Paying Your Dues: Are You Willing to Do What It Takes to Get There?

To be successful, you have to pay your dues.

That is a favorite phrase to all the people I know that complain to me about their journey. That journey could be attaining success in any endeavor. One thing that I have noticed is that you listen to any successful person, one thread always comes through: this is what I had to do to get there.

Whether it is long hours, weekends or insurmountable odds, they persevered.

They hung in there. They did the jobs that they despised. They did the jobs that were thankless and no one else wanted. They for the most part did without and endured all in search for that desired destination.

My daughter has been pulling lots of long hours lately and leaving just as early in the morning to get in. This is her second job out of college and she works in the advertising business. She has moved up the food chain and is now directing and leading projects.

We rode together into work the other day, and as soon as she got on the bus, she keeled over and went to sleep for the 50-minute ride.

You have to pay your dues

As I looked over, I knew she was tired, having gotten in at 2:30 am and then waking up at 6 to get into the office early. She is working on some of the most amazing projects in the advertising/marketing business, but more importantly, she is also paying her dues.

She has heard this speech so many times from me that I know that her eyes glaze over from time to time. However, my son told me that she takes in everything you say but will not let you know that.

Success comes from years of hard work. When you arrive at whatever station in life you’re trying to get to, one thing that you need to remember is that the longer the journey, the sweeter the taste once you arrive.

So many people expect the corner office from day one. They immediately expect the same lifestyle of people that they admire. They want it all picture perfect the moment they set out on the journey.

No such thing as overnight success

In the age of overnight millionaires and billionaires, it seems that everyone wants it now. However if you dig down into a lot of these stories and bios, you will see a common thread peaking through. It did not happen overnight. They had an idea and they toiled during the journey; it was actually years in the making.

These so called “overnighters” sometimes worked all night, worked two jobs and literally had no life, trying to build on a product, idea or career. They did not just go through the motions.

There is no easy way to any of this. If that were the case, everyone would be sitting back admiring their accomplishments.

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Any of the so-called successful people will tell you point blank that they had to hustle their butts off to get there. There were lots of tradeoffs: no time, no rest, and no money because they knew that they would have it later.

Plan your work, work your plan

One of Vince Lombardi‘s favorite quotes was “plan your work, work your plan.” To the instant overnight wannabe, it is in a lot of cases of having a plan but not working it. I enjoy having these conversations with people. One of the first questions I ask is, “What is your plan?”

I’m surprised that all these smart people for the most part have absolutely no plan. They have a destination but no means or thought of getting there. If they do have a plan, it is very vague. You have to have a plan and you have to have another plan called Plan B.

The journey starts out, and so many times when you come to that fork, it may take you in a different direction. Think of the people that started in one direction and end up going a totally different way.

The new CEO of Yahoo originally was a dancer and fine arts major in school, with a dream of being a ballerina.

Somehow along the way she got sidetracked, became an engineer, and now she has reached the pinnacle of success, if you want to call it that.

So next time you hear the story about the hard work and the long hours, reassure them if you work it and play it right, they can get there.

If they have a goal and are willing to make the sacrifices, you have go to the cashier and pay upfront.

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


7 Comments on “Paying Your Dues: Are You Willing to Do What It Takes to Get There?

  1. Marissa Mayer has a major in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University and engineering background. Who says she has a fine arts major?!

  2. Great post.  As a young professional, sometimes it is very easy to lose focus of this principle.  However, I have worked in jobs under bosses that treat your “dues” like hazing.  Almost like a “if I had to do it, I expect you to do it” mentality, even though the work itself doesn’t need to get done at that instant.  Coming from wall street, I can’t tell you how many times people worked long hours just so they can tell people they’ve worked long hours and act as if it is something proud to brag about.  In my opinion, half the time you’re working long hours, its because you weren’t planning well or because you weren’t efficient with your work, not because the job requires it.  I think its a very unhealthy attitude for a work culture to equate work ethic with productivity and ability.  Just because you are OK with sacrificing your personal time and work 14 hour days doesn’t automatically make you a better employee than someone who does just as much work in an 8-10 hour day.  It takes a very wise boss to see and understand that.

    Overall, it’s good to be reminded that success does not come overnight and we need to work at it.  Thanks for the good post!

  3. I probably need an attitude adjustment, because working my way up over 20 yrs, I have more than paid my dues. At 40, I’m tired and discouraged by the thought that after a a great work history, a layoff and 1.5 yrs of unsuccessful searching, I will once again have to start at the bottom to maybe get a foot in the door while many in my situation go back to school…and then start over again at the bottom if they are lucky.

  4. Please note…” if you work it and play it right, they can get there.” The author did not say – because it would be an absurd lie – that simply working hard and doing excellent work, putting in looooong hours for decades, will get you success, or even a reasonable level of security.

    You need to “work it” and “play it” and it has to be “right.” Cleverness and political cunning, not smarts or hard work alone, are what you need.

    If you don’t have that, prepare to end your work life as poor or poorer than you were when you started, and without a personal life or good health to show for it.

    If you paid your dues for 10 years and you aren’t getting the goodies, then get out and find another field where simply doing an excellent job is rewarded. Corporate America ain’t it. And entrepreneurship is not the panacea.

    1.  And not many people are made to be entrepreneurs. I know many brilliant people that executives but failed when they ventured on their own. Also, you are right it your efforts have to be targeted and following a plan or else you are nothing more “working hard”

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