I charged nothing for my time and it was worth it.

Last week I delivered one of the most enjoyable consulting sessions I have ever provided.  Rather than sitting over a coffee we sat over the saddles of our bikes and cycled a couple of times around Richmond Park.

My client, in this case, is someone I have known for a few years.  An accomplished business developer and project manager, he wants to find his way back into the world he loves; sports and, in particular, cycling.  Some years ago, he rode for a minor semi-pro French team, but realised he was never going to make the big time and decided to hang up his cleats for a career path that offered greater long term potential.

The point of my story is not the conversation itself (although it was pleasing to be able to stay close enough to him to hear him describe his thoughts and ideas, and to reflect back without too much puffing and panting), but instead to consider how I charge for my time.

It’s important to me to feel valued for what I do and, because my income potential is limited to the number of hours in the day I can sell, I worry about rates and making the most efficient use of time. Two laps of Richmond park followed by a muffin and hot chocolate (I didn’t want to waste away after all that exertion) took us around an hour, but let’s not forget the hour each way of travelling.  In all the meeting took up the entire morning and those three hours weren’t exactly going to pay many bills.

Yet it was easily worth it.  It was a most enjoyable meeting.  I benefited from a little coaching myself – I didn’t know how inefficiently I was using my gears – indeed getting out on my bike for the first time in weeks was justification alone.  Working is not simply about income.  It’s about how I spend my time.  A life that allows me to participate in an interesting conversation with someone about their career, while pursuing an activity I love, is a life I treasure.

Would I have bumped this for a fee-paying client?  Yes.  The point is, I realised that it is worth allocating space for this type of activity rather than adopting a billable hours mentality about my career.

It’s possible to value my time at different rates.  In fact, I can value my time at a rate of nothing per hour just as easily as I can value my time at a lot of money per hour. My time is not worthless when I don’t charge for it.  It’s only worthless when I don’t do anything useful or interesting with it.

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