The Importance of Paying Your Dues

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 31, 2009 · 37 comments

in Money & Career


As a member of a Generation Y, I’m always on the look out for articles about people my age. While many sociologists and employers have very positive things to say about my generation, they also make critiques. A common criticism that many employers have about young people entering the workplace is that 20-somethings want all the trappings of a successful career but aren’t willing to put in the work needed to earn them. Young people just don’t want to pay their dues anymore.

Which isn’t surprising. Many members of Generation Y grew up getting trophies and accolades just for trying. In high school and college, many of these young people (and their coddling parents), demanded they receive good grades even if their work was shoddy. Consequently, the idea that you might actually have to earn success through hard work has gotten lost on many “millennials.”

Lifestyle pundits encourage such an attitude by saying that paying your dues is an antiquated idea. That really depends on how you define the phrase. If it means slogging through 80 hour weeks to move up the corporate ladder to a position that pays well but you hate or if it is used to make you jump through pointless hoops for no reason other than your higher-ups had to, then yeah, it’s not a very helpful philosophy. But to me paying your dues means putting in the time and work to attain your dream job.When you’re moving from point A to point B, it doesn’t matter if B is being a CEO or a rock star; you’ve got to pay your dues to get there. Here’s why.

You have to start somewhere. I know a couple of guys my age who are unemployed and living with their parents because they can’t get the job they feel they deserve, and they refuse to work a “menial” job because they think it’s beneath them. They expected to jump into their dream job right out of college. But you have to start on the “bottom” in every job, not only if you’re looking to move up the corporate ladder.

Reading through our “So You Want My Job” interviews, a common theme has emerged. The men who now have their dream jobs often started out working at the “bottom” to get the experience to move into what they really wanted to do. Jason Stoltzfus, started out as a regular roadie, and learned the trade and skills needed to become a guitar tech. Eitan Loewenstein put on sketch shows for an audience of two in a dingy theater above an ice cream shop before getting roles in national commercials. You’ve got to start somewhere and pay your dues to move up in the world.

Success comes from years of hard work. Not only do many millenials expect to land their dream job right away, they also expect to immediately live the same lifestyle they had when they left their parents’ house. They want nice clothes, nice furniture, a brand new car, and a nice house the moment they set out in life. Of course, in order to do this right off the bat, these young people have to take on huge amounts of debt.

I’ll admit that I get to thinking like this sometimes. I would love to have the same lifestyle I had when I lived with my parents. It was nice! But then I remember something my parents told me one day when I was moaning about not having money to buy some frivolous thing, and it put everything in perspective for me.

They said, “Brett, this house, the cars, the nice clothes, and the video games for Christmas we were able to buy for you and your siblings are the result of years of hard work. It didn’t happen overnight. We started out living in a one bedroom house with a metal roof in the middle of the New Mexico desert. But with patience and perseverance, we were able to make a life for our family.”

That shut up my whining.

In the age of seemingly overnight Internet millionaires, it’s easy to forget that success comes from years of hard work. Even the overnight successes weren’t really overnight. Take Facebook for example. Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook back in 2004. In just a few years it has become one of the most trafficked sites on the internet and has made Zuckerberg a millionaire.

While it seems Facebook is your typical overnight success, it was actually years in the making.  Zuckerberg started programming back in middle school. While most teenagers were playing video games and watching MTV’s Total Request Live, Zuckerberg was hammering out code. Consequently, when the muses visited Zuckerberg in his dorm room, he was ready with the knowledge and skills to build Facebook. Even after Facebook launched it would take a few years for the site to grow to where it is today.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he posits that greatness comes through adherence to the “10,000 hour rule.” Pointing to people like the Beatles and Bill Gates, he argues that their success came from practicing their skills for 10,000 hours, not through some inherited genius.

We’d all love to be rich overnight, but unless you win the lottery, it just isn’t going to happen. The path to success is hewed through years of dedicated and relentless hard work. In short, you have to pay your dues before success comes.

Recognize tradeoffs exist when you live by your values. In news articles and blog posts discussing Generation Y, employers gripe that these young people don’t want to work as much, but they still want the high salaries and cushy benefits. As a law student, I heard about this a lot. Senior partners at firms complained that new associates were demanding lower case loads and fewer required billable hours, yet they still wanted the nice six figure salary so they could have the freedom to have a life outside of work.

