My best advice on this subject is to just drop the notion that dues
paying ever really ends.
I don't think I've ever stopped paying my dues, and it's been over
20 years since I graduated from art school and got my first job in
graphic design. Sure, I've stopped paying certain kinds of dues,
but other kinds keep showing up. I think this is because I continue
to evolve and expand what my job actually is. I keep taking on new
challenges in the practice of design. All of which means there is
some kind of new learning curve involved. Learning new things
always means paying dues somehow, to somebody, for something.
For me, the fun of life is pushing the boundaries of what's
possible. That can often mean starting over and not having it all
buttoned up. It means I might fail. It means that there are
probably people much better at this new thing than I am, so I'll
need to stretch, and perhaps even be a little lost and confused for
a while. This kind of risk-taking involves putting in extra effort,
long hours of due diligence, probably disappointing people along
the way, then finally beginning to get it right, and eventually
actually figuring out how to do the new thing. It is this journey
that I think of as paying dues.
Early in a design career everyone ought to expect to pay some dues.
Dues look like extra effort, patiently following your boss's lead,
having a happy attitude and boundless energy (no matter what) all
in the pursuit of excellence. Keep this up, and bigger, better
opportunities get presented. As a result, perhaps mastery occurs.
Keep on working hard and smart, and your peers might recognize that
At that point a choice happens-get comfortable or keep pushing
yourself. The more experience you get, and the better you become at
your craft, the less inclined you might be to try to branch out and
change. You might just want to rest on your laurels and pretend
that you are challenged, but in your heart, you'll know that the
thrill is gone. Once you admit that, you've opened a door, and you
might have to do something about it. It might create the
possibility of more dues to be paid.
I am convinced that relentless curiosity is an essential trait in a
designer. Curiosity leads to growth. Growth brings new horizons
and, inevitably, dues. But dues mean you're really in the game, not
sitting on the sidelines. When you stop having to pay dues, it is
just the right time to look for new things to do that come with a
new set of dues. In time, each person figures out for herself which
dues are worth paying and which aren't. For me, the real point is
simply to stay open to paying dues. Being vital and challenged is
how I want to live. I figure that I can rest (and stop paying dues)
when I'm dead.
The Office of Terry Stone Design Management Consultant and
Writer/Educator Los Angeles, CA
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