Making a Living While Making a Difference: Finding the Balance Between Charging for Services and Giving Them For Free

6281142155_cf33c5be64_zI come from a long line of helpers. As far back as I can remember my mother was always helping friends, neighbors, and the community. Throughout her life she was a member of Altrusa, an international civic organization started in 1917 by women helping others during World War I. My father was a writer, actor, and playwright. Both were involved in progressive political activities.

My mother spent her adult life working as a secretary, making just enough money to support the family and did her “helper work” after hours. My father wanted to make a living doing the work he loved, but he never made money at his craft and eventually became depressed and tried to take his own life when I was five years old.

In their view there were only two kinds of people in the world: The “workers” who eked out a living, but helped others and the “owners” who exploited the workers and got rich at the expense of others. I’m sure they would have been on the front lives of those protesting the 1% who became Godzillionaires and the 99% who worked hard all their lives for a small wage.

I grew up conflicted about helping others. On the one hand I thought I should follow my mother’s lead and separate her “job” which included making a subsistence wage from her “passion” for helping others. On the other hand I wanted to follow my father’s desire to make a living doing what he loved. But I was always afraid that if I did what I loved I would fail to make a living, become depressed and run the risk of following my father’s path from a suicide attempt into a mental hospital.

Over the years I’ve found a balance. I decided I would make a living doing what I love to do. Over the years that has been writing, teaching, and counseling. I never got rich and don’t expect I ever will, but I’ve managed to do well, find a great wife, raise our family of five children, and help our 16 grandchildren, mostly by giving love, occasionally by giving a little money when they need it.

I started MenAlive in 1969 following the birth of my son, Jemal. I made a vow to him that I would be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me and I would do everything I could to create a world where men and women could make a living doing what they loved to do and where children could grow up with parents who loved and supported them.

One of the ways I express my passion and commitment to helping others is through my writing. I share stories and offer guidance to people, which I hope will make their lives better. Most of what I write I simply post for free on line and hope it will be of help. The feedback I get tells me that I’m making a difference.

I also offer books, booklets, white papers (An authoritative report or guide that informs readers concisely about a complex issue), classes, courses, consulting, and counseling. I hate it when I am bombarded by sales pitches for this or that product from people who haven’t taken the time to get to know me and seem to care more about selling me something I don’t need than helping me solve real problems in my life. So I try and let people know about a product or service when I think I have something that will be of real value to you.

A few months ago I got an angry letter from one of the subscribers when I had mentioned a book I had written at the end of one of my articles. He said he didn’t appreciate my telling people about a book I had for sale. I wrote him back and told him I appreciated the feedback. When I explained that I gave most of my information away for free (This is 40 years of hard-earned life experience that I believe is quite valuable), but that I made my living selling some of my information. This allows me to live well, though modestly, and support my family as well as causes that are important to me. He apologized for his anger and continues to support my work.

I recently asked my readers to take part in a survey for an upcoming class I’ll be offering on How to Have a Marriage Where Love, Passion, Fun, and Freedom Can Last Forever. Whenever I am asked to take time to complete a survey I like to get some kind of “thank you” in return. I offered three of my most widely read white papers for those who completed the 5 minute survey. We got a good response, but we also had 350 people who “unsubscribed” to my mailing list.

At first I felt hurt, then guilty. Was I going to lose my people if I asked them for help? I realized that people unsubscribe for lots of reasons. I do it myself when I’m not getting value from mailings or when I just feel overwhelmed with too much mail. Then I felt better about the people leaving since I really only want people who feel excited to get my mailings and read my articles.

I’m proud of what I offer people and I’m not ashamed to ask people to pay for the information I offer for sale.  Not everyone needs or wants what I offer, but for those who need it I want to make it available. So here’s the way I’ll balance making a difference while making a living in 2016:

  1. I’ll continue offering articles, advice, comments to your questions for free.
  2. I’ll continue to offer books, booklets, white papers, classes, courses, consulting, and counseling and ask those who might need them to pay for them. Hey, we pay the plumber, the T.V. repairman, the computer store, etc.
  3. I’ll gladly say “goodbye, and thanks for subscribing” to anyone who isn’t getting value from my offerings.
  4. I’ll welcome those who are getting value and enjoy your feedback to tell me how I can better serve you.
  5. I’ll ask for your continuing support of my work. Here are some things you can do if so moved:

    – Repost, retweet, or pass on my articles and offerings to those you think would be interested.
    – Post comments. I love hearing from you. I read everything and it lets me know you’re out there.
    – If you buy one of my products or services, know you’ll get something of real value to you and that you are supporting my efforts to make a positive difference in the world.
    – Feel proud of what you give to the world and don’t be afraid to get paid well for what you offer that is valuable and makes the world a better place.