I understand Generation Y’s desire to work less and have more time. Many from this generation came from homes where their Boomer parents were workaholics and hardly spent anytime with the family. But time is money. If you value your time, expect to earn less. If you value wealth and money, be prepared to put in a lot of hours at work. The key is to figure out what you value and accept the tradeoff.

Some might argue that there are plenty of people out there who make lots of money, but aren’t slaves to work. I’ll concede that such people exist, but would follow up with inquiring on what that person had to do to get to that position in life? More likely than not, they had to hustle their butt off. Exceptions exist, but I’m pretty sure most of these types of people spent years investing all their free time and money with the hope they would have more of it in the future. They had to make a trade-off: less time and money now, for more of it later. In other words, they paid their dues. Which takes us to our next point…

Be willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term goals. I like to study the lives of successful men to see if there are any principles I can glean from them and apply in my own life. A common trait among successful men is that they were willing to make short-term sacrifices, for long-term goals. They were willing to pay their dues upfront in order to reap rewards later.

My dad is a good example of this. His goal starting off in life was to be a federal game warden. After he graduated college, he started looking for a job as a state game warden so he could get the experience he needed for the fed job. But no job openings existed for a year. So my dad worked in a liquor store to make ends meet until an opening came up. It’s not the most glamorous job for a college graduate, but my dad was hungry and humble enough to do whatever it took to reach his goal.

Albert Einstein didn’t become a world renowned physicist right after he got his diploma. He graduated college trained to become a professor, but like in my dad’s situation, there weren’t any job openings. Did Einstein whine and complain that because he finished college he was entitled to a job? Nope. Instead he got a job as a clerk in a patent office in order pay his living expenses. In his spare time, Einstein continued his real work as a scientist and developed the special theory of relativity.

If you have a great goal, be willing to make sacrifices for it. If you want to start your own business, you may have to moonlight it a few years until you can quit your day job. Spend all your free time getting the skills and putting in the work to make your dream job a reality. If you want to get out of debt quickly, you may need to take on a second job delivering pizzas or working as a coffee barista. Whatever your goal is, you’re going to have to pay the piper upfront before the dance begins.

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Blake August 31, 2009 at 12:40 am

The picture for this article is from Shorpy’s (×5-large-format-kodachromes), which has a great collection of old pictures. The kodachromes (like the picture above) are my favorite: taken in the 40′s on really, really expensive glass, their saturation and quality are far more artistic (and in my opinion preferable) to digital pictures today.

2 JKISSI August 31, 2009 at 1:04 am

Greatly written article here.

I am a college student myself and by the looks at my life right now I’m fighting this problem off. The fact that I’m a first generation born citizen here in the U.S, I know that you need to work hard in order to get where you want to be. It seems too many people are not willing to rumble in the fight and get a little dirty for the reward. With all this said I did learn that even in the most lowest of times, when you’re trying to get there you overcome and get up from the fall is what makes you stronger.

I thank Brett & Kate Mckay for writing this article.

3 Edwin August 31, 2009 at 1:25 am

Thanks for this article. I just graduated in May and finally decided to put a stop to my endless summer to get the loans paid off. Some of the jobs I’ve looked into so far have been really, really crappy, but I’m starting to realize I’m going to have to suck it up and just roll with it. I only have $12,000 in loans, so I should be alright.

My two tips: have a fulfilling hobby to partake in. The hobby is there to keep you sane. I myself have started training to become a roller derby referee. My thought process is “Yeah, this job sucks, but I’ve got training tonight so life isn’t that bad.” It also helps that derby is a very alcohol-friendly hobby (after practice, of course).

4 Chad August 31, 2009 at 4:01 am

Important note: If nobody sees you pay the dues, you don’t get a receipt.

5 Brad August 31, 2009 at 6:57 am

After 10 years of working toward a dream job, this article is a great reminder for what it takes. Could take longer than you think. Just remember along the way that it’s about the journey, not the destination.

6 Sarge August 31, 2009 at 7:47 am

How true Chad. Just don’t be the guy that is always telling the boss how good he is. Thanks Brett, the timing of this article was just what I needed to help me re-focus and help me provide an object lesson to some young people that I mentor at another site.

7 Jeremy L. August 31, 2009 at 8:50 am

One important lesson I learned was that the sense of loyalty between a company and its employees in corporate America has long since gone. There is a reason that the few hard-working, productive Generation Yers jump from job to job in order to get deserved salary increases – that’s the only way to get ahead in today’s corporate climate.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but if you’ve tried to be reasonable and “pay your dues” (I was at a job for five years, and I was lavished all kinds of praise, but not nearly competitive pay), don’t necessarily think that your work will always pay off. I got excellent job skills and went elsewhere to move up the corporate ladder.

