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5/27/02 Are You Still Paying Your Dues?

“You have to pay your dues, Kid,” said one of my first Radio employers many years ago. Of course, I did not want to pay my dues. I wanted to leap to the best job at the top and excel instantly.

I was an overnight success — one night I woke up and realized I had been in this business for 20 years and that I had paid my dues after all. At about the 20-year mark, my career had started to bloom. Was it the 20 years of experience, 20 years of mistakes, 20 years of contacts? It was probably a little of each.

This fall, I will celebrate my 34th year in this business (I started when I was 14; you do the math). It’s been a blur, passing like a thief in the night. So, is paying dues necessary now that I have over three decades of perspective? Or did I get one year of experience 34 times? I pondered this when I was questioned recently by an industry newbee.

What advice did I give this kid about making a career for herself? “Pay your dues.”

I told her that I had not wanted to hear that advice, nor would she. I had wanted to skip the dues paying. I suggested that an astute individual could skip some of the “dues,” but they must be paid nonetheless. She wanted to know specifically what I meant by “paying dues.”

It means that you toil to become an expert — the best you can be — by mirroring best-of-breed people and improving on the best they have to offer. Longer hours and weekends of study won’t necessarily get you there faster, but if you maintain a laser focus and do not stray from your mission, the invested toil will pay volumes. Part of the dues includes the sacrifice of missing time with friends or family. For some, the sacrifice isn’t worth the reward.

The most important dues are paid to those around you. You will reap substantial rewards by devoting your time (sometimes for no compensation or monetary reward) to those who speed your learning curve by letting you learn under them. Your career will soar if you help create success for those you encounter on your journey. The laws of reprocity really do work most of the time.

My dues could have been paid more quickly if I had listened more. Most people want to help you succeed. I always thought I had a better way. Rarely was my way better.

I’m not one to spend much time thinking about my past. It’s obvious to me now that we can boost our careers if we create mentors. For a novice, finding experienced mentors is critical to success. For those of us who have been fortunate to stay in the business and achieve some success, it is critical to mentor others. I believe you should have mentors at least 20 years older than you — as well as mentors who are 20 years younger. The process should be never-ending: life-long learning, growth and challenge.

What are you learning? Who are your mentors? Are you listening to those who are half your age? Are you growing? Are you helping others succeed? Which dues are you paying: years of new experience and growth, or the same thing repeated year after year?



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