Paying Dues at Work or Investing in the Future?

by Alli Polin on July 29, 2014

Always feel like you're paying dues at work? Take control of your choices

As a leader, many would argue that they’re paying bills daily.  I hear it from clients all the time as they talk about paying their dues at work.  I had a strange experience today that got me thinking about the dues leaders pay as a result of a surprising outcome from one of my least favorite and most mundane of tasks, paying bills.

I sat down at my computer before work to take care of some personal admin that had backed up while I was on vacation.  The part you can guess is that I logged on to a few websites, entered my payment details, clicked confirm and went about my business.  Here’s the strange part… I looked at my confirmations and one was paid in the past, one in the present and one was set to be paid in the future.

Before you assume that it’s impossible to create actions across the past, present and future simultaneously, I should mention that I was paying bills in the USA and Australia which means that my today is still yesterday in the USA.  Confusing?  Maybe, but I think there are a few leadership lessons to be learned about how our present actions ultimately define our past and shape our future.

Instead of being a leader who’s focused on paying your dues at work, you can be a leader who intentionally creates a meaningful legacy through powerful present choices and a commitment to co-creating the future.  I invite you to shift your mindset and consider that every choice you make today is not predetermined and simply paying your dues, but actually investing in an unfolding adventure.

Three Critical Questions for Leaders to
Stop Paying Dues at Work and Start Investing in the Future

1.  How am I showing up?

Check in with your way of being in this moment, you are setting the stage for your future impact and legacy.  Will people remember a surly, kind, positive, energetic, critical, or impassioned person?  You choose every day, every moment how you show up and you create a bridge from the past, to the present and future.

Imagine a dinner party seven years from now and a few of your old teammates and friends have gathered for an evening of fun and reminiscing.  Someone asks:  Do you remember working with (YOUR NAME HERE)?

What will the others say about the way you showed up?

  • Yeah!  Love him!
  • Oh my gosh, if I never see her again, I won’t mind a bit.
  • She always brought such a positive spark, I try to do that now.
  • No idea what happened to him.  Who cares?

Leaders show up, which takes far more focused effort than simply driving to work and getting out of the car.  The not-so-secret place to start?  Vulnerably and bravely bring all of you to everything you do.

2.  How am I engaging?

Leadership happens through relationships, not silos, work plans or a cushy title.  Unless you choose to engage, you’re simply not leading.  There are no shortcuts to replace human connection.


Let’s zoom back to that imaginary dinner party where they are still talking about you.

What will they say about your engagement?

  • I’ve never met a person with more enthusiasm!  It was contagious.
  • I don’t think I ever spoke to him unless it was via email, tweet or text.
  • Thank goodness we never have to suffer through another all-hands meeting with her.  That was really just PR.
  • I felt like he invited me to be a part of something really special.

Leaders deeply engage in the moment with more than the work, leaders engage with people, ideas and possibilities.  Building strong relationships today is an investment in a stronger, more meaningful tomorrow.

3. How am I changing?

You can choose to stand still or bravely and boldly meet your future.  It’s coming either way.  Leaders that not only accept change, but invite it, have vision, courage, and a commitment to growth.


Hello dinner party…

What will they say about your evolution?  Did you change?

  • Our team was always doing training on something.  I learned more working for him than I have since.
  • We used to joke that she was caught in a time warp.
  • He was always open to feedback and ideas and actually acted on them.  So rare!
  • I felt like she was always working herself out of a job by letting me do more.

Leaders change when they accept the past, yet do not let it define the future.  Every day is a new opportunity to create success, engage more deeply and show up more fully.

My bills for the month are paid and you may still feel stuck “doing time” and “paying dues.”  Your perspective defines your experience. Do you want to choose paying or investing?  Hefty dues thrown on you from past generations or creating a stake in your future?  Up to you.

Are you stuck in a cycle of paying dues from the past or are you investing in a successful future?

For coaching, consulting or speaking Let’s Connect!