I guess in a sentence, “You don’t have to pay all your dues to one place in order to get the promotions/salaries you desire.” Don’t be afraid to do what’s best for you and your family by going elsewhere.

8 Eric U. August 31, 2009 at 9:31 am

Great article, I have felt the same way for some time. Did I see a reference to Dave Ramsey in there?

9 Robert August 31, 2009 at 9:40 am

There is some truth to the need to pay your dues.

But there’s also some truth to the fact that taking a job to far beneath you can really harm your career. Truth be told, your first job, and especially it’s salary is a very important thing. Your next job’s offer will be based on what you were paid previously. Most companies have a standard policy of not offering more than 10-15% more than a previous employer, unless you get all sorts of wavers (perhaps even up to the CEO). Doesn’t matter if you were paid 50% less than market average, or even if they were planning on paying much more for the position anyway. 10-15% is pretty much the rule.

And yes, they do check what your previous pay was. They won’t just buy that you got 100k/year for flipping burgers. All employers will either request it as part of a reference check, or want to see your last paystub (so hang onto it). Many offers are pending a reference and salary requirement check.

Multiply that out over a career, and a when you account for several jobs (having multiple employers over the course of a career is becoming more and more common) + raises and bonuses, and it’s potentially several years of retirement when look at how that would compound over time.

That said… beggars can’t be choosers.

It’s not an easy decision, but one that needs to be made “right”. Take a bad job offer and it will hurt the rest of your career. Don’t take a job offer… and go nowhere.

That’s why it’s critical to research your the job and the industry in the city your working and know what the going rate for someone of your experience and education is. You want market average. Many employers are pretty fair and will offer that up front as they want happy workers… but some will shaft you any chance they get.

10 Lynn M August 31, 2009 at 9:40 am

I loved this post. I believe that “dues paying” will always be in existence in one form or another. No, you shouldn’t have to slog away for years without recognition, but it is only part of natural human norms to expect people to pay dues, even outside of career/job. Take relationships…whether they be friendship or romantic….you handle these things carefully and with effort when you first step into them. What would happen if you just walked up to a stranger and said, “What are we going to do today?” and started walking around with them or just planted a kiss on someone you found attractive. Paying dues is an essential part of taking any journey. But paying dues isn’t all about taking a backseat to others, it is also about being smart enough to evaluate your new situation.
I also liked how you talked about sacrifice. Where you spend your time is up to you because you are the designer of your lifestyle. There is no doubt, however, that you will sacrifice either the time/benefits from work or the time/benefits from home.
Readers might also my post on this topic:

11 Manny G. August 31, 2009 at 9:46 am

Just a note: I see it and hear it every day and it continually causes me to grind my teeth…

I know it is customary to use lousy grammar today, but given the fact that this is an essay to help young people get “real” with their careers, we should note that people do not graduate college: they graduate FROM college. This minor error speaks volumes about the American method of “dumbing down” our youth and is a hallmark of what we no longer take seriously…verbal communication. The current generation spends so much time alienated from real conversation and interaction with people and, in stead, spend most of their time interacting with electronics that they no longer see spelling and grammar as anything important. The ability to put words together properly is about the most powerful tool humanity has. It is boundless and knows no boundaries or restrictions…is available to the poor and rich alike. Proper speech, like so many other things in life, can pull you from the shadows and bring you into the light. Our youth needs to make an effort in developing eloquence in this all but forgotten area which is deeply connected to professionalism and HIGH PAYING JOBS.

This essay also points to is the fact that students are not being taught any of these things in school. There is no reason what so ever that people of any age should graduate from an expensive four year course only to find themselves living at home again. Part of that blame is on the parents who take them in at the first sign on whining and the second is that if they were really grilled about the process of becoming successful during their four year sojourn the shock would be less and reality would not hit them in the jaw with such force as to discourage them from seeking success through hard work altogether. There is much change needed in our teaching centers and standards need to be brought up again. That applies for the hiring of teachers/professors who are qualified to handle the task as well.

