Paying Your Dues

Whether you’re building a business or moving up the ladder (or, for some, the “lattice”) of your career, you’ve probably heard that term: “You’ve gotta pay your dues.”

Literally, it means allocating the money to be part of your professional association, trade union or any other organization that supports you in your endeavors. Maybe it’s your annual dues to belong to your local chamber of commerce. Or perhaps it’s the cost of being a member of your association so you have access to certification, training and a network of other professionals from whom to learn. Your dues are a line item in your budget, and you can expect to pay that as an annual fee as long as you want to stay in that organization.

But “paying your dues” has another definition. The phrase implies a long-term investment in order to someday reap the rewards. And it has a kind of ominous tone to it, doesn’t it?

Anyone who is successful has a story to tell about “paying their dues.” It may mean taking on an unpaid internship in order to learn the business you’re interested in. You may have started out in the copy room or the mail room. You may have schlepped to get coffee for the higher-ups in order to be in the sphere of those you admire and whose careers you want to emulate. For you, paying your dues may have been working in a low-level and low-paying job in order to get your foot in the door, to learn the fundamentals. Paying your dues implies you are willing to forego ego, prestige and pay because you have your eyes set on a bigger prize, and you know experience is the only thing missing between you and that prize.

Brett and Kate McKay are Generation Y bloggers who wrote a blogpost about “The Importance of Paying Your Dues.”  In their collaborative blog “The Art of Manliness,” they admit their generation and the Millennials who follow have a certain sense of entitlement, perhaps inspired by growing up in a time when everyone on the soccer team got a trophy just for showing up. They’ve studied success through their “So You Want My Job” interviews and their advice to their readers is sound: “Be willing to make short-term sacrifices for long-term goals.”

I think about the jobs I’ve had that contributed to what I’m doing today: my first service jobs as babysitter and counter girl at McDonald’s; being a clerk-typist at the university as I worked my way through school; my first job as a librarian, a job that gave me access to books and the time to write; and my days as a “swamper” in the newsroom, writing obituaries as the lowliest reporter working for a daily newspaper. Each and every job was an exercise in paying my dues. The twenty years of writing copy for hospital newsletters, ghost-writing the CEO’s column, cranking out press releases and poring over media lists, making presentations in front of the board of directors–every duty I ever performed was like practicing scales in the rehearsal room. All designed to refine and hone my skills so that today, I may serve my clients with purpose and passion.

So as I write a check for my own professional association this month, the National Speakers Association, I remind myself that membership has its privileges. The commercial transaction gives me support, context, access to all the things I need to be a successful speaker and coach. What I do with that access going forward, and my willingness to continue to pay my dues, is totally up to me.

[Photo credit: www.steadusers.org]

My Heart Overfloweth

Today is Valentine’s Day, and I’m thinking of all the people I love. I start with my family–my husband Bill, my adult children Kitty and Will, and all the parents, brothers, sisters, in-laws, cousins and extended family who have surrounded us. While today is spun as a romantic holiday, I prefer to think of Valentine’s Day as a time to contemplate, celebrate and communicate about love with all the people in our lives.

Last night my heart overfloweth as I watched my friend and fellow speaker Steve Beck volunteer his time as one of our guest faculty at the National Speakers Association of Illinois (NSA-IL)’s Speakers Academy. Steve is one of many NSA-IL members who have so generously donated their time and talent to share about the experience of being a professional speaker with students in our Speakers Academy, a training program for aspiring speakers. But perhaps because Steve was my Co-Dean in the program for several years, or because he now serves as our chapter president, or maybe just because Steve is Steve, I was moved to tears by his contribution.

Steve shared about losing his brother in Vietnam when Steve was 15. He said that before his brother left for Vietnam, his mother promised to pray for his brother every day–a ridiculous promise, he thought. Steve remembered coming home as a young teenager to see his mother praying the rosary and asking him to join her. Reluctantly, he did. Now as an adult, and as a successful business man and professional speaker, Steve uses prayer to jump start his day. Prayer, meditation and affirmations are part of his morning ritual, as much a requirement as his first cup of coffee. He shared his own “12-step program” with us, a list of daily affirmations, and he encouraged us to write some of our own in the handout he shared. Oh, and another thing–he makes his bed every day. Every. Day.

