free

I’m no longer sure what I want this space to be, but today, I’m taking it back to an early place. In this distant past, I used to put things here when I didn’t know how to talk about them. I’m having one of those moments, and I hope a few people are still interested in helping me work through it.

People volunteer for lots of reasons. It can be for fulfillment or recognition. Maybe the person needs something to do or a place to believe they matter. The volunteer’s contribution is never truly selfless, because even anonymous gifts bestow a sense of satisfaction and/or fulfillment on the giver.

For close to two decades, I volunteered with an organization. Many of you know which one because you’ve been around a while, but I’m not going to name it today. I cared about that organization enough to give it thousands of free hours of my time and expertise, hoping someone, somewhere, would value my contribution.

Because my selfish need as a volunteer is to be valued.

I forgot my own advice about the nature of freebies: People don’t value things they get for nothing.

In my book business, I’ve resisted every piece of advice about giving my books away for free. I often wonder why I take that stand, because I spend more money convincing a few people to buy them for the price of a crummy cup of coffee than I make from sales. But I invest in reading groups. I hear how many free books people are wont to download and how few they ever read. I’ve always hoped readers would move my books to the top of a To Be Read list because they paid something for them.

But this isn’t a discussion about books. I gave my professional expertise away for free. For close to five years, I served on a committee that charted the online course of a volunteer organization. Yes, I took money for the setup of certain aspects, but most of it went to others. I met hundreds of people, trained professionals at events and donated thousands of hours to this group.

In the past year or so, a string of events revealed how little anyone valued my contributions. I was angry, though I shouldn’t have been surprised:

People DO NOT VALUE things they get for free.

It’s a concept I preached to every consulting client I ever had, a dictum behind every book I sell.

I left that organization last month, a thing I loved and cherished and bled over for close to two decades, because I didn’t know how to regain my value and therefore the respect of others once I gave everything away.

Want to know how little anyone valued me, how much people don’t appreciate what they get for free? (Learn from this, Dear Reader. Don’t repeat my mistake.)

Of almost five thousand people, one person thanked me for everything I did. ONE. PERSON. Three people told me they’d miss me. Almost two decades. Thousands and thousands of hours of time and bottomless passion. I made an impression on FOUR PEOPLE.

Perhaps this reveals more about me. I must be a real pleasure to know in person. And yes, there are two sides to every story. I’m only weaving my side.

Here’s my struggle: The universe will reward me for my investment. It may not come from this group, but it will come from someplace. Knowledge doesn’t change how much this hurts. It doesn’t remove my need to grieve, but it helps me process pain.

But then I think about it. FOUR PEOPLE of five thousand give a shit about me. It’s like I died, and four people paid their respects, only I’m alive to witness how little I mattered to anyone.

In a skim-and-run online world, this post is both too long and too deep, a relic from my writing’s early days. I appreciate you for sticking with me, even when I’m not consistent. Thank you for cheering me onward with messages that usually arrive when I’m stumbling through a chasm of despair. I’ve been quiet, because more is going on around here than I can share.

Some of it is AMAZING news.

I have several exciting announcements. In upcoming posts, I hope you’ll join me for some

HAPPY STUFF.

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Thanks to San Diego-based author Betsy Marro for interviewing me as part of the launch of her new website. Sign up to be first in line for her debut novel Casualties and read her awesome interview with me HERE.

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