12 Jaymz August 31, 2009 at 10:49 am

I would add to the cautious advice given, as well. Paying your dues “can” get you ahead, but it’s no guarantee. I’ve paid my dues for ten years and am now starting all over. I was brought up to believe that if you got your education, worked hard and were an honorable man, you’d get ahead. There is merit to getting your education, working hard and being an honorable man, but none of those are any guarantee that you will get ahead.

After being laid off from three jobs in three years and a somewhat extended period of unemployment the last two times, I’m starting my own business. It is about all I have left. Extended periods of unemployment are very harmful to career advancement, even if you have great volunteering records during those times.

I would also add, if what you’re really passionate about doesn’t require a formal education to do, don’t get one until you can afford it without borrowing to finance it. It’ll hurt you in the long run. I know this is not true in certain parts of the world, but it sure holds true here in the US.

13 Jeff August 31, 2009 at 11:33 am

Generation Y should not feel and should not be made to feel so special. All of these articles could have been recycled from what people were saying in ’81 about baby-boomers, in ’92 about Generation X, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Ben Franklin didn’t mention anything about a particular generation in all of his writings about young people. True, things like the Internet are a distraction to Gen Y, but every generation has its distractions from work or communicating and there currently is no lack of Internet users from every generation. Agreed on the “paying your dues” part, but I just don’t think this generation is as novel as people searching for a topic on to write on Generation Y make it seem. Keep up the good work! Loved the article.

14 Lance August 31, 2009 at 12:08 pm

Great article, thanks for writing this.

I think one issue a lot of people have is working huge hours and doing crappy jobs for something they’re totally dispassionate about. Not having the fire in your outlook makes the “dream job” way down the road seem unattainable. Another issue is that Gen Y’ers don’t want jobs at all, rather, they want to own businesses and be entrepreneurs.

Not only that, but for many jobs the workplace model is evolving, folks are telecommuting, and Gen Y’ers want a piece of that. We hate working 8-5 at a stinky office!

15 Jason Y August 31, 2009 at 12:12 pm

“It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.”
-Proverbs 19:2

Diligence (“paying one’s dues”) is crucial, but is not the only piece of the success pie. Said diligence should be directed in an informed way. In fact, one should _diligently_ consider his/her options prior to making a decision. E.g., in addition to finding out that computer programming was an _excellent_ match for my personality and skills, I also learned that computer science was an _excellent_ degree to get a good job with prior to choosing it as my major in college. (Others might not have such a lucky match as I have, but diligently considering options is still helpful.)

16 Dave August 31, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Good article.

Paying dues is not just invested time, its gaining emotional intelligence. You cannot get 20 years experience in 20 weeks, but also 20 years experience is useless if you can’t transfer that to other work and/or other people.

17 LumpyCam August 31, 2009 at 1:08 pm

I agree with the sentiment in this article, but suggest a slightly difference twist. While paying your dues professionally is important, it is often the skillset developed that has the real value. So, taking a job for the salary and position now while continuing to develop your skills in another areana can be positive. For example, take that job as a computer programer for the money and volunteer as a director for a local community group. You’ll get the _pay_ and learn management and people skills until you’re ready to apply them both in the same role.

18 Jackson August 31, 2009 at 4:27 pm

I cannot agree enought with this article. As an attorney myself, there is a wide perception that your “dues” were lawschool, so you should be entitled to the 165K to start at a big firm with10-20k raises per year, and everyone should be made partner. I also know a lot of people who have twiddled away 10 years after finishing their BAs because they don’t want to take a job that is “beneath” them or a job that “is not what they want to be doing” – so instead they do nothing. One shouldn’t be offended at the prospect of sucking it up and getting to work.

19 Chris Cruz August 31, 2009 at 5:06 pm

I used to envy naturally smart kids in school. The ones in class that would barely study, doze off in class, and still ace a test while I studied my ass off to barely get a B. Reconnecting with some of those people through facebook I come to find out that alot of them aren’t as well off as I thought they would be. I realized that they were so used to everything coming so natural and easy to them in school that when they were presented with a real challenge they wouldn’t put in the hard work to really succeed.

My good friend is an example of this. Throughout high school he lived the good life popular, had a nice car, and pretty girlfriend. Me and him used to bump heads because he was a bit of a showoff. He skipped school quite a bit but did enough to graduate. He also never worked throughout high school because he felt he was too good for menial jobs such as food service and cleaning. After high school he took college courses here and there but never finished. He always had ideas and schemes but never followed through. Last year he got a job at a company he really wanted to work for, but he quit after a month because he didn’t want to do manual labor. Long story short he’s now in his late 20′s still living with mom and dad and taking classes to start a career. It’s kind of akward when we are all together talking about our careers and experiences with young adulthood and he’s the odd man out.

