Are you enjoying “paying your dues” at your job?
You know what I’m talking about: the conventional wisdom that perseverance and dedication in a job or other sub-optimal life situation will eventually pay off. The belief that keeping your head down, saying “yes” to the boss and shuffling through the mundane day-to-day will somehow lead to something better some day.
I used to be a big believer in paying my dues. I did really well in school. I was valedictorian in high school. I was an honor student in college. I graduated magna cum laude. I scored a well-paid job, moved on to an even better paid job within the same company and networked like crazy to the point where I had a reliable set of supporters and allies in the right places. I worked long hours. I was consumed with work. Even my time off was spent thinking about work. Work took over my life. By the time I was five years in to my career, I was miserable, stressed, suffering from sleep disorders, gaining weight and wondering where I had gone wrong.
I had to get to the bottom of this. What was I missing? After working so hard and spending years paying my dues, why did life suck so bad?
To answer the question I started recruiting highly successful mentors. I befriended CEOs, wealthy entrepreneurs, savvy investors, local politicians and a handful of very successful doctors and lawyers. I ate lunch with them, met with them in coffee shops, I joined their clubs and associations, I visited their businesses, went to their churches and hung out with their families. I asked them how they had gotten to where they were and what advice they had for me.
Gradually, as mutual trust developed and they started to open up, a common theme began to emerge: these ultra successful individuals had gotten to where they were by breaking a lot of the rules that the masses around them followed. They had rejected common career goals. They had fired bad bosses. They had dared to dream dreams that some would call unrealistic and even arrogant. They had decided that “normal living” simply was not enough. They had decided that, no matter what it took, they would break out of the regular rat race. They would take the big risks and work their tails off for a higher calling. They were going to win and no only that, they were going to be victorious on their own terms. They challenged me to do the same.
My closest mentors started to get really personal with me. “Bjorn, you’ve got to get out of here!” a lot of them said. “If you stay here and just do what is comfortable, you will miss your calling and you will regret it for the rest of your life. Don’t sell out!”
As the chorus of voices telling me to make a change grew louder and more insistent, I had to start listening. I had to confront my fears about what it would mean to make a major change in my life. I started to believe, as my mentors did, that more than ever in world history, we live in an age where we can and we MUST pave our own way. There is nothing wrong with dedication. It is essential. But why dedicate yourself to a bland job at a boring company? Why dedicate your own finite days to an unworthy cause? To someone else’s game? Why not focus on exploiting your full potential?
In the fall of 2012, a switch flipped in my thinking. It was do or die time. I had to make a change.
As I’ve shared many times before on CultureMutt, my wife and I quit our jobs to live, work and volunteer internationally. That was 15 months ago. I have never once regretted my decision to leave my old life behind. In fact, I am happier than ever that I made it. Paying your dues just doesn’t work if you are paying into a bankrupt system.
Paying your dues can be destructive
Here’s what all my mentors said, in one way or another: there is something soul-sucking about surrender to the system that most of us default into: The supposedly safe 9-5 of the average job where you trudge along year in, year out until you can retire. You cannot be yourself. No matter how much you may want to deny it, you are completely scripted. Your advancement and your every move is, ultimately, decided by someone else. As you live in this kind of system it gradually wears on you. You become less assertive. You believe in yourself less. You forget what it is like to lead. You become strangely dependent. It is horrible. It is like living a perpetually bad dream.
Conventional work is stationary, the future is global
Especially if you are a young person, starting out in today’s work environment, you cannot bet on the world staying as it is. Having a safe, provincial mentality and only thinking about professional development in one company, town or even country is a recipe for desperation because there is less and less guarantee that these traditional structures will stand the test of time. If you are unwilling to be flexible, to take risks to go where the work is (or create your own work as freelancer or entrepreneur), your “safe” choices today could mean unemployment tomorrow.
Paving your own way means you have to take ownership
There is something almost magical that takes place when you stop marching to the beat of someone else’s drum and instead have to think for yourself and create your own future: you take ownership on a whole different level. I know this with my own work. I have never EVER been more focused or enthusiastic about work than I am now that I feel I can determine my own destiny. It is incredibly freeing.
Over to you
Do you feel like I did in the fall of 2012? Like you are trapped and need to get out? Rather than paying your dues to the conventional rat race, how about switching things around and paying into your own future instead? I am not talking about being selfish. I am talking about consciously investing in your own future so that you can ultimately give more. Only you know what this enhanced future could look like. Only you know what is really on your heart. Only you know what the dream really is. I am not telling you that you should spend your life the way I have for the last 15 months. But what I am saying is that breaking out is absolutely worth the effort. Do not stay put if you know deep inside that life can be better. You deserve more.
See you on the other side.