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri Klass July 29, 2014 at 9:09 am

Love the idea of past, present and future leadership investments! We all end up in situations and positions that might be imperfect. I have always been a subscriber to performing my best even if I wasn’t so thrilled. That way, I would still be making a difference in some way.

Sometimes we have to wait for the better opportunity. I did that when I invested (no pun intended) in my banking career in order to switch over into HR. I always worked hard and connected with others in the most professional way. Then when the opportunity presented itself, I could show up as myself with my head held high.

Thanks for getting me to think Alli about how I want to be seen and remembered!

Great post!


Alli Polin July 29, 2014 at 9:58 pm

Thanks for sharing the example of when you were in banking! Consistently showing up and giving your best truly is a smart investment.

I’ve heard from many people “you can’t change the past!” but every day we are changing our story and defining and re-defining our legacy. That’s truly why a commitment to change and growth really matters – it’s not too late to begin now.

You are a role model for me for showing up and giving it your all. Appreciate you, Terri!


Jon Mertz July 29, 2014 at 9:40 am

Alli, “How am I am changing?” is a great question to ask. Our answers will signify growth or stalemate, forwards or backwards. If we haven’t changed in some positive way during a year, then we are doing something wrong! Great reminders here. Thank you. Jon


Alli Polin July 29, 2014 at 10:00 pm

I’ve asked myself that question lately as I lean into my resistance. It takes effort to break the frame… and courage too. Most people have more in them than they realize.

Also, not every change has to be earth shattering. Reading, connecting and engaging creates subtle shifts that matter too!

Many thanks to you for adding to the conversation, Jon!


John Bennett July 29, 2014 at 11:18 am

Having gained so much from your blog posts, I’m quite comfortable that your frequent use of “choice / choose” in this post is huge in your personal and professional lives. I’d expect that you are quite familiar with the writings of the late Dr. William Glasser, the developer of Choice Theory. I believe I’m correct when I write that we base our actions consistent with our CHOICE of the mental pictures in our mind. Your three great questions we need to consider in developing our answers help us firmly reflect on our pictures – acting consistent with them or adjusting them before acting as our reflections suggest.

I absolutely love the choice suggested by your title: Paying one’s dues of investing in the future, certainly a critical choice for leaders – BUT important for everyone!!!


Alli Polin July 29, 2014 at 10:04 pm

You know, I was not familiar with Dr. Glasser’s work but have just googled it and will be doing some reading. Fascinating!

We’re always building mental models but rarely stop to question them. Are they serving us? Holding us back? Evolving? I figure, the more we can stop and seek to understand those pictures, the more control we have to change them.

I always get so much from your comments and insights! Thank you, John!


Tom Rhodes July 29, 2014 at 5:03 pm

Another Wow post. How we live in the present is how we will be seen in the past. I think we think about that concept for others but not for ourselves. We will be fast to comment on politicians, our CEOs, but not on the people really making choices in our life, us.
Sometimes we forget that we are accountable to ourselves, for our own choices and for our own decisions. How do we want to be remembered for those choices and decisions? When I get a job again I may just have a dinner to ask this questions.

Thank you for your inspiration.


Alli Polin July 29, 2014 at 10:09 pm

You’re so right, Tom! We’re all great at seeing someone else’s legacy in the making but rarely stop to realize we’re in charge of creating our own legacy daily.

Taking ownership of our choices, ideas and opinions is so critical. I know far too many people who blame others for their situation and use it as an excuse to remain passive.

You are incredible, Tom. Your next team will be inspired from the day they meet you.

Thank you!!



LaRae Quy July 29, 2014 at 10:55 pm

Very powerful thoughts here, Alli.

If we can accept the fact that we continue to change and grow, then we can be alert to how those changes affect both ourselves and the people we lead.

Thanks so much for sharing.


Alli Polin August 1, 2014 at 7:10 am

You bring up a good point… when we in fact are changing… yet are blind to it and lose the ability to bring intention into the mix. Awareness is key.

Thanks, LaRae!


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