THINK ABOUT IT: money = guilt?


Today’s THINK ABOUT IT came to me back in December while I was on the EL (subway) platform at Belmont. What I came to realize about my thinking that evening might be helpful to discuss here on Makeunder.

Money = Guilt?

One day last month I created an expensive custom piece. A few people were interested in the design and asked to place an order. I was thrilled, but unsure of how to price the jewelry. As I mentioned, the supplies and labor for the item were significant. Given a standard markup, the item ended up costing a pretty penny. And instead of feeling proud of the design I created, I felt guilty.

The following thoughts about the situation raced through my mind as I stood waiting for a Brown Line train:

“Why should I make that much money on a piece of my work?”

“This is more money than my usual designs. Something doesn’t feel right about this.”

“Maybe I should decrease the price, they might not be able to pay for it.”

And then I thought:

“What if they do buy it at full price? I shouldn’t make that much money.”

What was I thinking!?

Rather than feeling confident in my ability to make quality jewelry with high quality materials, I felt like a fraud. I felt guilty about my success rather than thankful for it.

I could have been thinking:

“I’m so incredibly thankful and fortunate for the awesome customers and people I know through Jess LC. Without their support and encouragement, I would not be self-employed and doing the job I love.”

“Though this custom piece has a higher price than the other pieces I’ve made in the past, the price reflects the craftsmanship and materials that went into the finished piece. This is a testament to my design skills improving.”

And finally,

“It is my job to create beautiful, fairly priced jewelry that improve the lives of those who wear it. It is the job of the customer to determine if the piece fits into their life and budget. They can always pass on the item if it is too expensive.”

So my question is, have others felt similar feelings of guilt in regards to making money or entering a new level of career success?

I’m willing to wager that if I pursued a corporate career, I would not feel guilty about getting bonuses and raises. Perhaps because I’d compare myself to others at my level receiving similar wage increases. But when I directly grow and improve my business, I seem to take things more personally fearfully.

Who am I to really grow this company and succeed with flying colors? As I’ve mentioned before, the question really is: who am I not to be?

And for that matter, who are you not to be?

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  1. Rebecca

    GREAT post Jess! ( if you are talking about me, you are so right). If it was too expensive, i would not have purchased it!

    I too harbor some guilt with my business being the owner, but you have to think that you are providing a hi-end product. You are giving your customers what they are paying for and you should be proud. It would be different if you were selling a less than par items for oodles of dollars. You know?

  2. I struggle with this all the time when I decide on what to charge for my cross-stitch pieces. I’ve actually procrastinated on adding some needle ‘paintings’ to my shop because I’m afraid I’m going to charge too much for them, despite the materials and hours and hours of labor that go into them.

    My husband has his own home improvement business, and he struggles with estimates for jobs all the time. He does excellent quality work, but he feels because he’s still just starting out, he should keep his prices super low. I just hope it doesn’t come back to haunt us later on! And, hopefully, soon he’ll start to realize what he’s really worth and not be afraid to charge his customers for his quality.

  3. Melissa

    These are such good thoughts and things that every business person should think about. The fact that you’re feeling this way just means that you care. You want your supporters to love your jewelry as much as you do, and honestly, I think overall your prices are fantastic! When it’s your business, you’re putting in more than just hours of your day. You’re putting in your creativity, your care, your everything into it, and it shows. Keep up the good work!

  4. I work in the corporate world and feel guilty about bonuses and raises. I don’t feel worthy to earn the salary that I do and yet I’ve went to school, worked hard and do good work. So I don’t think the guilt is limited to business owners.

  5. I am an artist as well. When I price my work, I feel like it is too high. Instead of loving what I made, like you, I feel that it will just be rejected because of the price. It’s hard not to think that way.

  6. wow, this is really thought provoking and honest. thank you for giving me some things to think about.
    i can say that my life as a formal social worker dealing with the poorest and most impoverished families around, i feel guilty for much that i have, but maybe guilt isn’t the right. responsible.
    i realize that even in my own financial struggles, that i have more than much of the world. it’s my right to spend it on whatever i choose (including high end jewelry) but i must never forget that i am truly blessed and whether i deserve it or not isn’t the point. people rarely get what they deserve on both ends of the spectrum.
    again, thank you for your honesty.

