Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Lessons from a Recovering Doormat


Paying In vs. Paying Your Dues

laura-vanderkamI’m happy to have Laura Vanderkam, author of several books, including her new one, What the Most Successful People Do at Work,  back as a guest today. She has an interesting take on paying your dues. Here’s what she has to say:

A Better Way to Pay Your Dues?
By Laura Vanderkam

Something about graduation season compels people to offer advice to anyone sporting a mortarboard. Follow your passion. It’s not what you earn, it’s what you learn. Take the road less traveled by (has anyone, in any graduation speech, ever taken the road more traveled by?).

This advice may be reasonable, but here’s the rub: it isn’t actionable. When you’re launching yourself into the real world, you’re already keenly aware that most things you’ve learned don’t have real world applications. You want advice that you can use at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. ??At least I did. So here’s what I would say to my 22-year-old self: Get serious about paying in.

By “paying in” I don’t mean paying your dues. To me, “paying your dues” conjures up images of doing thankless and possibly pointless work in the interest of building a career within a certain organization. You put in time when you’re new, and over time it is recognized and rewarded.?? The problem with this mindset is that the average tenure of a worker at a company is about 4.5 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it’s much lower for younger people. Only 13 percent of 30-34 year olds have been at their current employer for 10 years.

In other words, gaining capital that is only legal tender within a specific organization is not the best use of your time. A better approach — rather than paying your dues to a company — is to pay in to your own career capital account. This capital may help you rise within your own organization, but like a 401k, you can also take it with you when you, inevitably, move on.

The best language I’ve heard to describe this process of paying in comes from Sarah Fisher, the former race car driver I interviewed for What the Most Successful People Do at Work. She described a certain decision as one that “broadens our scope.” This phrase neatly conjures up a growing sense of career abundance and generosity. What have you done today to broaden your scope? The best advice for a new grad is to develop the discipline of doing something daily to broaden his or her scope, amassing capital that will be useful in the future.

These actions need not be grand. It’s probably better if they’re not. The world may not respond well to a promotional video about how awesome you are. But you can introduce a friend to another friend who works at a company she’s interested in. You can tweet a link to a friend’s blog. You can offer to help a colleague practice for a tough meeting. You can write a short post for an industry website. You can serve on a committee for an upcoming professional conference and remember to say happy birthday to your fellow committee member who’s stuck handing out registration badges at a professional conference on her birthday.

Of course, these are all things we know we should do, in our personal lives too, not just our working lives. But life gets busy, and it’s easier not to. So I’d tell an eager 22-year-old to actually get in the habit of checking in with herself at the end of each day, asking what she’s done to pay in. If she’s done something, then no matter how monotonous the day was, she’s done something worthwhile. She’s made another deposit in her account.

What have you done today to broaden your scope?
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