Even the most successful names in the business recognize that the end game is actually retirement. Fame is not the end goal you’re seeking.
Entrepreneurs struggle with this concept too. Small business owners and even icons stop short of fully paying their dues before they should. The result is they have to work harder and dig deeper to make up for lost momentum.
What does it mean for a musician to pay their dues?
I have a few interpretations of this including that you have to be invested in your craft for a period of time and not a rookie or someone starting out. That’s one step of the due-paying process. You need experience in your field, and a resume of sorts to show that you’ve been through some fires, tried and succeeded while also trying and failing. Failure is a great teacher, and also a truer indicator of someone who is going to achieve great things. Failure to face failure and rise again is an indication of someone not truly vested in their journey.
Paying dues can mean several things, but the big picture is overcoming the tragic mindset of “arriving.” That old adage that “Life is a journey, not a destination” applies here. It means you keep working, keep investing in your future and keep honing your craft until you’re completely finished with everything you will do with it.
You pay your dues until the game is fully over.
I’m a fan of Chris Hardwick. I speak for fellow comic-book fans, sci-fi nerds, and others who have been misjudged because of our passions for (at one time) unpopular things in citing Hardwick as a hero. His Nerdist podcast is excellent because he speaks with people from many different walks of life, and the conversations almost always highlight some profound truth that changes the way I think.
One of his archived podcasts was with Morgan Freeman. There’s a million reasons to love Freeman, including his voice and the fact that he has played both God, Nelson Mandela, and Batman’s tech-brain (Lucius Fox) among other notable roles. In the podcast episode (listen here), Chris asked Morgan if he felt like he didn’t have to pay his dues anymore.
Morgan Freeman’s response was incredible. He said, “Nowhere is it written that your career has to ever be stabilized.” [Quote is at 26:29 of the interview and 28:20 is another point added to that; listen to the full interview to get the most out of Freeman’s wisdom]
Morgan Freeman still considers himself to be paying his dues.
Think about that for a minute.
Of all the actors in Hollywood, there are a short list of A-caliber individuals who can get any role, any time, without an audition, and probably command whatever paycheck for their time that they want. Freeman is on that list.
And he still feels that he’s paying his dues. This goes to show you that to be truly great, you never stop giving your all and proving your worth in everything you do.
Here’s the takeaway: You’re not going to finish paying your dues as an artist, musician, actor, entrepreneur, business owner or otherwise until you retire and hang up your gloves permanently. You may reach a level of success where you don’t have to work as hard or as long as you do in your early days, but that’s an attitude decision, not a reality decision.
When your attitude is to give your best every time, no matter what, you will have success that follows you everywhere. Proof of this is what Mick Jagger told Rolling Stone recently after telling the world that at 72 years old he and the band still want to play a world tour. Jagger said “always play your best show, every time.”
Based on that statement by one of the biggest names in the history of recorded music, telling artists that they still have to perform at their highest level each and every time regardless of how successful they may be is indicative of never fully paying your dues.
If Mick Jagger hasn’t fully paid his dues, none of us have.
What this also means is that we as Due-Payers should be looking for help in all we do where needed, and be humble enough to ask when we realize there’s something we don’t know.
I’m in that boat too, which is why I work with a coach to help me grow, improve, and make myself better.
What is it that you feel like you are still paying dues in, maybe even something you don’t want to still be paying dues in? Let’s talk. Let me know in the comments below.
*Chris Harwick is the author of The Nerdist Way: How to Reach the Next Level (In Real Life). You can buy it via the affiliate link which will benefit both you and me.