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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

You Will Always Have to Pay Your Dues, Even in Your Dream Career

Before I finally gathered the courage to quit my job and pursue my goal of becoming a freelance writer, my mind was constantly swimming with all of the daydream-worthy visions of how awesome my career was going to inevitably be.

“I’ll spend my days cozied up in the corner of a quaint coffee shop,” I’d think to myself, “With my laptop in front of me and a latte by my side, working on must-read articles that will appear in all of my favorite, glossy magazines.”

Dream big, right? But, a few months after I managed to wave goodbye to my cubicle and throw myself into the freelance life, I realized that there was a big difference between my fantasy and my reality.

Rather than perfecting work that I was proud of in that coffee shop of my dreams, I found myself somewhere different entirely: Huddled over my laptop in the wee hours of the morning, cranking out 500-word blog posts about storage units and senior living facilities. It’s not exactly the stuff a newbie freelancer’s dreams are made of.

For a while, I convinced myself that I’d made a huge mistake. I obviously didn’t know what it meant to be a freelance writer, and I was certain that I had jumped the gun in quitting without doing enough research into what this career was all about. And, where did it get me? Stressed out, frazzled, and flat broke while writing endless pieces about what to do when your beloved storage unit floods? This was definitely not what I’d signed up for.

I got to the point when I was ready to throw in the towel and chalk my idiotic decision up as a learning experience when things began to change. I started to develop a solid portfolio of work and build more a name for myself. Slowly but surely, I started to land gigs with larger publications that I actually admired (so long, articles about senior-safe showers!).

It was then that I realized something important:

Just because I’d chosen a somewhat untraditional career path didn’t mean that I got to entirely skip all of those traditional milestones. No, even in my so-called dream career, I still had to roll up my sleeves, put in some hard work, and pay my dues.

Sure, we’ve all likely heard those stories of people who seem to experience almost instant success. They appear to skyrocket from the bottom rung of that ladder straight to the top. But, let me assure that those stories are few and far between—and, even further, you’re not often privy to the entire picture.

More often than not, you need to start at the bottom, put in your time, and prove yourself before you truly get to the part of your career that you’ve spent years fantasizing about. And, take it from me, that holds true even when you land in what you believe to be your dream job.

I won’t deny the fact that paying your dues can be frustrating and disheartening. Like I said, I had plenty of late nights when I was close to tears, convinced that I couldn’t write one more article about renter’s insurance.

However, in retrospect, needing to claw my way up from the bottom was actually an incredibly rewarding and important part of the experience. It quickly illustrated to me how hard I’d need to work in order to make big things happen for myself, and it made every single new byline that much sweeter—I knew I was taking steps in the right direction.

While I no longer write about storage units (and, honestly, I’m grateful for that), I don’t think I’d have built the career I have today without starting out with that humbling experience.

So, rather than growing discouraged by the fact that you need to put in your time, it’s important that you remember that it’s all a part of the process—and a valuable part at that. Yes, skipping steps might sound ideal. But—trust me—you’ll appreciate reaching your goal that much more when you can reflect back on just how hard you worked to get there.

Photo of woman at computer courtesy of BraunS / Getty Images.