How much is my labor on the Project Calliope satellite costing me? Accounts range from 'zero' to $14,400, to $65,000. That's the difference between what I'm being paid to do it for, what I'm losing, and what I could potentially be making for the time I'm putting into this project.

The valuation of volunteer labor is currently $20 per hour. Opportunity cost is defined as the 'cost of an alternative that must be forgone in order to pursue a different action'. So if it takes me 4 hours to read a novel, is that an $80 book?

One hazard of being a freelancer is that any time spent not working is a potential loss. For most people in a day job, you work 9-6ish then go home. At home, your time is your own. Read a book, watch a movie, sleep, it's all economically the same.

For me, time is a billable quantity. Each hour can potentially bring me money, any time of day or night. This is the worst part of freelancing psychology. For me, is any break instantly translates in $X lost dollars. I might buy a novel for $7, but would I pay $200 (in unbillable time) to read it?

I estimate the satellite will take about the same amount of time as 2 semesters of college courses, around 720 hours. So at 'volunteer rates', that's $14K. But if we look at 'lost' income, that could be what those hours translate to in billable time or, worse, the GS-14 salary I could be making if I'd taken a civil servant career track instead. Or we could use the figure it would cost if this was being done by a NASA contractor! Suddenly I can't afford this satellite anymore!

But wait. Potential revenue is never real money, that's a business basic. I can't consider 'salary I could have earned if I'd made different choices', because I didn't make that choice. I can't consider 'freelance pay I could have earned, equivalent', because I choose to do this again. And there's no point in using the $20/hr 'volunteer rate' because, at the very least, it's not tax deductible. It's just a feel-good figure.

I could argue just as strongly that building this satellite is saving me money. Building it is cheaper than taking up Scuba Diving. Work on the satellite is cheaper and more satisfying than seeing a $150/hr therapist. Time spent on construction is time not spent paying cash to strippers in Vegas. So it goes.

I accept that, by building this satellite, I'm devoting unpaid time to a project I love, that will briefly enrich the world and make people's lives a tiny bit better. To me, that's a bargain.

I'll end with words by a colleague, James Knevitt. "You also have to dance the fine line between meeting a word count or a deadline, and pacing yourself so your brain doesn't explode. There's always the temptation to push, push, push (and trust me, I've done it!) but sometimes that can do more harm than good..."

So yeah, the value of my brain not exploding?  Priceless.


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