By: Together Abroad 28-09-2018
Jobseekers’ Diaries: “Paying your dues” at Entry-level
“There’s a fine line between putting in the time and staying too long. How do you know when you’re paying your dues or wasting your work? It all depends on how you define and interpret the phrase.”
A traditional work motto I consistently use as a mantra is: “You gotta pay your dues.” Typically, when weekdays are long and tough, I repeat this to myself. However, this motto can be perceived differently depending on your mindset. Those who blame others for their problems, or those who tell others they are “lucky” in life to get as far as they have, often misconstrue this phrase. Therefore, let’s get this straight: “paying your dues” is not about doing what’s seemingly nothing for hours on end or pointless suffering in your career, it’s about the experience.
As a fresh graduate with a bachelor’s degree at hand, a majority of my ex-classmates couldn’t understand why I decided to take on an internship position in Amsterdam, straight out of university. I had the certificate, that was all I needed to pursue my dream job, right? Well realistically, its highly rare one enters their field at the pinnacle of their goals. With the virtually non-existent experience I had working for a real-estate agency in London (which eventually ran out of business and closed), I was eager to start my career. Even if that meant I had to start from the bottom.
From the Bottom, and Now I’m Here
After I graduated, I got my first position working for a self-entrepreneur as a Creative Marketing Assistant. Working within my field of study was all I was seeking, and the job was a great fit from the start. I clicked with this self-entrepreneur almost immediately and stayed for a total of nine months, three more than the agreed six (solely because I liked it there, and knew I was doing good work). I handled the organization’s social media calendar, edited and published content for our online/offline journal, and worked hard to raise awareness of the brand through marketing campaigns.
These tasks called for long hours in front of my laptop: researching effective strategies for our target audience, scheduling dozens of posts on Buffer and re-writing hundreds of sentences about two or three times before I was content. When you’re in an entry-level position, it’s easy to feel frustrated by these seemingly low-level tasks. However, at this phase of my career, it was the period of time I learned the most.
I was an assistant, I was not under any real pressure to perform. I was there to make mistakes and learn from them. For trial and error, and trial and error again. I took a step back and learned transferable skills from my superiors, including the freelancers that worked in the studio with us. I learned how to speak in public, to manage a close-knit community, to avoid any “hide-and-seek” with my responsibilities, to use new photo and video-editing software, and how to register myself as a freelancer in the Netherlands. The point here is: I utilized the resources available to me and learned to the best of my advantage.
Learning Something from Everything and Everyone
It’s easy to complain, especially in the Netherlands. The Dutch complain about the weather even when it’s good. However, I’ve always believed in seeing opportunities in everything I do, by working with what you have. In my work, I’m not told to work (some) weekends, I’m not told to assist my teammates or to get out of my way to take on projects that benefit the team. I do this because executing my work isn’t enough. I choose to be proactive in my career because I want to take on more that is required of me, I want to chase results.
It was with this attitude and work ethic that landed me a referral to a summer freelance position at an independent creative agency in the heart of Amsterdam. The best part? I was referred to by the same self-entrepreneur I worked for at the start of my career. Moving up from an assistant to a full-fledged Content Manager, working with a team on a campaign for the world’s leading athletic apparel brand (which I’m not at liberty to say who).
It sounds braggadocios, but sometimes it still baffles me to see where I started, to where I’m at. All because I chose to grab the right opportunities that were right for my career path and put a value on the work that I choose to do. With that, I’d like you to remember: you can pay your dues, just don’t endure useless hardships for the sake of enduring them. Rather, gain experience and make sure your work is productive and actually leads you to where you want to be. If you’re still a little lost with distinctions, the list below should give you an idea:
Paying your dues:
- working hard to accomplish set goals
- not complaining, and working with what you’ve got
- learning and growing through desire and effort
Not paying your dues:
- working until seven, literally doing nothing
- getting coffee for your co-workers or washing all the dishes
- complaining about the resources you don’t have
- settling for a job where you’re not developing
Written by Sarah Picolet for Together Abroad