Getting paid for "Spiritual" Work

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Is this familiar?

"It's this being paid for work you feel called to. I call it the "Bodhisattva Belief", though you can substitute any tradition - Mother Teresa, monks, etc. A deeply held sense that you are here to serve, and therefore - this depends - do not need/deserve/cannot allow yourself to be paid."

This is not at all unusual.

This is a fairly common legacy belief among healers, coaches, and other holistic practitioners that can wreak havoc, effectively shutting down financial success. I know this intimately.

When I left corporate accounting to become a yoga teacher, I ran smack into this -- at the time I couldn't articulate it, but I watched myself apologize for charging.  I shrank from asking for money. I stumbled over my intentions and found myself giving things away for free.

Then, I became resentful. I resisted even showing up. Eventually, I threw up my hands and walked away.

My husband called yoga my expensive hobby.

Which infuriated me, but he was right.

When I began coaching, this very heated internal argument was the first thing I brought to my first coach. "How can I possibly ask for money to do this work that feels so sacred to me? That is SO much fun and feeds me??"

I was bound and determined that coaching was NOT going to be an expensive hobby, but a financially successful business. That first coaching session where I brought my money issues to the table was prophetic. I have spent a great deal of time and energy unwinding and articulating the beliefs and patterns that created such dissonance for me in my work and in my bank account.

Back in the day (and still in many places), monks and nuns were in agreement with their larger communities. Though they weren't necessarily paid directly for their work, they DID receive sustenance in exchange for their teachings and ministrations. They were cared for and did not want for any of their basic necessities.

I'm guessing you haven't taken vows.

I'm guessing you live in a house, with rent or a mortgage payment. You may have children in school that require clothing. Hell, you require clothing. You feed yourself and pay your bills. You give charitably and you likely drive a car. In other words, you live in a world where you have financial obligations that you want to meet through the income you generate.

Enter a tangle of weird vibes around charging.

So let's just say you don't charge enough (or you keep giving away your work for free) for this work that you feel called to. Then what? What happens as a result of that?

If you have someone who supports you, perhaps it doesn't really matter. But if you DO want to generate income and be financially independent through the vehicle of your work, there are a number of things that can result from this undercharging/apologizing/giving it away thing.

Resentment. I was in a near constant state of resentment when I wasn't charging appropriately. I was so PISSED at the people who I was working with, wondering why THEY weren't valuing my work.

Fact: an undercurrent of resentment is really not at all conducive to your people getting the most out of what you are doing together.

Anxiety and feeling unsafe. Oh yes, bills.  Feeling resentful while teaching, and then anxious about paying my bills when I wasn't teaching, I felt like I couldn't create solid ground for myself.

Fact: It is impossible to do your best work when you are in a constant state of fight or flight and wondering how you are going to feed yourself or pay your bills.

Burnout. Eventually I walked away. I was SO sick of feeling resentful and anxious and I knew that I wasn't actually engaged in my work in a way that was helpful anymore. I felt like my work was a one way street and I wasn't receiving what I needed - financially or otherwise.

Fact: If you burn out, then you aren't doing your work to do. And that sucks for everyone.

So who are you to NOT to charge for what you do?

Let's go back to the beginning.

If you have, "a deeply held sense that you are here to serve, and therefore...you do not need/deserve/cannot allow yourself to be paid." I would invite you to compassionately call bullshit on this massively unhelpful legacy belief.

The better statement, the one that rings with deep truth for most of my clients is, "if you have a deeply held sense that you are here to serve, you absolutely must allow yourself to receive payment. You simply must honor the exchange of your energy and your gifts for income."

No matter how spiritual your work is, if you have chosen to go into business, you are in it to generate income. Yes, you are also in it to change lives, but you will change no one's life if you have to stop doing what you are called to do because you can't pay your bills.

Change lives and charge money.

This is the challenge and the invitation. May you follow your calling, charge appropriately, and change many, many lives.

XO.N

17 comments

Nona - This timing couldn't be more perfect for me! Thank you. I am moving into creating some programs for a fee - that come right from the spirit of my heart - and this belief that spiritual service ought not be compensated monetarily is one that lies deep in many of us. I was raised with it... but now realize that there is a different framing for this - one that involves understanding that exchanging money is an energetic exchange and allows our service to become and remain sustainable and thriving, and therefore accessible to those who might need it most - and, ideally, it grows enough to be able to continue the flow of that energy into the service of others, thus creating more opportunity to model new frameworks of support for the spiritual work that is so needed in every facet of the changes our world faces. Thank you again, for bringing this reminder close to my own heart, practice and developing services. Blessings, hali

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Denise Canellos Jan 18, 2013 07:46pm

People don't often value what they haven't paid for. If we truly want our clients to achieve their goals, we have to place value on what we do to help them. When they pay for our hard-earned wisdom they are more likely to take it to heart.