As always I look forward to your comments. If you liked this article you might also enjoy these:

The Ten Best Articles in 2015: Sex, Love, Loss, and Our Collective Future
On Turning 72: 7 Important Life Lessons Learned
The Purpose of Marriage: 5 Ways to Insure Your Relationship Lasts Forever

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  1. Michelle Quinn says:

    Dear Jed,
    I recently purchased your book – irritable male syndrome. I am 43, female and a humanistic counsellor who worked with teenagers in school settings, play therapy with younger children and adults. I grew up in a home with my mum who expressed her love in a huge way by giving all she could give of herself with as much understanding through the wounds she was carrying. She grew up witnessing her mother being mistreated by her father, physically, emotionally and mentally. My mother also was subjected to the wrath of his rage through hidings.

    My mum left to escape her environment at 15, married my biological father at 17 and became the victim of his physical, emotional and mental abuse. He had an alcohol addiction. When I was 6 months old and at my mothers breast, my father through a chair at us and she left. She also had two sons. Her mother took her back in along with the three of us. Money and poverty were a huge issue and she literally had nothing and neither did her mother or father. A little later she met another man who was very loving and kind towards me and would spent time wanting to be with me, something I craved. Unfortunately he cheated on my mum and her trust was shattered, their relationship came to an end when I was 9, my mum found who was to become my step father, 10 years younger than my mum. Our home was S constant battle vying for my mothers love and attention. He himself had an abusive upbringing between his mother, being bullied, on the receiving hands of powerful priests… He himself was deeply wounded.
    He also was unfaithful with another man. A deeper insult to my mum. They split for a couple of years and she chose to try and work it out with him. They are still together now and I have a good relationship with him and he in his own way shows his love to my own 3 girls, more through material means but I genuinely believe this is his understanding of how to love. My mum 4 years ago developed stomach cancer, and subsequently lost half her stomach to save her life. I often wonder if all her wounds and hardening of the scars manifested themselves through her cancer ?
    My mum’s tunnel vision and capacity for understanding men comes very much from her existential experience but I can see Ho this limits her ability to relate. Her outward behaviour could be seen as being very controlling, directional in justifying her truth as the only truth. In her state of disempowerment, fear, and the infections of the wounds that have taken hold through her bitterness, feelings of hopelessness, despair and being let down so often in her life, she is tangled, caught in self fulfilling prophecies that result in her experiencing abandonment, rejection and a sense of worthlessness. I see her looking to others to meet her needs, and my heart bursts with compassion and understanding because she really didn’t have parents who met hers.
    I know I have many learned traits and behaviours. I also know that the more I recognise and inderstand them, the more I can embrace them and they help me to love myself, feel a deeper compassion for my previous couple of generations and I can bring my ability to love into my own family and deeply meet and be present with the people who cross the counselling room doors.
    And here is the but!
    Even although I have a male counsellor (for last 9 years), I am part of a mixed peer group (last 5 years) and I am deeply self reflective and invest in my own self care. The limited vision I have to truly see, understand and meet the opposite gender, and truly see them in all there humanity is something o have to prize open my eyes because my defence system is always just right there. It’s like holding the doors of the lift open, whilst they are trying to shut so I can see out to where I know I need to be seeing.
    I have been married for 19 years. A relationship that was caught up in my being the damsel in distress and my husband literally rescuing me. When I developed my own sense of self, my husband felt really threatened and redundant but I didn’t have the maturity to understand and hold him on this, instead I just saw him as being controlling and possessive. My relationship with my husband is the one area that I believe needs the most attention and it is the biggest puzzle and inigma to me. I am really sensitive, intuitive and whilst this is lovely and I have a deep ability to empathise, I can respond from these places which then kicks of my self protection and I am really wary of my husband’s irritation, frustration, critisism, blame or anger. Often he has put this onto me but I have also believed it must be my fault and I must try harder. A pro dominant belief that I grew up with where I would often have high expectations to not mess up the house or keep it tidy, followed by threats of having my belongings taken away from
    me by my step father or my mother being very disappointed in me or worse, giving up on me because she had had enough of me in my selfishness.
    because of the work over the last 15 years of personal and professional development as a counsellor I know I am a present and loving mother most of the time and my want to understand and be with my children really helps me when I feel on an edge with them. I’m also not scared to say sorry to them when I really mess up. They are 12, 9 & 7.
    My husband is overall a grounded father and is almost the other side of what I lack, so I can see the potential of what a good team we are. When he loses it with them which is more occasional now, he is saying sorry more with them and taking responsibility and also seeing how he could have explained why he was mad.
    I didn’t e pact to write so much Jed, but, it’s in reading your book and reading all your posts, that I hold onto your findings, lifelong experiences, research and I’m hungry to learn more. To both learn about myself as a woman in relation to males and also to learn about males in relationship to me and my absolute hearts desire is to be able to hear, understand and accept their experience and perception so I can truly see them in their humanity and understand their own self protective systems, defensive ways of responding and not feel threatened by these. Infact, so I can love them all the more because of them.
    I know I have the capacity to do this but I am keen to become a student of yours and would very much see you as a strong guide in this area. So, I really value you, and Your willingness to make a living whilst making a difference. I’m sad that you were misunderstood by one of your readers. I fully support and believe in what you and what you offer.
    Thank you.

