You Gotta Pay Your Dues

A sea turtle returns to the ocean after coming ashore to lay her eggs.

A sea turtle returns to the ocean after coming ashore to lay her eggs.

As I finished my treadmill workout this morning and started around the indoor track to cool off before beginning the weight circuit, I breathed a bit of a sigh. It felt good to have the most challenging part of my tri-weekly workout behind me. As I walked around the tenth mile oval with students more than 40 years younger and a few other seniors like myself, I got to thinking about how fortunate I was to be able to be so active and healthy at 60. As I pondered this further, I realized that while luck was certainly a component, it was not the only or most important factor. Yes I inherited some good longevity genes from both of my parents. But I also inherited a family history of health and medical issues, including diabetes. I knew early on that if I wanted to have a long and healthy life I would have to put in the effort. To pay my dues if you will. That means not only staying active but watching my diet.

Life in general is like that. If you want to have a good job or career you have to spend the time learning the craft and proving your worth. Sometimes that means getting a degree, completing an apprenticeship, or what some call the school of hard knocks. Success isn’t a linear equation. Sometimes it can take a circuitous route and arrive at a destination far different from the one envisioned at the start. But success is most often the result of working hard, learning all you can, and taking pride in the attainment of incremental goals along the way. Even so called “overnight success” stories are rooted in an unseen background of dedication to study and practice of a discipline. Mark Zuckerberg started programing in junior high and continued to hone his coding skills at Harvard before he was ready for the opportunity to help create Facebook. Jon Hamm took his first role as an actor in a school play when he was just 6 years old, but it would take 30 years of ¬†practicing his craft before he became an overnight success in his role as Don Draper on the television show Mad Men

People often tell me how fortunate my children are to have had their college costs largely paid for through scholarships, ROTC and Coast Guard Academy. What they often don’t realize is that luck was only a small component of their success. First they had to work hard all through high school to prepare themselves to be eligible to even be considered for acceptance to their chosen institutions. Then they had to compete against other students who have also worked hard throughout high school to be offered their scholarships. Not only did they have to maintain their grades and the added obligations that the military required, they also owed their benefactors a minimum of five years of active duty once they graduated. Paying their dues was not optional.

There are no guarantees in life. But you can certainly improve your odds of achieving whatever sort of life that you desire by taking in active role. Don’t count on luck or good fortune. Study, practice, stay focused, work hard, don’t get discouraged, and be ready when opportunities arise. Be willing to take responsibility for your own success and don’t blame others for the bumps in the road. We all gotta pay our dues.


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