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Gina, that is so very true and it is a great reminder for all of us - thank you for posting!! xoxo.

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Working on EXACTLY your newsletter topic this week. Thank you so much for your wise words and helpful wisdom.

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It's so true that people often don't value what they haven't paid for - I agree :) This has been a battle I've been having with myself all my life, and not just since I became self employed - feeling worthy of money, which is crazy really because how can we not be worthy?

And another issue that I know is relevant for me is that my work is sacred and I do this work because I feel called to it. And so many others I see doing what is labelled the same, eg labelled as tantra, seem to be motivated primarily by bringing in money (it is generally acceptable to charge higher prices for tantra related sessions and events - that is intended to reflect the depth of the work). I know there is part of me that wants to distance myself completely from those people.

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Starla J. King Jan 17, 2013 02:11am

"Change lives and charge money." long, deep, appreciative silence. thank you, Nona. xo

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Great post! I was also thinking about the value people tend to place on what they are receiving. When payment is involved, it seems that often more value and commitment follows. An example of this came from a friend of mine who runs a community project. He found that when people had to pay something for an activity they were more likely to turn up, than if it were free. Whenever I get a wobble about charging, I remind myself of this :-)

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Nona, the 'I'm guessing you haven't taken vows' line is priceless, and so accurate! I still struggle with whether I'm charging too much, even though I know some of my former students are out in the world charging more than I do . . . and many of my current students do approach the medicine as a sacred commitment, and thus, feel conflict with 'commercialism' [charging money].

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I'm from another pov. There is nothing either sacred or non-sacred about charging for your services. You charge because you're in business. You research the market, see the going rates, then go either higher, lower or in the middle depending on the other factors: your ability, experience, education, the competition in your field, the times the service takes ... and, ultimately, the price your market will bear. That's why they call economics a science -- a soft science, but a science nonetheless.

I've never had an issue with actually charging money. I can't imagine not charging. How much to charge was my issue for the above reasons.

Too little and I undervalue both my services and my market; too much and I price out much of my market (yes, that does happen, especially these days).

I don't see a "spiritual" connection to charging. It's pure economics. But then again, I don't do spiritual work so I'm really not qualified to comment on that.

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Thank you for sharing such wonderful insights. Your facts struck a chord with me... "If you burn out, then you aren't doing your work to do. And that sucks for everyone." So true! What makes us so afraid to ask?

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Padma Ayyagari Jan 18, 2013 02:57am

I have asked a question about the same thing as an idea popped into my head of how I could be of service through my writing and art. I have asked for a sign to be shown that charging for the book I would like to create is the right thing to do. Always battled with the same concept that this spiritual knowledge is not mine to charge for . May be this article that I stumbled upon accidentally is THE answer for my question. While one side of me agrees with what you say here, the other side is still resisting to accept. How do I navigate to opposing forces within me?

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Thank you for this! Such an important conversation right now. The line that jumped out at me was " I was so pissed at the people I was working with, wondering why THEY weren't valuing my work." It was like a huge aha! ... that virtual hand slap between the eyes ... "Duh! I am the one who is not valuing my work! I am the one who decides what I charge!" I totally get it. Now to unwind the knots in the stomach and get to the place where I put this into action!

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Interesting article, Nona. Can actually be applied to other fields as well. This winter while we've been struggling more than usual, we've realized that we offer and do a lot of things for free that really shouldn't be. You would be surprised at how many things people expect for free from a budget accommodation, but wouldn't blink an eye paying triple for at a higher end place. Steve and I are working on placing value on what we do and what we offer, it's a fine line between monetizing absolutely everything and not undervaluing what you do or have to offer.

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Laraine, you are so not alone. Would changing your mind about being paid for sacred work be a relief for you?? Thank you for commenting...

XO

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That about sums it up, doesn't it Starla? Bowing to the rich work that you do changing lives, my love... XO

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I would love to hear how it goes, Gillian!! XO

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Hali, I am so glad that this is a timely reminder for you. Many blessings to you as you launch your programs!! XO

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