    • Michelle,

      Thanks for your in-depth response to the article. All our life experiences are really lessons to learn and opportunities to go deeper in understanding and accepting ourselves. Relationships are where we were wounded and relationships are where we can heal old wounds. Good for you for your willingness to explore the challenging history you and your family have gone through. I support you on your journey. Do keep in touch.

  2. Hi Jed.

    Finding your site and posts has been truly fortuitous for me. I’m turning 65 in a few months and am retired, though I supplement my income with freelance editorial work. I’ve been married to my wife for the past 42 years, and now, with both of us retired, it has been quite a struggle for me to adjust to our new state in life. I was downsized in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession and, at my age, was forced into an early retirement with age discrimination being the modus operandi for boomers in this “new economy.”

    I was introduced to you when I Googled the acronym IMS. I had never heard of irritable male syndrome before, and only discovered it when my wife, having read the most recent issue of AARP The Magazine commented that in its “Healthy You” department, there was a reference to over-60 males being afflicted by decreasing levels of testosterone that can affect mood, making them angrier.

    Jed, all of my life I’ve been characterized as being mild-mannered, quiet, and I rarely displayed anger, but in the last 10 or so years, I’ve flown into emotional outbursts toward my wife that have frightened her to the point where she has feared for her safety. While she does tend to be an extremely critical person, which drives me up the wall, it takes very little for her to say something that provokes me into a rage. As a result, we hardly talk to each other; we talk at each other, both trying to one-up the other in insult and injury. Often I wonder how two such incompatible personalities ever could have married, but acknowledge that marrying right out of college, with little dating experience could also have contributed to our present situation.

    After seeing the reference in AARP, I decided to take your IMS quiz, and, sure enough, I apparently scored off the charts (110) as an explosive type–a ticking time bomb. It frightened me to come face to face with a reality that I couldn’t deny. I’ve had hypertension for the last 15 years, and I’m sure that this is a contributor to it.

    Many times during our arguments, I have wished I could just leave, and have threatened to do so, but at our age, divorce is impossible–we’d lose everything we built together, not to mention that I’m dependent on her retirement income as a former teacher to survive, which for me as a male is particularly galling. Neither of us has the stomach for a “marriage of convenience.”

    Several years ago, we committed to counseling (my suggestion, not hers) and were in therapy for three years. We probably should still be in it now, but because of financial constraints, we can no longer afford it. We had to stop when we were finally seeming to make some headway.

    I should add, finally, that like your father, I too, am a writer. My first love is fiction. I’ve written and published short stories and three novels, and published two , one of which won an award for excellence in independent publishing in 2009. I certainly understand how your dad must have felt.

    There were times in my life when I myself, thought of taking the “easy way out,” too, but with two children, I realized that I couldn’t. I admit that I’ve internalized the bitterness and resentment at not being able to earn a living as a creative write when I’ve seen lesser talents make it big (little humility here); however, in my early thirties I chose the resourceful path and decided to pursue a career as a book editor, which had been my bread-and-butter for 30 years until I retired.

    I must admit that I get more gratification in semi-retirement helping people who’ve written books and want to self-publish them through print-on-demand than I could ever have imagined I would. So you see, consistent with this post, I really get it that our role in this life is to be a helper in whatever way we can. I happen to have a skill set that few people possess. Interestingly enough, though fiction is my particular forte, almost all of the books I’ve help shepherd through this process are in the Christian Living/Spiritual Growth category. Go figure. I’ve come to realize that it apparently is how God has seen fit for me to deploy the talents with which He gifted me.

    I definitely plan to buy and read The Irritable Male Syndrome soon, as I know that there will be insights that I will gain about changes in my temperament that heretofore I have failed to grasp. Though a writer, I can’t find words to thank you for your work in this little-mined field of research. All this time, I was thinking that something was wrong with me but not really understanding what the source of the problem could be. Now I know. Thanks for adding me to your subscriber list. I’m so enjoying reading your posts, and as you probably know, Sunday is the best possible time for them, as I get the fewest e-mail to sort through on that day and can devote my full attention to your timely posts.



    • Mark, Thanks for your post. In these times of major changes, its understandable that we feel overwhelmed. We can feel trapped in old behaviors and old wounds begin to surface when least expected. It sounds like this is a great time to go deeper with your life and experiences and to address the underlying causes of your anger. In addition to the Irritable Male Syndrome you may also like to read, Mr. Men: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome.

      Keep us posted on how things go.