Career Change and Paying Your Dues


Paying Your Dues During Career ChangeAnd now, after all that pomp and gung-honess on how Fortune Favors the Bold, it is time to talk about the not-so-glamourous sides of career change.

Remember how I got that super cool marketing job at my start-up company, where I was working as the Office Manager? Just a week later, my boss calls me for a one-on-one, and…drum roll!… tells me that he sold the company. I kid you not! A week later!


What this meant was that I was being “sold” with the company in the Office Manager capacity – and just maybe in marketing. I knew this at the time I wrote my last blog post, and was very tempted to title it: “Fortune Favors the Bold – Maybe!”… but the company acquisition was of course confidential. Besides, my CEO sounded optimistic about my marketing prospects with the acquiring company, and wanted me to continue doing it part-time.


And so, on I went with two jobs, working like a maniac in my Finance/HR position (mergers are an administrative nightmare!), while doing the marketing too…and learning about cloud data storage, time-series data analysis, and real-time monitoring…in short – exhausting!


Career Change – The Hardship of Uncertainty


What is more exhausting, however, is the uncertainty of my keeping the marketing job. Last week, I had a conversation with my counterpart in the new company: an experienced and quite sharp gentleman, who turned this “talk” – as HR in the new company called it – into a real job interview.


I did OK, even though I was taken by surprise – and, I realized later, taken aback. I was not quite planning on being treated as an inexperienced candidate off the street (thank you, June, for reminding me to prepare!). Particularly not after my CEO and my Marketing Director sang my praises and said they really wanted me in the job.


But, OK, uncertainty is the nature of the (acquisition) beast. Many of my colleagues are wondering what will happen with our jobs, departments, and the company culture.


And so, I march on. Learning, working, administrating. Why, you may wonder? Because, with career change, at any age:


Paying Your Dues is Necessary


I stumbled upon an interesting article by Penelope Trunk, who claims that “paying dues is so old school”. The argument goes something like this: don’t climb the boring and outdated corporate ladder (and sacrifice your life while at it), but rather, seek highly paid, strategic projects that allow for flexibility and keeping your pride and sanity intact.

I honestly could not agree more – if we are to define paying one’s dues as Ms. Trunk does: “…what you pay when you’re at the bottom in order to get a proverbial ticket to try climbing to the top.” For career changers, however, paying your dues must be defined differently.

The reality is that the pesky business of paying your rent is not gone when your big dreams arrive – and that means either:

  1. having a paying job in a career we don’t love, or

  2. starting lower and/or working our rears off in a career we do love


I love this quote from Steven Pressfield’s urgent and a propos “The War of Art”:

“I saw a fat happy old guy in his Cadillac on the freeway. He had the A/C going, Pointer Sisters on the CD, puffing on a stogie.  His license plate:




I know, I know, this man may not be your ideal, but you catch the drift: carefree life doesn’t fall from the sky just because you found your passion.

For career changers, paying the dues is about working harder than usual, keeping the big picture in mind, and keeping your ego in check – seriously so – along the way.


Paying Your Dues Can Be a Good Thing


An important aspect of career change is that, more often than not, we don’t have the luxury of aspiring to work-life balance – at least in the beginning. There are few of us who imagine the dream career as toiling long hours in a corporate job, but it just might be the sacrifice we make for a while.


I have to admit that I was not planning on getting a corporate job in marketing. I absolutely hate commuting, getting up early, coming home late. I also feared boredom, bureaucracy and politics. Well, my friends, I stand corrected. I am shocked with how valuable this experience has been, and how much I am actually liking it.


Here is why working full-time in a company is ultra-beneficial for a career change:


  • The experience is priceless. I sit in high-level meetings, learn about company strategy and cutting-edge tech. It would have taken me years to learn so much on my own.

    An important aspect of this: I am reassured that I am just as smart as other folks doing this stuff. While we may know our worth, doubts arise, and there is nothing better for boosting our confidence than realizing we think just like (other) high achievers.

