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Why “Pay Your Dues” is Terrible Advice

I had no business being on a varsity football field.

Truthfully, I wasn’t on the varsity football team at the start of our preseason two-a-day practices. I was on junior varsity with the rest of my sophomore teammates.

I was not a blue-chip football prospect.

I wasn’t in the team’s preview guidebook, nor were the cheerleaders practicing cheers with my number in them. The local paper wasn’t harassing our coach for talking points about what my skills might bring to the 1997 Columbia Blue Devils football team.

I was just another powder blue practice shirt bouncing off people on the muddy secondary practice field where the freshman and JV teams prepared for the upcoming season.

Most of the varsity coaches didn’t even know my name.

Why would they?

I was a nobody.

There was nothing exceptional about my skills, athleticism, pedigree, etc.

I had never played on the big stage and hadn’t paid my dues.

That’s how we’re taught to think.

You pay your dues, grinding your way through the junior levels of whatever you do.

In my case, it was high school football, but we could just as easily be talking about the band, student government, or drama club.

You pay your dues. Then someone picks you and all your wildest dreams come true.

As the son of an administrator for the state government and a railroad foreman, this philosophy was drilled into my brain as a child.

My Dad was part of the railroading union. Around our house, there was always this belief that if you worked hard, played by the rules, and respected the system hierarchy, there would be this golden chest waiting for you at the end of the rainbow.

Keep your head down, work hard, and pay your dues.

Even as a child, this felt wrong.

The concept of “paying your dues,” even in its purest, most altruistic form, has never made sense to me.

Getting my ass kicked for my JV football team certainly didn’t make sense.

When you decide to play football, you’re choosing to get beat up; it’s inevitable.

It wasn’t the physical abuse that bothered me, but the lack of notoriety and respect you received while getting bloodied and bruised for the junior varsity team.

paying your dues is terrible advice

I didn’t want to pay my dues.

Maybe you can relate.

The traditional system would say I didn’t deserve to play varsity football.

What had I done to earn my place? Nothing, for sure.

But at 15, all I wanted in life was to play varsity football.

At my core, I knew I had the skills, passion, and just enough insanity to survive.

READ NEXT: How to Not Give a F*ck What People Think

I wanted to perform on a larger stage.

I wanted to reap the reward of everything that came with the honor of playing for the varsity team.

See, playing varsity football in high school has a lot of perks.

  • Attention from girls.
  • Respect from every dude in the school.
  • You could cut class,
  • Park in the teacher’s parking lot.
  • Even the lunch ladies would throw an extra slice of pizza on your tray.

Some people find these types of perks offensive.

To me, it’s life.

You keep what you kill, period. If you don’t like what you have, step up your game and go get more.

But the perks weren’t my true motivation.

I was from the smallest country-bumpkin town in a large suburban school district. My nickname was “Nassau,” literally the town I grew up in because saying the town name alone was derogatory.

No, the perks were nice, but I wanted to shove it up the ass of every yuppie prick that thought they were better than me because of the town their parents decided to buy a home in.

We have two choices.

We can do what must be done to get the things we want out of life, or we can play the game the way it was designed and hope someone taps us on the shoulder when it’s our turn.

How did I get on my varsity football team as a sophomore?

I became the long snapper on punts and field goals.

There is nothing glamorous about long-snapping. Glamor wasn’t important.

The trick is to get in the game however you can.

Did I want to be a long-snapper? No.

However, in my sophomore year, our varsity football team didn’t have a single person you could consistently long-snap the football back to our punter and field goal holder (a fact the head coach of our varsity team complained about every day).

Then one day, our head coach asked for volunteers from the JV team to learn how to long-snap. I stood up.

I was the only player to stand up.

My sophomore peers had too much pride, ego (and a decent amount of stupidity) to accept the long-snapper role.

If my goal was to be a starting linebacker for the varsity football team, does it matter how I got on the team? No.

Do I have any chance of becoming a starting linebacker for the varsity football team on JV? No.

You get into the game where opportunity presents itself.

The rest of my ex-JV teammates hated me.

I didn’t blame them; at least a dozen were more deserving than I was (at least at the time).

But the simple truth was none of my junior varsity teammates were willing to swallow their pride and learn a position no one wanted, even when the prize was a place on the larger stage.

Two games into my sophomore season, I was subbing in as an outside linebacker.

By game four, I beat out a senior for the starting middle linebacker spot.

By our first sectional game, I was taking defensive calls from the sidelines and calling out audibles on the fly.

I didn’t give a shit how I got there, I was there, and that’s all that mattered.

The Rub

It doesn’t matter how talented you are.

It doesn’t matter how hard you work.

It doesn’t matter how much you think you deserve the larger stage.

Obscurity is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Dare to be first.

There’s no glory languishing away in obscurity, an afterthought in the hierarchy of some system, hoping to one day be picked.

Find the thing that gets you in the game, on the stage, in front of the audience, or whatever it is you NEED to be.

Learn the skill your competition neglects. Do the work your peers won’t. Eat shit…it doesn’t matter. No one will remember.

Forget your pride. Forget your ego. Get in the game however you can.

You’ll never prove you belong on the practice squad.

Get to work.

This is the way.


p.s. if you enjoyed this article, you’ll find everything else here.

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