You can be the smartest man in the room and have the most genius idea but you will go nowhere without hard work.

20 Allan White August 31, 2009 at 5:40 pm

Great article, a perfect read for anyone job hunting in these tougher economic times. And, a good reminder to me to keep working hard at my job.

@Brent – thanks for the photo link, those are great! BTW I would wager that the lens quality is actually better now (better materials and techniques), but the imaging size (e.g. 4×5 & 8×10 film sheets) back then was relatively enormous. That makes for really stunning images.

21 Nik August 31, 2009 at 7:29 pm

This was a great article that hits close to home. I definitely suffer from rock star syndrome. I have quite a few talents, and I spend too much time dreaming about how I want to own a business, write for a television show, revolutionize the Internet, etc. Instead of focusing on a realistic goal and putting in the requisite work, my attentions flit back and forth between dreams of riches and fame, I use convenient excuses to prevent myself from putting in hard work and I remain in a professional rut. Luckily, I’ve only been out of college for four months, and I have an internship that I’ve been working for over a year, so I don’t think I have particularly injured my career prospects. I just need to man up . . . now rather than later.

The one thing I don’t think I will let go of is my fundamental belief that American corporate culture and the 40 hour workweek are dehumanizing. After just a few months of working full time, I’ve already found myself shorter of patience and temper and generally less optimistic. Of course, I am willing to work full time until I may have the luxury to no longer need to. I also believe strongly in employee ownership, which resonates with Lance’s comment that everyone wants to be an entrepreneur or business-owner. I think it is only natural to want some true ownership in your work, beyond nominal ownership like performance bonuses and stock options. I think this also helps corrects the common, frustrating corporate phenomena of the lazy getting ahead in business by “paying their dues” solely through putting in time or skipping from position to position, while hardworking people may or may not advance or receive recognition. You have a lot more incentive to weed out those who do not pull their weight when their salary is inversely correlated to yours through joint ownership.

22 tsmith August 31, 2009 at 11:13 pm

I always said , pay the fiddler. As mid aged folks , we have to re- evalaute ourselves because it’s not over for us yet.

23 Matthew September 1, 2009 at 7:50 am

As a gen X manager now responsible for hiring new “just out of college” staffers, one suggestion I would have is to get a job – any job.

While I worked my way through college with various jobs including painting, working in a quarry, Pizza Hut, and level 1 help desk support, I am astounded at how many recent engineering graduates have never had a job – of any kind. How did they buy a car? How did they get spending money? Usually handed to them by mom and dad.

One of the themes of “manliness” is to be able to support oneself and eventually, one’s family. There should be no greater lesson learned in college than the steps taken to begin to learn how to support oneself, take the job and make the sacrifices needed to succeed… to pay your dues.

24 Scott September 1, 2009 at 1:36 pm

Some mixed feelings about this article.

1. This idea that young people “grew up getting trophies and accolades just for trying” from coddling parents is something that has appeared in posts before. This strikes me as some kind of Conservative urban legend. Where is this going on and what young person would believe it?

2. As others have noted, starting at the “bottom” is not a good idea. Philosophers of success, such as Napoleon Hill, strongly warned against this. They said to start at the middle.

3. The recurring emphasis on young people as “whiners” seems disrespectful. I have raised two children, spent a decade in youth athletics, and I have taught elite students for the past 5 years. In general, I am deeply impressed with many of them. I feel very hopeful about the future when I speak with these college students.

4. The emphasis on hard work as the key to success is inaccurate; I am also concerned that it dissuades young people from pursuing their ambitions. Success comes from many things including passion, desire, drive, and utilzing one’s strengths. Success comes from understanding one’s personality type and seeking to manifest it in the world. Success comes from creativity and experiencing pleasure in what you do. There will be days when you are in the zone and everything flows, there will be days when you feel completely lost, there will be days that are boring, there will be days when you do have to work hard, and there will be days of humbling creativity when the ideas that you need seem to come from some outer source.

our country needs men (and women) who are filled with drive, creativity, and ambition. We need to find ways to nurture them, not humble them.

