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Are You Defined by Your Paycheck?

Posted 2011-05-20

Rural Community Values

Last week I was having lunch with a fellow counselor who practices in Boulder. We were discussing rates and she asked me what I charged per session. Knowing my fee was less than hers I hemmed and hawed before finally telling her. Her loud reaction led the other diners to turn and stare. She started in on a diatribe informing me that I was charging too little. “What exactly do you think you’re worth?” she demanded.

After I got over my embarrassment and everyone else returned to their meals, I began to share with her what it’s like to be a small business owner in a rural community. Of course I need to make a living and pay my bills, same as her. However I made a specific choice to be a counselor in the Peak to Peak area. I could drive down to Denver or Boulder and make more money (true in my field, but not everyone’s), but instead I offer counseling services in my own community. This means that I have intimate knowledge of how the economy is affecting my friends and neighbors, people I see on a regular basis getting gas for my car or picking up a pizza. My clients aren’t nameless, faceless Boulderites coming in for counseling; they are people who live in my neck of the woods.

My fees, I explained, are determined by this unique understanding of my community and what is affordable. Maybe it would be nice to make six figures (I don’t know, I never have) or have a villa in the South of France, but that’s not my motivation. I don’t measure my worth by my session rate or my yearly income; instead I look to my community. Do you trust me enough to make that first call and walk through my doors? Do you leave my office finding healing and the change you seek?

Our community gives us a unique perspective on the world that sometimes just doesn’t make sense to someone down the hill. I would argue at the end of the day that’s more valuable than a villa.

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