in the waiting line from Flickr via Wylio

© 2006 fly, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

“It’s going to be at least a year, isn’t it?” His eyes are full of impatience, frustration, and maybe even a dose of fear. After all, it was just a year ago that he was spending every waking moment of our first few months as a married couple penciling, inking, lettering, printing, making the perfect pitch.

“Yeah. So what?” I say, realizing, in the back of my mind how harsh that probably sounds, since we’re only talking about his childhood dream here.

But I have my game face on with him, now. Reality is, we are on the same page with this struggle. He is an incredibly talented artist. Opportunities are aligning already for him. I’m impressed with not just his efforts but the skill and insight and success he’s already achieved just a few years out of college.

Being married to a creative person when you work, live, and dream in that world yourself is not without its challenges. Honestly, it’s hard enough dealing with my own crazy dreams and expectations sometimes. Knowing he deals with the same types of hopes and aspirations for himself can be overwhelming. All the energy, ideas, and drive pouring through our house means even on our days and hours off work, we’re still on duty. Building, dreaming, making.

It’s no wonder our dog has developed a chewing problem. Like right now. He’s chewing up his new bed because I’m sitting here, writing this post. [Oh, wait. Update. He’s now destroyed a wooden meat tenderizer. Great.]

Luckily, Rob and I balance well. Whether it’s pure coincidence, sheer effort, or pure adoration, his creative good days tend to balance my not-so-great ones, and vice versa. And it helps to have your best friend get exactly where you’re coming from. Even if you have a hard time grasping it yourself sometimes.

But regardless, it’s still there, haunting us both and every day of our creative lives. The love affair our culture has for the youthful success story. Each day that passes adds to a year more of our lives, of our time, spent waiting. Watching. Working.

What are we waiting for?

Impatience overwhelms us. Not just Rob and I, but an entire generation of idealistic, educated, aspiring people. We worry that we’re wasting away. We move and make and create and go. And still, potential is everywhere. Brooding, waiting, restless.

It’s a healthy dose of impatience. It’s constructive, not destructive. And yet, here we are. And the questions remain.

Like, what, exactly, is the deal with paying dues?

Paying dues seems submissive to broken structures.

Dealing with hierarchies, working within silos, it all seems so silly, so outmoded, so non-productive. It’s difficult, sometimes, for my generation to see the point in dealing with it all. In fact, an incredible number in Generation Y want to avoid the corporate life altogether and be their own boss. But, wait. I’ve learned a few things on my days on the corporate side. You can actually pay your dues while still stirring the pot. In fact, maybe the best way to create change in hierarchies still governed by more mature generations is to work well within the structures that exist. And through that, to earn the trust you can use to innovate. After all, blowing things up isn’t the only way to change a landscape.

Paying dues takes time.

But so does other important stuff. Getting an education. Finding a mate to marry. Buying a house. So what’s all the fuss about how long it takes you to get to your dream? Why does it matter how much time you spend paying your dues, as long as you’re learning and growing along the way? After all, experience is still important. And as far as I can tell, it’s still one of those things that only comes through time. The problem, it seems to me, is when you start “paying dues” for dues’ sake. For the ladder. For the climb.

Paying dues doesn’t always pay off.

This is by far the most difficult reality I’ve had to face in my career. It’s perhaps the most difficult thing most people face. But going through the experience personally, I know one thing for sure. Paying your dues doesn’t have to actually be about going anywhere – whether up or out.

Instead, if you choose, paying your dues can be all about getting you ready for the journey. Wherever that leads. That, after all, is something you can control yourself.

So what?

Worrying about whether or not you should pay dues at work, or as you work toward your goals, is a waste of time. Because, chances are, you’re going to have to pay them at some point in time. Instead, figure out how to make your dues work for you, too. Whether or not it gets you a promotion, there’s a lot of value that you can gain:

  • Practice building patience while you can still afford to make mistakes
  • Better relationships with upwardly mobile people
  • Access to other people who have opportunities you need
  • Access to mentoring and allies
  • Realistic growth, the kind you can handle

In the end, paying your dues at work, or anything, is rarely about paying something that’s undue.

Instead, it’s about investing. Your time. Your talent. Your potential. Not just into some company or job or goal. But into yourself. So, give yourself the time you need to do and learn and grow into what you desperately want to be.

It will make the ride that much funner – and faster – if you slow down and experience the journey.

Don’t worry. You’re getting there.