“Pay my dues? Why? What are you doing for me?”

As a generation Yer, you may have watched your parents or relatives work hard, demonstrate commitment, and sacrifice their personal lives, only to lose their jobs and/or pensions by right-sizing, out- sourcing and corporate scandals. Why, then, should you “pay your dues” to try to climb the corporate ladder – especially when you saw that paying your dues doesn’t always pay off!

Let me begin by suggesting that “paying your dues” has different meanings for different generations. While a Baby Boomer may define “paying your dues” as demonstrating a commitment to the company over time, a generation Yer may hear “paying your dues” as working 80 hours a week and putting the company first always. As generation Yers, we’ve learned what working 80 hours a week can do to one’s family life, personal life, health, etc. You’re not interested in giving your life to a company that does not care about you.

Is there a win-win solution– where you successfully demonstrate a commitment to your company – “pay your dues” – and feel empowered doing so? The following are five ways to demonstrate commitment to your company, while considering your future and taking care of what’s important in your life:

  1. Be patient with yourself and your company – So many times generation Yers come to me six months into a new job feeling anxious, hating the work and ready to jump ship to a new job, even though they don’t have a clear idea why they are leaving. Generally speaking, they do not really want to leave their job, but they don’t see a way to get what they think they “should” have as quickly as they think they “should” have it. As a generation primarily raised on television, where you see the beginning and end of every success story within an hour, you may not have a clear understanding of the hard work and dedication that goes into real life success.
  2. Each job is an opportunity to become clearer – about your strengths, your special talents, and your interests. While some seem to know exactly what they are good at and what they want to do with their life, most of us need time to explore what we’re passionate about, what we’re good at and what we love. Take advantage of opportunities to learn about yourself.
  3. Find a mentor – create a plan – If your company has a mentorship program in place, find a way to get involved. If not, approach your supervisor and ask if there is a way he or she can help you locate a mentor inside your organization. It’s very helpful to have a mentor in addition to the mentoring your supervisor may be giving you. Having an opportunity to build relationships with others inside your organization can be invaluable in making your capabilities known within the company as well as increasing your chances for promotion. Network, network, network! Taking the time to think through what you really want and sharing your goals with your supervisor and mentor is important – if they don’t know what you want, they won’t know what experiences to help you gain.
  4. Build a name for yourself – Through consistent achievement, and by making sure the right people know of your achievements. Yes, this does require that you share your achievements with others (go ahead and brag, it’s better than hiding your light under a bushel!). If no one knows about all the great work you’ve done, how will they know you should be promoted?!
  5. Keep Learning – Explore, ask questions, request new assignments, find a mentor, take advantage of training programs, get to know the context of your work – the “big picture,” read industry information, etc.

Almost two years ago I began coaching a 19-year- old (we’ll call him Adam) who had failed out of college three consecutive semesters. His father reached out to me in hopes of helping his son get on a positive track – he was very worried. When Adam first came to me he did not want to finish college and he didn’t know what he wanted for his future. Over the past two years, he has learned a great deal about his strengths/weaknesses, taken the time to face his self-imposed limitations, begun an internship in his field of interest, and is preparing for his next semester of college with an entirely new frame of mind.

The key for Adam was getting to know himself, his interests and making positive advances in order to do what he likes, long term. If you can learn about yourself, find what you love to do, and build your life around that, the financial and personal rewards, as well as the increased responsibility, will come. So many people force themselves to do jobs that do not fit their passions just to pay their bills. Don’t be one of them!

Be patient with yourself. Take time to explore, learn about yourself, generate a plan, build your network. You will have failures, certainly, but you will succeed in the end.

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