I was on the way to Richmond to speak at the Black History Museum of Virginia recently when I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?”
I was travelling 60 miles in the rain. I was not being paid, and the director had said that she wanted the museum, not me, to sell my book. From a financial standpoint, the speech didn’t make any sense. There had to be other reasons I was doing it.
I have struggled with this question before. I spent years doing the research and writing for The Last Lynching in Northern Virginia. During that time, I spent money on everything from gasoline and postage to copy costs and reprint fees. I did the work and spent the money happily, even though I was not reimbursed and had no prospect of a payback. I joked that it was an expensive hobby, like owning a boat or playing golf.
That changed last year when I signed a contract with History Press. The publisher agreed to pay me a percentage of all sales, though the company writes checks only twice a year. My first payday won’t be until next March.
So if money is not the measure, why do I do this? What are the other pleasures in the task? I’ve identified three: I find reward in a job well done. I am motivated that others find the work worthwhile. And I experience the joy that teachers and actors do when they earn the attention of an audience. As Maslow said, we strive to realize our full potential.