The Plumber's Gift

Catherine Kasper
 


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The books never say one thing; they never say that creating a living from doing what one loves often seems like taking the easy way out. We're taught from elementary school on to really work hard and put our noses to the grindstone to get anywhere in life. We're told not to “cheat" or be lazy, not finish our work too early or too easily, not get ahead of the rest of the class. We're told not to let “the team" (the team being whoever reaps the most benefit) down, to get out and sell those Girl Scout cookies, that gift wrap or those candy bars.

They never say that, when people ask how much we'd charge to do a thing we love and are naturally good at just for them, it's really logical given our upbringing to think, “Ah, that's a piece of cake!" and lowball the price in order to play fair. It feels sneaky somehow, as though we'd be in danger of attempting actual fraud, to charge them a fee which would provide real profit. In our minds and hearts, we know it's an easy task and because it's so easy, we wind up with an amount that doesn't begin to pay our expenses. We put the needs of the other person first as we were so thoroughly taught to do and allow others to plumb our skills to their advantage, not to our own.

As little girls we were expected to help Mommy cook, clean and watch children. As teenagers, we were either paid a token amount for babysitting or, as I was, paid by an uneven sort of barter system. (I often watched up to 7 of my siblings at a time in exchange for fabric to sew clothes from or for my freedom on Saturday nights. Sometimes, my 6 cousins were added into the total too!) At the time, it was the norm. Every one of my friends babysat for money or time to themselves. Our mothers did not teach us how to create lucrative businesses out of using our gifts and talents. How could they have? We were being groomed for a future life like theirs, not for becoming entrepreneurs who work from a home office.

As grown up girls we've learned to support ourselves by going off to work every day; fitting into the corporate or academic worlds, thinking we have “made it" but still coming home to all the domestic tasks that sit and wait for us. The braver or luckier of us have managed to create businesses that allow us to work from our home offices or studios, scarcely daring to hope or believe that we are powerful, magical, or lucky enough to make it work. We wave our magic wands of talent frantically over our business plans while muttering prayers to the Angels and the Goddess to watch over us and protect us and make it all profitable.

But then, the awful thoughts come creeping again. “Well, I did do that work while wearing my bathrobe. " Or “I did that at the same time I was (pick one) doing the laundry, rocking the baby, driving to the post office, etc. how could I really charge them so much for that?"

We've all probably worked with more than one woman who held a job similar to ours who told anybody within earshot how hard she worked, how much effort it took to achieve an assigned task, how many papers she took home to complete and how late into the night her candle burned. Would we choose to become like her (if only in our own mind) in order to justify the fee we charge?

Recently, I observed my plumbers as they replaced the pipes for both water and gas in almost my entire house. At no time did they sweat. At no time did they grunt or groan with physical exertion. At no time did they move with the speed displayed by almost every other contractor I've seen; certainly not with the speed of a waitress or cleaning lady or nurse or school teacher.

I observed them submit their estimate, which gave me heart palpitations and then, their bill, which made me catch my breath and gave me heart palpitations again. Did they display any signs of guilt at the huge sum because their job was easy? Did they lowball the fee because they enjoyed their work? Did they feel odd because they came late and left early? Did their voices waiver and their gazes wander about the room as they spoke?

Not on your life. They looked me in the eye and spoke slowly and calmly. In fact, attached to the bill was a paper attesting to 20 reasons why it was fair to charge what they did. The list, complete with decorative icons, included their technical education, work to stock the truck, travel to the job site, office expenses, licenses, taxes and all the rest.

Certainly, it could be fairly argued that anybody working has similar expenses.

Believe me, my plumbing is now beautiful, is in excellent shape, the gas leaks are gone and the house is no longer in danger of exploding when I light a candle while doing an Angel Reading. I have, curiously enough, relaxed as I can now stop prowling the house looking for the source of “that awful smell. " I am happy with the work they did.

And I am grateful that they left me with their gift of showing me how to calmly value my work to a greater extent. I know now that I do not have to turn my work into something I perceive to be difficult to do in order to allow myself to value it more highly. The work I do is of high value precisely because it is simple for me to do yet it does not mean that anybody else can do it as well or in a similar manner. If it's a “cinch" to do, it means it's coming from the depth of who I am and who I am is highly valuable.

Work that's traditionally undervalued on the pay scale is typically the work that's perceived as being simple, something “anybody" can do. Therefore, the trick to increase our incomes is to do work that's easy but perceived by others to be impossible to do for themselves and also highly in demand. The plumbers knew I didn't have a clue about how to fix a gas leak and they took that fact all the way to the bank. Gas leaks must be fixed and that's that. I obviously place a high value on not being blown to bits.

What fun to use ability do you have that you can offer to the rest of the world? What can you do that others cannot or don't have time to do? What have you discounted and perhaps not even recognized that is actually a marketable skill? Pretend you're a plumber and give it some thought!

Copyright© 2007 Catherine M. Kasper.

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