For Free

According to, Golly Magazine launched their gorgeous magazine from scratch without asking anyone to work for free. Contributors worked nights and weekends to bring Golly to life and received nominal fees for their work. A successful Kickstarter campaign will pay contributors and support future issues.

When I read about how Golly bootstrapped their publication I exclaimed, “Ich bin impressed!” and “I wish I'd thought of that!” with air from the same gasp.

Confession: A few months ago I launched the idea of a web publication designed to educate and entertain local folks in my hometown. I failed miserably. I'm still failing.

Generous, enthusiastic, talented people offered to work with me for free to help me execute my vision. They did legwork and sent me solid stories. I failed to deliver the platform they deserved for those stories.

Failing a group of people who rallied behind your idea is the actual worst. I've lost sleep trying to figure out how to talk them about why I failed them and lost sanity wondering whether it's too late to make it up to them.

When you fail you learn. I learned that I shouldn't ask people to work with me for free. And, you should never do work for free for anyone other than yourself.

flanneryfrombittersouth photo credit Alvin Diec by way of the notorious, illustrious, and much-loved Bitter Southerner

But, what about paying it forward?

Paying it forward is not the same as working for free. Paying it forward means helping someone without expecting anything in return. Paying it forward means someone did something great for you and you can pass along that positivity without returning it directly to the original benefactor. Paying it forward should give you the warm and fuzzies or be such a natural expression of your soul's energy that it doesn't feel like work. When I'm paying it forward I know that I'm truly working for myself because my life is better for it.

Working for free is uncompensated labor that may or may not feel like work. Only work for free if the expected personal benefit from your uncompensated labor outweighs your opportunity cost.

You are valuable. Your time is valuable. Your skills are valuable.

Don't put hours on the clock for anyone other than yourself unless you're getting paid in joy or money.