The Thai restaurant where I waited tables was too cheap to wash their napkins with starch. They were burgundy colored and flopped like fish out of water, until we knotted them with parcel string and stuffed them with utensils.
It took 17 seconds to fold ‘n stuff 1 napkin. Each one, a nagging reminder: “is this the best use of your time?”
- I should be reading writing!
- Or reading scripts or books for work!
- I could even justify watching a movie as education. It was the entertainment business, after all.
Instead, I was waiting tables and folding napkins between orders, drowning in self-loathing. Did the money justify the time spent? I felt at a complete loss, and kept coming back to a single question:
Was my hourly rate worth it?
I used to obsess over hourly rate. I was 14-years old when I first started waiting tables, and my $20 hourly rate seemed pretty good for an awkward kid with no skills. It’s how I justified working at a Chinese restaurant I hated, instead of a cool place like Old Navy, or Auntie Ann’s Pretzels. I’d take the cash home and write in the night’s haul before stuffing both the money and ledger into my sock drawer before promptly crying myself to sleep.
Today, “hourly rate” carries a sexy connotation. Perhaps because of the explosion in poker popularity (bankroll management relies heavily on hourly rate,) or because of the 4-Hour Work Week. When you need a wheelbarrow to push around your money, sure, hourly rate should absolutely be taken into consideration.
- But what if you want to fight broke?
- What if the rent is due?
- Or you’d really like to afford lunch this week?
- What’s better: $100 for 5 hours of work, or $150 for 10 hours of work?
It reminds me of a raise negotiation I had with an HR guide. I made an ask and he countered, on the position that his offer was already a significant percentage increase, higher than industry standard.
“Maybe it is, but I can’t use percentage points to eat,” I retorted.
Hourly rate may be sexy, but you can’t pay anything with it.
You need cash money
No, folding napkins and waiting tables wasn’t the best use of my time. But I needed the money so I did it anyway.
Hourly rate is an important measure of value, but it’s not the only one. It’s not the end-all-be-all. Especially at the beginning of your career, if you’re fighting broke. Get caught up in only thinking about hourly rate versus bottom dollar, you may 80-20 your way to the poor house.
Chase Jarvis compared pursuing art and working a 9-to-5 job to juggling, and increasing your hourly rate is similar: “juggle like mad. When some balls are in there, you have to come over here and juggle like crazy, before coming back to catch the other ball.”
I think you can’t ever stop working on what you think will create long term value. Work on the low yield projects that you think are going to produce huge improvements in your hourly rate down the line. If you’re fighting broke, though, equally important is bringing in enough money today to keep fighting tomorrow.
Photo Credit: Brandon Doran via Compfight cc