Pay Your Dues, Meaning Don’t Challenge the Status Quo

At some point on your journey to an agile lifestyle, you will run up against resistance from others. These people might be traditionalists or gatekeepers. They might be your boss or your HR person. They might be naysayers or even those who tried and failed themselves.

Resistance is inevitable.

In one way, shape, or form, they will all say the same thing: you must pay your dues before you can get what you want.

There are many bedrock assumptions that we make as a society. These are seemingly foundational principles that can inhibit your own lifestyle design and flourishing.

Show up on time. Follow the instructions. Do not rock the boat.

But one I see again and again is the idea that you must pay your dues before certain doors will open for you.

  • “You cannot apply for this job unless you have 5-plus years of experience.”
  • “You cannot do what you love unless you go back to graduate school.”
  • “You cannot retire until you have spent 40 plus years chained to a desk, working to make somebody else rich.”

Paying your dues is supposed to mean that you have to earn what you get. Mainly judged by the amount of time you spend or the hoops you are willing to jump through. Only after you’ve paid your dues, as the thinking goes, will you gain entrance into the “successful” club of life.

But I’m convinced that most of the time, paying your dues is code language for don’t challenge the status quo. Think about it. The status quo is the way it is for a reason, just maybe not the way you’re thinking.

It wouldn’t be the status quo if there weren’t plenty of people who benefit from keeping things the way they are now. For that reason, the status quo has many, many defenders.

So Sue Me: Paying Your Dues in Action

An attorney in the United States cannot practice law unless and until she …

  1. Pays for and passes a difficult exam that’s only applicable to law school (the LSAT)
  2. Gets accepted to an accredited law school
  3. Pays a ton of cash or takes on a ton of debt to pay for school
  4. Jumps through a succession of hoops and graduates
  5. Passes the bar exam for each individual state she wants to practice in, and
  6. Takes an oath that she will follow a enormous set of ethical rules or get kicked out of the profession.

These are all the dues you must pay before you can even begin your career.

Yes, there are good reasons to have some of these requirements. As a society, you want your lawyers to have a certain baseline competency. You want them to behave ethically.

But there’s also another, more pragmatic (or maybe even cynical) way of thinking about all these requirements and prerequisites.

The rules protect current attorneys from younger, cheaper attorneys. These new attorneys are often threats to established business models. They also have a much better grasp of current trends and new technology. They are a threat to entrenched law firms and the old ways of doing business.

In the old days, you could just take the bar in most states. You didn’t even have to go to law school. If you passed, congratulations, you’re a lawyer.

Now the system ensures that first, you pay your dues, meaning you can’t challenge the established order until you’ve been completed all the steps. That inhibits new ideas and new viewpoints from entering the profession. It keeps innovations like web-based legal advice, or combining accounting and legal into one service (both against the ethical rules) from disrupting the business model of the big firms.

Attorneys from those same firms, not coincidentally, have a hand in writing the rules.

Is it any wonder lawyers have a reputation for being stodgy and old-fashioned?

Agile Line-Cutting: Stop Buying into False Promises

Success stories are increasingly defined by people who weren’t willing to pay their dues first. People are beginning to realize this and it frustrates them.

Most of you have been keeping your heads down, following your boss’s instructions to the letter, and just hoping this will lead to steady paychecks. These days, most of you are happy just to have a job at all. You’ve given up on the idea of any meaningful advancement or promotion. You’re happy to take that annual 3-4% raise that barely keeps up with inflation, so long as your sense of security isn’t threatened.

Then the day comes. Your organization has stopped innovating. It’s gotten old, fat, and rigid. A younger, more agile company has swept in and shown the market a new way of doing things. Your company’s profit goes to the toilet. Here come the massive rounds of layoffs and “economic downsizing.”

But wait, you say. You paid your dues. Where is the comfortable, middle-class lifestyle you were promised?

The industrial revolution is over. The opportunities of the next century are reserved for the agile people, who are willing to question the established way of doing things and aren’t waiting around to have a boss to give them permission to experiment.

In short, an agile person finds ways to cut the line.

The next time someone tells you you have to pay your dues before you can do what you want, ask yourself who has a vested interest in keeping you from doing what you want in life?

Image by comedy_nose.

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