The traditional work ethic says you have to “pay your dues” to get ahead. But often this means enduring useless hardships just for the sake of enduring them. Rather than a pointless rite of passage, think of paying your dues as gaining experience.
Photo by Alan Cleaver
Paying your dues may be a necessary part of a career, but many times, it actually keeps us from getting ahead. For example, maybe you feel like you’re not allowed to negotiate a raise because you haven’t yet “paid your dues”. But neglecting to negotiate your first-ever salary can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your career. Writer Matt Cheuvront explains:
while experience matters — the idea of “paying your dues” is fading fast. The concept of “climbing the ladder”, nowadays, is an old-school train of thought. We, collectively, seek work that matters. Work that’s challenging. Work that’s fulfilling. And we aren’t willing to wait. And really, we shouldn’t.
The “old-school train of thought” seems to be that you have to suffer before you attempt to succeed. I remember the first time I heard this phrase. I worked with a group of people on a big engineering project, and we were expected to stay at work until six or seven in the evening, even though there wasn’t anything to do. “What’s the point?” I wondered. Someone on the team said “you have to pay your dues.” But, in this case, my “dues” were staying late for the sake of staying late. This was unproductive and wasteful.
At the same time, as Cheuvront says, experience does matter. Instead of thinking of “paying dues” in terms of simply suffering, think about it in terms of learning and gaining experience. The blog Barking Up The Wrong Tree puts it well:
You don’t have to suffer for years before you can take your shot. But you do need to learn.
The overall point boils down to this: don’t feel like you’re obligated to put up with pointless grief just to get ahead. And don’t shy from striving for more simply because you feel you’re undeserving. Yes, experience and learning are a big part of getting ahead. You can pay your dues — just make sure they’re actually productive. Check out more on this topic at the link below.
Life’s Too Short to Be Spent Paying Your Dues [Life Without Pants]