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Out of Our Minds
Sunday, April 17, 2005 11:08 AM
Careers 101
Kevin Salwen on Passionate Work

On CNN this weekend, Jack Cafferty asked me about his 24-year-old daughter. Echoing a point we often hear from frustrated parents, he grumbled that she wants to be a big-time practitioner of international law, jetting around the world. But, Cafferty continued, she wants to do that NOW, without paying her dues, without doing the hard work it takes. His annoyance was clear.

His core question, of course, is a great one: Don't people have to sacrifice any more? Is it all that easy for this soft generation? Can they have their cake, eat it too -- and then add a dollop of ice cream for good measure?

Needless to say, that's an easy perception to have when you stop by this site or read Worthwhile magazine -- after all, we love to preach career passion. You need to love what you do; you'll be better at your work if you bring your soul to it. Eventually, we contend, you'll make more money because that passion will shine through and make you a better employee or business owner.

But never paying dues? I don't think so. In fact, I don't think the elements of sacrifice have changed all that much. Cafferty's daughter can't be an international jet-setting lawyer until she gets a major set of credentials in that arena or a parallel one. People who want to launch a business selling, say, environmentally-correct lawn furniture had better be able to raise enough capital, build a smart business model, manage their books, understand product sourcing, etc.

In short, dues are here to stay. The question, I think, is how to shorten the cycle and how to set longer-term goals. Am I right? Thoughts on this one?


Chris Kernahan - 4/21/2005 10:21:39 PM
I'm a graduate going straight out of uni into a Corporate Finance role. I'm very fortunate - I've had a great education, great role models and I am very passionate about business. But I agree with the sentiment that people of my generation seem to want to get ahead without going through the 'normal' process. I know - I feel it to. I'm just a greenhorn grad barely out of school and yet I have ambitions for closing Month-end in 3 days instead of 8, delivering reports online instead of as 100 page paper packs - in short, I think we understand that in a very competitive world everyone has an obligation to not just do their job but do much more than that. If it means progression is fast-tracked, rather than just arbitrarily moving up the corporate ladder step by step, then have we 'paid our dues' or have we really made a positive impact on the organisation?
Deb Dib, America's Executive Power Coach - 4/20/2005 8:21:36 AM
I have been an executive career strategist, coach, and resume consultant for 16 years and it is rare for anyone of my successful executive clients to be in the same field at 40, or 50, or 60 that they began in at 22! In fact, they may be in their 4th, 5th, or 6th career.

How does this happen? I believe it starts with the insights that everyone receives from *paying their dues.* Taking risks, falling down, getting up again - is the process of learning and discovery. Discovery leads to identification of passions we might not know we have.

Following those passions, experimenting, and paying dues again in a new area, at perhaps a higher level, leads to more knowledge. It is called maturity, or street smarts, or leadership and it is the critical value-add that separates most recent grads (no matter how prestigious their schools) from the MVPs in a company or field. No pain, no gain is still the rule. And should be.
Jeffrey - 4/17/2005 10:11:45 PM
Paying dues is fine so long as it is not really about conforming to archaic and often arbitrary norms established by a previous generation because of the dominant cultural attributes when they came of age. I've seen far too many people move up the ladder professionally just because they had hung around for long enough. Judge the talent not the tenure.
Shawn Lea - 4/17/2005 6:04:25 PM
But I do think to some degree that a certain level of passion for anything - your career, a friend, a hobby - is a personality trait. I'm not saying that you cannot learn or discover more about personal passions. But, to some degree, I have always had a passion for work, in and of itself, from my first job at 16 flipping hamburgers at Wendy's on. And I've met people who have jobs that others would kill for - but they had no passion for it.

But I think part of the problem of the up-and-coming generation is they sometimes have a passion for titles, salaries, opportunities and perks - but no passion for the work (or work, in general) itself. (And now I officially feel old. At 35 I guess I'm no longer the up-and-coming generation.)
Ron - 4/17/2005 3:50:29 PM
I think you hit the nail on the head here. I think the place where 'pursuing your passion' meet and 'paying your dues' is that going through that process often makes you realize what it is you want to.

Whether paying your dues means having a string of jobs you hate - but that teach you lots - or if it means, working hard in your current position to rise to a higher one.

The notion of patience is certainly hard for this generation when you see millionaires seemingly everywhere and this desire to mirror the unattainable lives of the 'power class' or elite.

I think the critical point is being able to articulate to someone at that age - I'm not much older - that in order to reach that succees, you have to wait until your time. But it's not passive, it's a very active sort of waiting.

And when your opportunity comes, seize it - and enjoy it, because as with many things, they don't always last forever.

Great concept for a magazine. Best of luck!
Curt Rosengren - 4/17/2005 11:57:26 AM
Kevin, coming from the perspective of pursuing one's passion - something that is thankfully becoming more and more common - you might even make the argument that dues paying is an even bigger part of the picture than usual.

Doing what inherently lights you up often means jumping off the prefab treadmill and forging your own path. There is seldom an instruction manual that tells you precisely how to fit Tab A into Slot B. More than that, there isn't a well-worn path that everyone else has followed that you can plod along without thinking.

There also seems to be a steady chorus of naysayers who are more than happy to chime in, 'That's not the way things are done. You can't do that. That doesn't make any sense. Be realistic. Get serious.' And on and on and on.

At the end of the day, you have to have a firm belief in what's right for you - not what everyone else says is right for you. More than that, you have to be willing to act on it. You've got to create the career that fits you best. And yes, you are almost guaranteed have to pay some dues along the way.

But it's worth it.


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