  • Having a role model/mentor. I have a great marketing boss: assertive but kind, demanding while likeable, ambitious but always herself – and a mother of two. She is championing me in big ways, and teaching me a thousand things or two in the meantime.

  • Making connections! And friends! My colleagues and my bosses like my marketing work. They will provide references for future jobs, or freelance work. More importantly – I really like these people and spending time with them.


Paying Your Dues – The Unexpected Benefits


I had no idea how much I liked team work! Brainstorming sessions in my last corporate job were fun but rare, and not on a topic I am passionate about. Here, however, I walk out of meetings energized. Things get done fast. We also talk about our lives and have fun – great teams, as any smart manager knows, are more about human connection than machine-like efficiency.

This, of course, might just have to do with my other finding: I love startups! Witness here a confession of a prejudice: I thought I’d resent a bratty, overindulged, arrogant culture. Instead, I found my coworkers to be uber-professional, and myself shocked at the lack of BS, and levels of ownership and efficiency that make startups successful.

What I am trying to say here is: you simply don’t know and cannot know what good things you’ll find while paying your dues.


Paying Your Dues is Hard…Keep Calm and Carry On 

This has been, and will be, a difficult period. I am tired of countless hours and the uncertainty. I often think back on my “interview” and what I could have or should have done better. And – I suspect this is not the first or last of the difficulties.

It is, however, astounding how much easier it all is when armed with inspiration, and knowledge that I am on the right path.

And so, again through words from “The War of Art”, I conclude: “The professional endures adversity…He reminds himself it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, then to be up in the stands, or out in the parking lot”.

Now, tell me, have you been getting stomped by the bulls? What would you call “paying your dues”? Are you afraid of it, and – do you think it necessary?

  8 comments for “Career Change and Paying Your Dues

  1. Hutchmo
    February 9, 2015 at 1:41 am

    In my case, becoming a Chef, paying dues was a bit of a joke. It meant being exploited by EVERY restaurant I worked at. (Side note: I just received a check for back pay after the fact of working two to four hours per day off the clock at one of Gavin Newsom’s Plumpjack properties!). From Thomas Keller, to Ken Frank, to Morimoto, I was expected to work while not clocked in. I still cook for part of my living, I just choose not to do it in restaurants. I’ve also decide I have no desire to ever open my own. If I’m not screwing over my workers, my competition gets a leg up by doing so.

    • Ivana
      February 9, 2015 at 5:54 am

      That is truly embarrassing (for said chefs/owners), and a damn shame! You could start a more ethical establishment, perhaps – but of course your profits would be low. The important thing, however, is that you are still cooking – aka, doing what you love – vs. some more profitable thing that makes you miserable! Onward!

  2. Sarah Stevenson
    February 9, 2015 at 2:11 am

    I find it very comforting that I am not the only one changing careers a decade into it! Thanks for sharing; I enjoyed your writing!

    • Ivana
      February 9, 2015 at 5:53 am

      I am so glad. There are many of us! An army! Stay tuned for more encouragement, and thank you for your comment!

  3. June
    February 9, 2015 at 2:12 am

    From my personal experience, a new career move is about measuring opportunity and risk.
    Some tips: 1) Do your homework and invest time to establish your next move 2) Know your worth (get feedback) and ‘position your unique value’ (get ‘credit’ to offset dues). 3) Use sponsors / networks to evaluate your options 4) Take the plunge if it feels right :-)

    • Ivana
      February 9, 2015 at 5:52 am

      June, I love that. “Use sponsors/networks to evaluate your options” – feedback is so important! Thanks for the briliance as always!

  4. Luz Mena
    February 9, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Great article; sobering and encouraging. Moving from academia to arts and social justice has been one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life and one of the most rewarding.

    • Ivana
      February 10, 2015 at 5:56 am

      Luz, that is exactly it – one of the hardest things in life…but, if we don’t endure the hardship, a part of us stays dead forever. Somehow, I am not surprised you made such a hard decision & look forward to hearing more!

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