hunting for that bright red clearance tag (the more layered on there THE BETTER). I used to “just go out and buy something” for events at fast-fashion stores and didn’t care it would fall apart because I could just go get a new whatever-it-was for the next thing. Cheap drugstore makeup? UH YEAH, you’re not getting me to pay over $10 for stuff I don’t even know how to put on anyways. Y’all, there are certain restaurants I’ve been to where I only go at happy hour because I could never wrap my mind around paying for the “real” food there.
I love a good deal and I always will.
But certain things are NOT worth the cheap price tag. And I’ll tell you, I’m paying for it in some ways now (pun intended?).
And not knowing how to articulate and speak up for –my own– value has cost me even more. Literally.
The concept of “value” has been on my mind a lot, but it really started to pick up steam when I attended a national photographers conference in Texas back in January. No matter what seminar I went to – technical lighting, posing, marketing, business strategy, etc. – each and every speaker spoke to some degree of presenting one’s business and being confident in your work so you are appropriately compensated at the highest level of your worth. For the first time since turning my photography into a business over five years ago, it hit me like a bird into a glass door: the business of photography is not the cutesy girl in the felt hat with her “retro” camera bragging about wearing sweat pants while she edits charming flower-field engagement pictures drinking her $8 latte. It’s a PROFESSION. And the people I was surrounded by and learned so much from wanted to make it crystal clear that yes, creativity is important, but treating your business with the same professionalism, customer service and value as any other career is what makes one succeed. While photographers all do things a little differently, when they do not value their own work and think they’re “lesser than” (e.g.: undercharging, giving away too many freebies, letting clients take up valuable time without additional compensation) because they’re not curing cancer, the whole industry suffers.
Coming back from that experience has prompted me to explore other areas of my life needing a serious value audit. I suddenly found myself being more mindful when making purchases, checking to see if they were sustainably produced, quality made, and even if they supported local/semi-local/small shops. As I’d run out of beauty and personal products, I’d research safer, cleaner alternatives that aren’t made with junk or tested on animals (I am always on the hunt and welcome your suggestions). When choosing vendors to use for my business, I explored the companies that invested back into its employees and clients (people first, people!). I started, too, evaluating my time, assets, and education so I could communicate with my own current/potential clients what my work product is worth… and not let fear of “not being enough” let me undervalue the way I conduct business. (Because, y’all: I still have to eat and pay rent, too… and we all know I LIKE TO EAT.)
In doing so, it brought me to other people who are also supporters of quality goods and services. Seeing them so gracefully declare their work to be of a certain quality so effortlessly has motivated me to be serious about my work. To stop giving away time and talents to people who can’t seem to get past that red clearance sticker, demanding and expecting more but wanting it for less.
And it’s not easy. In fact, it’s terrifying.
But what’s scarier is knowing I’ll burn out and live in a space of never having/being “enough” if I don’t make that change (and I’ve lived in that space repeatedly… there’s only so much I can spend on wine to keep getting through it). And I risk putting the well-being of the creative/photography industry at stake when I cheapen it with my own ridiculous fears of people not respecting my work. Sounds dramatic, but it’s true.
I share all of this because I believe the concept of “value” is rooted in bigger conversations of appreciation and respect. While I’m not suggesting to go out and wildly spend your cash on top-tier goods and services, I am suggesting that maybe the ability to truly value things and experiences has been lost because they come so fast and cheap these days, easily replaceable and momentarily appreciated because the next “latest & greatest” is around the corner.
As a business owner and someone who really wants to be part of our coastal and larger digital communities, I’ve come to realize what I wear, what I purchase, what I put on my face (no matter how terribly I do it), what I eat, and what brands/products/shops I choose to support has implications. I know there are a lot of people who make these decisions for a status thing, and that’s not what I’m suggesting – but rather, taking time to invest in things with a little soul.
Listen. I will always be the $5 bottle of wine & Oreo girl at heart. And I truly do believe in being a good steward of money and choosing the sensible options to support one’s self, family, and business. You have to pick and choose, I get it, and the price tag isn’t always the best indicator of the true worth of something (I’m looking at you, $5 fancy grocery store bottled water).
And you’d best believe I won’t turn down the cute Target endcap find with brilliant layer of 10 bright red clearance stickers on it.
But I’ve learned being truly enamored with a quality piece of clothing or product instead of buying several cheap ones makes you feel better about putting it on and more careful to maintain it. And getting that little hand-written note in your purchase when you support a local/small retailer is a feeling of connection you don’t get when you wistfully buy something at a big box store. And working with clients who appreciate and LOVE on your work because you deliver an experience that gets you both extremely happy you took the chance on each other… that’s the stuff of an entrepreneur’s dreams.
And one of these days I’ll get to one of my other dreams: eating my Oreos with a crisp glass of Dom Perignon.
But until then, I’ll do what I can.
And I welcome your suggestions on ways to do so, products to buy, or places to support that provide heart and value.
Hugs & High Fives,