‘My Days Don’t Have A Price’

As has become tradition every year – on my birthday and as the new year comes around – I reflect on life, some of its lessons and takeaways for the year ahead.  So as my 33rd birthday fast approaches, here are some reflections. Because I’ve been thinking more and more about making a living as a freelance consultant, many of the lessons revolve around work.


  1. Don’t ever allow an entity to own you – no matter how big it seems – even when it feels bigger than life itself. Don’t be swallowed. Don’t be bouyed by the hype. Or the waves. Stay rooted. Stay grounded.   
  2. Know your price. Understand why you do what you do. 


  1. Know that there are moments and principles that no amount of money can make up for. Money is important, but we mustn’t be driven by it. 
  2.  It’s ok to say no folks. It’s ok not to be polite when the occasion demands it. We must not always yield. Particularly as women – I don’t think we’ve been conditioned to say no often enough.


  1. Not everything is worth expending time, energy and emotion into. Those things are precious and particularly with time – finite. Be deliberate about what you spend precious time on. This goes for the projects you choose to take on, opportunities you apply for, commitments you sign up for and battles you decide (or not) to engage in. 


  1. Go with your gut. I’ve learnt this past year in particular how important it is to listen to how I feel about something. It is often my intuition rather than any rational or logical reason that proves to be true or the right choice over time. 


  1. Don’t be afraid to take your time with something. To mull over it. Marinate. Sleep over it. Pray about it. Meditate over it. Not everything has to be a rushed decision or response. There’s clarity that comes with time. 


  1. Tied to #7 and as someone used to say – ‘don’t allow other people’s emergencies to become your own’. I’ve come to realize time and time again that goalposts are constantly shifting, so are time-frames and deliverables. That doesn’t mean you have to be constantly swayed by them. Learn to be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances but don’t rearrange your life and/or your calendar around an event – because those tend to shift too – and sometimes at the last minute. 


  1. Know your worth. Consider your costs – what does it take to produce something? Consider the financial costs, the opportunity costs (time spent away from pursuing passions, away from loved ones), the energy it will take, the creative and intellectual labour it will require – take all of that into consideration when costing for a project. And consider too, that even if it takes you a day to complete a piece of work – that it’s actually taken you much longer in terms of your training, practice, experience, planning etc.  


  1. Pay attention to energy. I’m learning more and more that even more than time – we must consider the amount of energy expended. Sometimes you’ll spend a few hours on a project and be so drained you’re not able to do anything else. Some assignments, projects take more energy than others – understand that and engage accordingly. Also pay attention to how you feel when you’re around certain people. Some energies are not compatible – be conscious of that. Stay away from the things and people that zap your energies. 
  1. Know your power. We often give up our power too easily by believing and functioning like we don’t have any. 


  1. Challenge notions of work. What constitutes work? As a creative – and particularly when I quit a full time job for the first time to pursue creative passions, it was very difficult for me to quantify and talk about what I did creatively as work. I realized that was because I was equating work with compensation. If my work didn’t result in compensation, and particularly when it was related to creative pursuits, it wasn’t considered work. I had to keep asserting – to myself first – that work is work – whether it is valued as such and whether or not it is compensated financially. This shift in mindset was very important in understanding the time I spent writing for example as productive time. After all, I was producing something of value. What better way to exemplify productivity than that?  


  1. At this point my instinctual urge would be to apologise for the long post but I’ve been told I apologise too much so I’ll use #13 to remind myself to stop apologizing so much. Of course there’s a time and a place to apologise but watch how often you apologise and for what. 


  1. Don’t be too hard on yourself. As important as it is to be good and kind and compassionate towards others, it’s equally if not more important, to be good and kind and compassionate towards yourself. I truly believe that when you do those things for yourself, you’re better able to do it for others as well. 


  1. Be persistent. If you want something enough, and you’re willing to put the work in it, I believe the universe will conspire with you to get it. At the same time, I don’t want this to be interpreted as a green light for people to persist in romantic endeavors when it’s not reciprocated or welcome. This can lead to harassment as I’m sure many of us have experienced. 


  1. Perhaps contradictory to #15 but something I find to be true still – if something is meant for you, nothing will stop it from being yours. If it’s not, nothing will make it so. So put in the work and allow the Almighty to do the rest. 


  1. All that glitters isn’t gold – or good. Be cognizant of this. 


  1. Be deliberate in the choices you make. Don’t muddle through life. This is not to say that everything must be planned – but curate the life you want. Believe it is possible to do so. Don’t allow life to happen to you.  


  1. Start. Some tasks, dreams, visions seem daunting and too mammoth for us to conquer. There’s something though about taking those first steps that unleashes magic. It’s as though the universe is saying, meet me somewhere – as if the universe is rewarding you for daring to believe. 


  1. Don’t be shy about asking for your money. Unfortunately in this industry you’ll often have to chase after clients before you’re paid. Delays in payment are commonplace. Mitigate this by being disciplined with your spending and saving diligently. 


  1. Managing relationships with clients, clarifying the work and expectations as well as establishing boundaries from the get-go is key. 


  1. Don’t allow yourself to drown in work – even work that you’re passionate about. Make time and space for love, for family, for friends, for laughter, for beauty, for life. 


I’ll end with this quote from Khalil Gibrain

‘They deem me mad because I will not sell my days for gold. I deem them mad because they think my days have a price.’


Nebila Abdulmelik is a pan-African and feminist storyteller who uses the creative arts to speak her peace and archive stories of daily existence for coming generations. Born and bred in Addis Ababa, she has since criss-crossed the earth but found her way home again. She is a photographer, poet, writer and editor.

1 Comment
  1. Thank you Nebila for sharing after reading and re-reading this the adage with age comes wisdom comes to mind this is truly inspiring. Happy Birthday

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