  7. Simone

    oooh this hit home–Just this fall I was working on a freelance writing/research piece (one of the first ones I’ve done of that kind) and totally under billed the person I was doing the work for. I don’t really know why I did it. I knocked off a few hours from my time sheet because I thought if she saw how long I had actually spent on the project she would think I worked at too slow a pace. It was pretty ridiculous because in the end she was really happy with my work and would have happily paid for the extra hours. I think this is probably something a lot of people who are trying to get a business/career going face: you want to get the work & experience but you also don’t want to alienate people by demanding too much. But, on the other hand, I’m starting to learn that its OK to value your hard work and ask for what you feel you deserve. Sometimes you just need to put it out there. I think it also comes down to price vs. value. You have a really great product (handmade, quality materials, unique) and anyone who is looking for something like that is going to see the value in the price. Wow, long comment!!

  8. I think this is something that most self-employed people struggle with, and yep, even employed people! I’ve been feeling guilty for my high hourly wage at my day job (that is, until they cut my hours and it doesn’t seem like so much anymore!) because I know that similar jobs in the area held by people with more experience are offering less. Likewise, I had an e-decorating customer ask if she should pay more because she felt like she was ripping me off, I’d charged so little! And granted, my hourly rate for those designs is probably less than WA minimum wage. But since I’m just starting out, it makes me nervous to consider charging much more.

    As far as your jewelry goes, So far everything I’ve seen is very fairly priced and I think if I saw something that was a lot more than your other pieces I’d feel that this piece was extra special. I’m glad you were able to turn your attitude around, because you deserve the positive pep talk!

  9. Kate

    It is incredibly difficult to balance guilt over success in a society that values bang for your buck. I am in my first year as an engineer working for a major oil company. As a chemical engineer, I absolutely have a unique skill set that a small portion of the population has. However, I don’t see how my day to day activities can be twice as valuable or challenging than that of a school teacher. Yet my salary reflects that my work is “more valuable” to society.

    I find this concept to be tremendously challenging given that I have a strong Christian background. I’m not trying to turn this into a religious discussion, but the bible preaches of giving up all material wealth for God’s glory. And as a person who tries to live by higher moral standards, I fight this.

    So, instead of feeling guilty over success, I look to devoting much of my time, energy, and financial base to activities that I believe to be ultimately pleasing to God. In a discussion with a past mentor about tithing, they imparted a lot of wisdom. They mentioned that you shouldn’t feel like giving 10% of your money away is a burden, but rather that the remaining 90% is a gift from God. Our successes, talents, and what we reap from those talents are gifts from God. What defines our successes is how we use those gifts.

  10. Jeanne

    I’ve been in the same position, so thank you for your honesty. This is a great blog post and I don’t think you should feel guilty. It’s up to each customer to determine if they can afford what they’re buying. If I can’t afford something, I don’t blame the person who made it at all.

    If your prices were too high for everyone, than you wouldn’t make any sales. But that’s obviously not true. So keep up the great and awesome work. I love your blog and your jewelry–you inspire me daily.

  11. Jessica

    I came to your blog because I’m a long-time admirer of your work. I don’t think you should feel guilty for the price tag you apply to an item. Part of the thrill of purchasing work from an independent artist is that the piece is unique, it was handcrafted and there’s a higher level of personal interaction and customer service. Those come at a premium. And I’m sure most people understand that you need to make a living and you don’t have the luxury of mass producing and mass marketing your pieces to drive down the costs. Regardless, I think your work is worth it!

  12. Very though provoking, Jess. I’ve felt this way about offering my services – especially since there is no tangible “product” or “result”…just me, my time, my expertise, and the value I bring to the table. Ultimately though, I think that when you set your prices, someone has the option to say yes or no. So I don’t feel bad about someone’s decision because it is their own…

  13. Marika

    I struggle with this issue constantly. Lot’s of people say I have underpriced my items, but when I consider that when I sell an item to a boutique, and they mark it up 100%, I often wonder if people will pay that much for an item, so I often end up ripping myself off. I’m trying to turn my jewellery business into a full time job, but if I keep thinking this way, I worry that I never will be able to do that. It’s frustrating, but I’m still not sure how to tackle the issue.

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