25 Brett McKay September 1, 2009 at 1:58 pm


#1: This is going on everywhere. Concrete examples:
-My niece and nephew get participation trophies for being on a soccer team. Not for any kind of accomplishment-just for showing up and participating.
-When I worked at an after-school program for kids everyone had to get an award at the end of the year. Even the terrible, bratty, misbehaving kids.
-When we did a pinata with the kids, instead of candy inside, each kid got a premade bag of candy so everyone could have an equal amount and they wouldn’t have to compete to get the candy.
-Grade inflation is a well-documented phenomena. My fellow college students expected to get an A just for showing up. My wife was a community college teacher and experienced the same thing.

#2: Napoleon Hill started out poor, got a job with a small town newspaper, and then published a book. He started at the bottom and worked his way up. I guess it’s all in how you define “bottom.” If you want to be a lawyer, you don’t need to work at McDonald’s after your graduate from law school, but you do have to start with being an associate and work your way to partner.

#3: As someone who is of this generation myself, I have seen firsthand that people my age do often want to get something without working for it. Certainly not everyone, but there are many examples I can think of people who have this attitude.

#4: A man can understand his personality type and be full of creativity, but unless he works hard, he will never get a chance to use that creativity, utilize his passion, and find work in which he takes pleasure.

26 Scott September 1, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Thanks for responding.

1. Your niece and nephew were probably in an AYSO league. The purpose of these leagues is to encourage young people to play soccer. The league is set up to maximize participation rather than just having the best players on the field and the rest on the bench. They are trying to increase physical activity in young people. Having been a ref in this league, these games can be quite intense and competitive. The trophies at the end are also a form of community celebration and a ritual to mark the end of a season. These clubs typically also have travel teams. The travel teams are highly competitive and players have to fight for their positions and the better players play more than the lesser players. In this way, different values and goals are being pursued by the same organization.

2. He may have started poor, but he did not recommend starting at the bottom. In your law analogy, there actually is a clearly-defined career path that one progresses. (From what I have seen, I am sure that you will do well as you pursue it.) Most professions do not have that kind of model. In fact, as someone else noted, you often have to leave an organization to get promoted. It is easy to get stuck or be forgotten when you are at the bottom; in fact, if you are good at what you are doing, they might want to leave you there.

Again, law and medicine have a kind of career path in which increasing expertise and skill can get rewarded in a somewhat linear way; some of the trades are like this as well, but many other jobs are not. Again, I think we should tell them to go for the middle if they can.

Among the elite students, I have never seen an expectation of an A. I use the Teaching for Mastery approach which makes it extremely clear what is required to do well. Since it is clear and not arbitrary and I do not use a forced curve, most of my students do very well.

I will have to respect that there are more “something for nothing” students in your part of the country than in New York City.

Maybe I was not clear, hard work is an important component, but it is only one component of success. Effort is probably a better term. I remember in high school I spoke with teachers about being a writer. They kept saying that it was hard work to be a writer. They made it sound unpleasant and unattractive. One of the things that I do now is write, and to describe what I do as only or even primarily “hard work” is completely misleading. There are days when the going is tough, no doubt, but that is hardly the essence of the experience. I imagine that the great days for you in law school were days when you were on fire about what you were learning and writing about.

We need to take a more complex view of the success process.

27 Rick September 1, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Be careful who you pay your dues to.

Seems that ‘paying your dues’ has always been part of the American way. Ever since the colonies were first formed everyone had to work up from nothing.
Problem is that a lot of corporations take advantage of the ‘paying your dues’ mentality and never let you stop. People are kept in jobs for decades or until they are smart enough to quit and go elsewhere. Where promotions do exist those are often very long in coming and too far in between.
I’ve seen many Gen-X friends (the older siblings of the Gen-Ys) work at a ‘career’ decade after decade only to realize too late it was only every a job. Keep checking that someone with a little power is pulling for you as you pay your dues or you may end up stuck in a little cubicle for the rest of your Gen-y life — dues or no dues.

28 Nik September 2, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Unfortunately, the majority of the population has to be stuck in cubicles–or their equivalents–for their whole lives, because actual production/implementation is the most time intensive part of any business process. We can’t all be managers, salespeople, etc . . . probably only 5-15% (complete guess). That’s why we should pay the most productive low-tier workers much better. Those in the cushy jobs rely completely on the skilled people lower on the ladder not advancing, despite their excellent ability.

29 James September 3, 2009 at 2:31 am

This article is largely true – but let us not forget (and I speak from knowledge, having worked as a financial planner) that baby boomers have done their succeeding generations no favors by failing to adequately plan for retirement (or avariciously chosen to work beyond the point where retirement savings have been met), and then have both short-sightedly and greedily continued to work long beyond the point they should have retired. This self-serving behavior is hardly tolerable.

