Just this past summer I was requested to be an editor for a non-profit client’s new high school curriculum. Since I supported the organization’s work, and needed the money, I said I’d take a stab at a couple of pages to see a.) how long it would take for me to edit, and b.) if the organization was pleased with my work.
When I was done editing a page and a half, I checked the clock–I’d spent more than an hour on the tiny project. The client was pleased with the work I’d done, and then told me how many more pages there were to be edited, and what their budget was for the project. I crunched the numbers: to edit the body of work would average me $8 an hour. I was stunned, and told the client I couldn’t possibly work for that wage. My editing and writing skills were (and still are) worth more than such a paltry amount.
We tried negotiating for a while, but I came to the conclusion that the client didn’t understand the real value of my skill. It hadn’t just take me an hour to edit, it had taken me years to learn how to write, how words work together, and how to craft and weave stories together.
It was after that when I came across the following story of Pablo Picasso:
Picasso sat at a table outside a Paris cafe. A woman came to him and asked that he draw something for her. He gladly complied, and quickly sketched a drawing. After he finished, he requested the French equivalent of $5,000.
The woman was taken aback. “But it only took you two minutes!”
Smiling, Picasso replied: “No madam, it took me my whole life.”
If someone can do something well and make it look easy, it doesn’t just take whatever amount of time for them to complete the task; it took their lifetime plus that time.
When I receive client requests to update something on their website, I always charge by fifteen minute increments. Crawling into the code of a static HTML site can sometimes take me just a minute, but that’s not the real issue. Some people may raise their pitchforks in protest, but that’s only because they’re missing the point. It takes me a fraction of time because I’ve spent years learning how websites work, and how to design and build them. It can take me five minutes, but it might take someone else days, if not months, to figure out how to make that same change. Modifying a website’s content doesn’t really take me five minutes, it takes me five minutes plus six years.
Understanding the value of someone’s skill or talent is much simpler if you try to do it yourself. When I first started kickboxing last February, I was out of shape and out of breath. But there was another student there, just a few years younger than me, who made all of the exercises look easy. I told her then that I wanted to be just like her. Nine months later and I’m finally coming close. And now I get to watch as the new students try to emulate my style of the Russian Twist (I scissor my legs, but I used to keep them stationary, like the dude in the video), and they laugh as they fall over, unable to get moving. The Russian Twist is by far my best exercise, but only because I was determined to get it right and strengthen my abs–I practiced on my carpeted floor, whenever I had a few minutes.
We’ve probably all been in a similar Picasso situation. Everyone is good at something; we inherently understand that skills and talent take refining, practice, and a lot of time before they’re our assets. Yet many of us still fail to understand the value of the talents and skills of others. So next time, when someone says to you “But it only took you ______ (amount of time)!” smile, and remember that you share something with Pablo Picasso.
I’m no Pablo Picasso, but I sketch the occasional doodle. You can find some of my artwork here.