One of the most important career moves of the new millennium is getting out of paying dues. Paying one’s due is an antiquated idea in a workplace where few people aspire to climb the same corporate ladder for 45 years.
Eve Tahmincioglu interviewed 55 leaders for her book, From the Sandbox to the Corner Office: Lessons Learned on the Journey to the Top. She found that one of the most common refrains during her interviews was the importance of paying one’s dues. People in leadership positions today think that is important.
However, Tahmincioglu reminds us that what you get from paying your dues is top-of-the-ladder positions that force you to give up almost all your time with your family. In ruminating about what she found from talking with CEOs, Tahmincioglu said, “?”?This is a ridiculous job. If you’re going to get to the top, you need to make sacrifices. You need a spouse at home and you should expect not to spend a lot of time with your children.”
Tahmincioglu echoes what most people today feel about the job of a CEO: Ridiculous. The 80-hour-plus work week is nothing to aim for, and once you decide that you’re not going to climb that ladder, why pay dues? The dues are what you pay when you’re at the bottom in order to get a proverbial ticket to try climbing to the top.
Today’s climb looks different. For one thing, people want personal growth and workplace flexibility – two things not typically valued by people who are hell-bent on seeing people pay dues. The other difference about today’s climb is being able to skip the bottom rung. So the climb looks more like a hop to a spot where you can enjoy yourself without having to worry about the next rung.
Laura Vanderkam has a word for this: grindhopping. In her book, Grindhopping: Build a Rewarding Career Without Paying Your Dues, Vanderkam offers a smorgasbord of career choices and essential skills that will get you out of paying dues while still providing opportunities for challenging and rewarding work.
Her basic idea is for people to take personal responsibility for their goals and career development instead of relying on someone else. She advises people to create benchmarks for themselves and get used to the fact that if they are not climbing a ladder, there is no single clear path. You need to “?”?Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” she advises.
Vanderkam suggests people think “?”?in terms of projects, and not jobs” and then perform like a star so they get more of them. But there are other ways to get past dues-paying as well: People can start their own companies, or skip the heavy dues-paying industries and go into an area that is not as cutthroat.
Raedia Sikkema did just that. She has a degree from the film and television program at New York University with a specialty in animation. Most classmates went to work on feature films for studios such as Sony and Pixar. But she worked on education projects for the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
“?”?I used to think that working anywhere else [but a big studio] would be sad and not that important. But years down the line, sure you’re working on a feature film, but all you’ve done is a character’s arm.”
Today Sikkema does financial graphics at Lineplot Productions. She works from home, sets her own hours, and controls a project from start to finish rather than working on only one small piece as she pays her dues.
For Sikkema, making the tough choice to not follow her industry’s dues-paying track has paid off: “?”?I feel my work is more creatively fulfilling because I got to do more, even though it was not in a glamorous position.”
The trick to all of this, of course, is being able to market yourself to the people who can give you the work you want. “?”?Position yourself in a way that is true to you, not just as a fit into someone else’s mold,” says Jennifer Kushell, whose company Your Success Network helps young people market themselves professionally. “?”?You need to know what’s special about you and what makes you different,” she says.
Like many things in life, what’s good about not paying your dues is also what’s bad: You get to do work that is true to you, but you have to figure out what that work is to ensure you are good enough at it to get work. So yes, that’s tough stuff, but many will say that it’s much less tough than paying your dues. And really, why do it if you don’t have to?