Paying Your Don’ts

Of all the silly phrases in the English language, I think “paying your dues” is one of the dumbest. In order to make it in the music business, you’ve got to first ‘pay your dues’. To become a respected scientist or famous artist or successful businessperson, you’ve got to first ‘pay your dues’. To make it big in Hollywood, you’ve got to ‘pay your dues’.

No, actually. No, you don’t. Justin Bieber is a 16-year-old, self-taught musician. In 2007, when he was 14, his mother posted a video on YouTube of him singing and a record producer watched it by accident when looking for a video of someone else. The producer contacted him and his first (smash-hit) album was released in 2009. In October he’ll be releasing his memoirs and a biographical comic book and 3D movie will follow shortly after. Tell me: When did Justin Bieber ‘pay his dues’? For that matter, when did George W. Bush ‘pay his dues’? When did Sasha Spielberg ‘pay her dues’? (Don’t get me wrong here – I’m not picking on Mr. Bieber or Ms. Spielberg. I’m just using them as examples.)

My grandmother had a tough life, like almost everybody born before me. Born at the end of a world war. Raised during a Depression. Lived and raised kids through another world war and after. But in her later years she felt she was going to win the lottery one day. “When I win, you come a-runnin’!” she said to me, “And bring a wheelbarrow!” I heard that line every other time I visited her.

Of course she never won the lottery. But because she had ‘paid her dues’, she thought she was due. But think about it for a moment: If she was ‘due’ to win the lottery, wouldn’t her mother have won the lottery too? After all, her mother lived through the Depression, and wars, and had even more kids than she did. And what about her mother? And her mother? And her mother?

You see, the problem with thinking you’ve got to ‘pay your dues’ is that you’ll think you’re set once you’ve paid your dues. But that’s false. You won’t be successful just because you’ve suffered. And you don’t necessarily need to suffer to be successful. Luck helps. Hard work helps more. Having a dad who’s an ex-President or the most powerful director in the film business helps too.

But suffering for the sake of suffering does not. You’re a hero for succeeding, not for suffering, so stop telling people you’ve ‘paid your dues’, because it doesn’t make a difference.

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