Second, I wonder what purpose is served by having Mrs. McKay write articles giving advice to men. It’s rather like having a man advise women who read Cosmo on the ideal brand of tampon. It makes no damned sense.

30 Andrew September 4, 2009 at 9:11 am

I think it rather silly to imply that a strong married woman wouldn’t know anthing about manliness.

31 Kyle September 4, 2009 at 11:59 am

I completely agree that a lot of kids feel priviledge these days. I thank my parents for making me work for the “things” I wanted growing up. Video games? buy them yourself. Guitar? buy it yourself. Car? buy it yourself, you get the idea. My parents gave me shelter, food, and clothing. Everything else I had to earn. I think that carries over into my professional life as well.

32 willzager September 4, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Being a Generation Y-er myself this can be hard to read. But it is very true. While I hated it as a kid I now appreciate the discipline my parents gave me. If I wanted something I didn’t NEED, I had to buy it with my own money. If I wanted my own money, I had to work for it.

Sometimes the simplest lessons are the hardest to learn.

33 Tanner September 8, 2009 at 6:39 pm

Great article. I’m currently in the process of paying my dues. I’m a full time student, have a full time job in one field, and an overnight-weekend job in my career field. My weekend job is literally at the bottom of the totem pole, but it’s the best place to start.

The great thing about the current mentality of most of Gen Y is that it makes those of us who are willing to work hard look so much better. I’ve never had a boss who wasn’t impressed by what my parents taught me was a “normal” work ethic.

34 Chris Hamilton September 18, 2009 at 11:09 am

I’m admittedly the naive Generation Y’er, or at least I was. I graduated college almost two years ago and luckily enough ended up getting a job in my field. But being the pre-madona I was, I was really unhappy at first because I wanted the big paycheck and all the other things that go with working in my field… I felt entitled to them for whatever reason. I was at the point of giving up and almost joined the military, but I stepped back and thought about it for awhile. Then I kinda realized on my own, everything that this article talks about and rededicated myself to my passion and my work. Now that I’ve realized that I’m lucky enough to be working in a job that’s related to my ultimate goal, and I’ve realized my success will not come overnight… everything is much easier and I’m generally more happy now.

Anywho, great article, I’ll make sure to pass this one along.

35 Nick October 6, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Great article. Like many others have said already, this article came at just the right time for me. After leaving the Marine Corps about a year ago, the best paying and best fitting job I could find was a security job at a bank headquarters. It was a little hit on my ego to go from what I did in the Marine Corps to working as a security guard. Nevertheless, I’ve stuck it out for a year now, and was finally promoted to assistant supervisor. I thought that would make me happy, but it hasn’t done anything to improve my happiness in the position I find myself in.

Lately, I’ve been looking very hard for a new job, and I’ll admit that I’ve been looking with an “eye” for a job with a bit more prestige than my current one. With my end goal of federal law enforcement, it’s been difficult for me to find something that lands in between my current job and that one.

Your article was a good reminder that thigns don’t always have to go exactly the way you want them to, and that if you continue to work hard and apply yourself, you’ll likely reach your goals. Oftentimes, if you don’t reach your goals, it’s because you found a new path somewhere along the way and were happy to go in that direction instead.

As a final note, I’m also a member of the 20-something Generation Y, and I have noticed all of the things you mentioned in your article as some of our potential pitfalls. The military in general, and the Marine Corps in particular, seems to expose many of those pitfalls and weaknesses, and either gives a man a good reason to change them, or allows him to fail based on his own merit. Failure is an important experience as well.

36 Tanner October 27, 2009 at 7:27 pm

I’m currently in the middle of paying my dues, and there’s something incredibly satisfying and empowering about it. I’m finishing up my Bachelor’s degree in electronic journalism – it’s about 15 hours a week, working 30 hours a week as a loan officer at a credit union, and working overnight weekend shifts at a local newsradio station. I never have time for anything but work and school, and to some extent it’s great. When I do climb into a TV or radio journalism position I will feel like I’ve truly earned it. I’ve been able to ride on my natural talents and likeability my entire life. I never knew how good it would feel to actually work for something.

37 Kyle November 12, 2013 at 1:56 am

This TED talk talks about much of the same content. Thought I’d share it for everyone else as well!

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