Down to the Dollar: Work sucks, but that’s okay


At the start of the semester, a family asked the journalism department for a student photographer/videographer who could shoot a birthday party. A professor of mine referred the request to me, and I began making arrangements. 

I wasn’t ecstatic about the prospect, but a gig is a gig. 

After a few email exchanges about the event details, I quoted the job $400 — a price I found to be fair for four hours of work between my friend and me. 

After settling this arrangement, I sought the counsel of Steven Litchak, the manager of Lehigh’s digital media studio, where students and staff can arrange in-house audio-visual services. Litchak is also my work-study boss, who occasionally offers me jobs around campus. 

So far I’ve taken sports portraits, edited promotional content for a business conference and managed a team of videographers to record a university production, all of which have been related to Lehigh. For whatever reason (probably that I’m a student at this institution), the prospect of working on campus has been far less intimidating. 

I told him the details of my gig and that I would be splitting the money. There, I learned I may have sold myself short.

In the studio, Litchak turned around on his computer to pull up what local professionals charge for similar work and compared it to my quote.

A single photographer in the Lehigh Valley would quote, on average, $800 for less than four hours of work, but I was supplying photos and video recording for half of that. 

How could I, as a student, feel comfortable or confident basing my quotes on professional packaged rates? When I shared this with Litchak, he reminded me of the incredible bargain this family had managed with me. Their event was taking place at a country club and included a 20-person band, and based on the context, it would have been more than fair to charge more. 

For the week leading up to the job, I had been dreading it. Was my Saturday night really worth this? I thought about reasonable excuses to get out of it. The days passed, and my consciousness wouldn’t entertain any more pervasive thoughts of bailing. 

With a tinge of regret and tired eyes, I lugged myself into the car — tripods and cameras in tow. 

My friend beamed with excitement the whole way there. For the past year, we have picked up small photo and video jobs around campus, but for the first time, we got one that took us outside the Lehigh bubble. 

In all honesty, it wasn’t that exciting. We did admire each other’s handiwork, framing and finesse of awfully complicated camera settings, but it was nothing wholly new. 

To me, we were doing what we do best: working as a team and shooting some cameras.

I’m not passionate about freelance video work, but through my time at Lehigh I’ve fostered my ability to do it well. 

I grew up in a house that revolved around the gig economy. My dad works in film and theater, picking up various jobs throughout the year — some more exciting than others. 

Despite being a creative professional, he is disenchanted with a lot of his work. He goes through the motions.

I never understood how that could be possible when every job brings its own set of excitement and challenges. But now, I understand. 

At the venue, I moved across the perimeter and sneaked through guests, capturing candid moments of the joyous family. The night was packed with tributes and celebrations for a man turning 100 years old. It was rather sweet.

And yet, nothing drew me to being there. For a student as concerned with earning money as me — so much so that I’ve dedicated this column to discussing it — I couldn’t find myself drawn to what I was doing for the money. 

By the time I had returned to campus to sort, upload and share the media, it was 11 p.m. Had my whole Saturday been worth $200? I don’t think so. 

In the end, I made good on my commitment. It was just a job, and the bills have to get paid. In this case, my gas bill had to get paid. (Staying warm isn’t cheap!) 

Money is good, but valuing myself is better. 

As my final year as an undergraduate student draws near, I come closer to the reality that I will soon have to venture into the real world (a world that isn’t on a college campus). 

Upon the initial prospect of this particular job, I was mildly hesitant. Was I even qualified to do quasi-professional work outside of Lehigh?

I felt like I had to low-ball myself to compensate for the shortcomings of my inexperience, but that’s a terrible practice. What will I gain from underestimating and second-guessing my abilities? 

Next time, I’ll do better: down to the dollar. 


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