Steve Beck Leave Your Funk at the DoorIt’s no surprise that Steve has written a series of books, the first of which was entitled How to Have a Great Day Every Day, followed by Leave Your Funk at the Door. These irrepressible titles reflect the message Steve had for our Speakers Academy participants, a message that aligns so perfectly with Valentine’s Day: it’s up to us to discover every day the miracles we have in our lives. And most of those miracles have something to do with the people we love. No, let me rephrase that: those miracles have EVERYTHING to do with the people we love.

Steve, I love you, man. You bring a new energy to our NSA-IL chapter that nurtures and sustains us, an enthusiasm that’s helping our speaker community grow, attracted by love. The many lives you’ve touched as President, Co-Dean and now as guest faculty for our Speakers Academy program, are too numerous to mention. Happy Valentine’s Day, my friend.

 

[Masthead photo: “Arizona Valentine, A Heart of Ten Roses,” 2011, oil on canvas by artist Dyana Hesson, Mesa, AZ; taken at Sky Harbor Airport, Phoenix, AZ]

Putting the “Dead” Back in “Deadline”

Pere Lachaise Cemetery
The graveyard is full of great ideas that were never heard (Photo: Pere Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France)

My friend Greg Crawford had a wonderful saying he once shared with me. “I love deadlines,” he deadpanned. “I love the sound of them as they go whooshing by…”

Boy, can I relate. Even with the discipline of having been a journalist for a daily newspaper (read: daily deadlines), I struggle with those commitments, mostly the ones I make to myself. That’s why I loved hearing the audio promo from the August 2013 issue of SUCCESS magazine, in which Publisher and Founding Editor Darren Hardy cites a story about a French mathematician who learned the value of deadlines.

Évariste Galois was a young Frenchman who was born with amazing brilliance in math, particularly algebra. But it wasn’t until he was challenged to a duel that he took the time to furiously scribble 60 pages of notes, ideas that would later lead to a revolution in higher algebra. Sadly, Monsieur Galois lost the duel… thereby putting the “dead” back in “deadline.”

Why is it we’re our most productive when there’s a (literal or figurative) gun to our head? Mr. Hardy of SUCCESS Magazine says this story demonstrates the need for tension, pressure and urgency to push our ideas out of us. “Otherwise the feeling that we have an endless amount of time is insidious and debilitating to the mind,” he writes in his publisher’s letter. “Our attention and thoughts become fractured and dispersed. Our lack of intensity makes it difficult to jolt our brain into high gear, into that higher state of creativity and mental lucidity.”

One of the reasons I love coaching people in mid-career is because somewhere around 40, we start to hear the ticking of that proverbial biological clock. The career trajectory that we saw as endless opportunity in our 20s suddenly has some very real parameters around it. If we don’t do what we were designed to do now, then when? Barbara Sher wrote a book called It’s Only Too Late if You Don’t Start NowJohann Wolfgang von Goethe, known as Germany’s Shakespeare, is often quoted as having said “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Maybe the  best quote of all is from Dr. Wayne Dyer: “Don’t die with the music still in you.”

In other words, we need to get off our duffs (OK, need to get off my duff) and get busy, creating whatever it is we’re going to create. If you want to start a business, begin working on a plan. If you’re dying to become a professional speaker, sign up for one of the many National Speakers Association Speakers Academies around the country. (Shameless plug: I’m dean of the one in Chicago that starts in September–visit NSA-IL for details.) If you have an aria to sing, find a stage and some folks to listen.

While we may not be facing a duel tomorrow morning at sunrise, we don’t get any guarantees. What would you scribble on those 60 pages if you knew your days–even minutes–were numbered? What’s the music still left inside of you?