Paying Your Dues

The monotony of a day job can be near suicide inducing. Especially when you know in your gut what you were put on this earth to do and that whatever you’re slave to every day from 9 to 5 just isn’t it. You know it the second you sit down at that bright orange cubicle, your desktop filled with spreadsheets and emails and a million other things that will never satisfy that need just simmering inside you, waiting.

Some mornings it’s hard just to get out of bed. I usually wake up before the alarm and just lay there, staring into the dark, waiting for that loud buzzer that pretty much sums up the tone of the rest of my day. For about a year I would get to work, sit down at my desk, and just stew. I was bored. I was unfulfilled. I was pissed.

I was in purgatory, still am, only now I’m making better use of my time here. Every artist—and every person for that matter—will be forced, at some point in their life, to work at a job they hate. To feel stagnant and lost. To sacrifice making art for the sake of paying their bills. But this is not a form of punishment. It’s a rite of passage.

We have to pay our dues. Not because we have some quota of suffering to reach before we’re aloud to start being happy. But because, down there in the trenches, that’s where we grow. I mean really grow. I can read every book I can get my hands on about writing and style and craft but none of it will ever teach me how to be human. Life teaches you that. Life teaches you all of the chaos and nuances of the human experience—the very thing every writer is trying so desperately to capture.

And if we do want to capture it—the whole truth and nothing but the truth—then we have to concede to a little suffering every now and then. We have to work in a job we hate, we have to overwhelm ourselves with responsibilities, we have to be disappointed and angry and every other adjective on the emotional spectrum. We have to pay our dues.

We’ve all heard the advice that if you want to master dialogue then you have to engage in conversation. You can’t just be an observer all of the time, although most of us writers might find that more comfortable. No. We have to feel the words rolling around on our tongue. We have to taste them. We have to say them aloud and measure the reaction. The same rules apply to writing about the human experience.

We have to meet people we’d rather avoid and fall in love with the wrong person and argue with strangers on the bus all for the sake of creating characters who are just as real. We have to absorb different perspectives. We have to interact with the things that scare us. We have to exist in the real world long to enough to be able to translate it.

So we are not stuck. We are sitting in a bright orange cubicle, not stewing, but absorbing everything there is to discover about this life and we are growing. We are growing even when it feels like all we’re doing is standing still.

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19 thoughts on “Paying Your Dues

  1. clara_w says:

    This rings soooo close to home. You pretty much said everything there was to be said, great post!!

  2. R Mehrotra says:

    Right you are. I used to write stories and poems in-between working on spreadsheets and numbers! That is possibly how I survived my first job…

    • That’s exactly how I’m surviving mine right now! I write whenever my manager is in a meeting or taking her lunch or just in those few minutes when she goes to the bathroom! Haha it’s the only thing that keeps me from becoming completely numb.

  3. raimyd says:

    I really enjoyed this post! I too am stuck in a job that is pretty meaningless to me, but you know something I think you’re right, there is so much to learn and absorb from this and other similar situations in life. Great perspective, definitely a lot healthier to think about it in this way.

    • Thanks! It took me a long time to reach this kind of thinking about it. I was angry and bitter for a long time but that state of mind only inhibited my creativity. As soon as I reminded myself that everything is necessary, even things that are only temporary–because this job definitely is–I started to feel so much better and really inspired both spiritually and creatively.

  4. I love the way you write about being down in the trenches (and that could refer to many situations in our life when we wish we could be somewhere else) and how we grow in and through those experiences. Great post, mind if I hang around?

    • Of course! Please do! So glad you stopped by and that you liked this post. Connecting with other writers and relating with them through experiences like this has been the the greatest discovery I’ve made through blogging.

  5. chelleyjohn says:

    It was uplifting to read your post, and an encouragement to keep on writing and being creative in whatever manner comes along. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much!! Your comment really means the world to me! It’s so nice to hear that everything I’ve learned has been necessary for the sole purpose of sharing my experiences and relating with other people. Glad this spoke to you!

  6. restirling says:

    Every day you live improves your writing
    Every spreadsheet you research
    Every coffee
    Every uncomfortable conversation

    writers are never standing still

    In the silence we grow

    and then

    Words.

    (keep the faith chick. They will come. R.E. )

  7. At the age of eighty, (three different careers plus writing for the last 12 years) I must say what you write makes good sense!

  8. I am so sorry but I have too much difficulty reading pale colours, especially pale grey, pink and yellow. One page I visited I found impossible to read. It took my husband to find ‘comments’ on this post so I could let you know the problem. As people get older so will there be an increase in Macular Disease as well as other eye diseases. Although I have MD and Fuch’s Corneal Dystrophy I still manage to read clear black print on a white background for short periods of time and in a good light. Computers are good for this. Books less so. But nothing can help when the print lacks clear contrast, especially coloured. (Pale on pale, purple on brown, red on black etc.) Time is too short to have to strain at every word. Sorry but I thought you should know. There are few blogs I can follow with ease. It must be so for others. (I have a large screen with increased visibility.)

    • Gladys, I wanted you to know that I took your suggestion to heart. In the six months since I made my blog, wordpress has added some different color options as opposed to the standard five color palette I was stuck with initially. So I’ve changed the colors and the sizes of my links, hoping they’re now easier to read. Thanks again for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

  9. Ned's Blog says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your perspective on this. Like you — and most people — I had plenty of jobs before I landed in journalism, but I look back on each of them as a learning experience on so many levels. All of those jobs added to my life experience as a person and a writer, allowing me to draw from them for inspiration. It sounds like you’ve reached this understanding, which empowers you with a certain level of freedom a lot of people never achieve. Nicely done 😉

    • Thank you! Honestly reaching this state of mind was necessary if I was going to survive the next however many years I’m stuck in the real world with a 9 to 5 day job. When I was bitter and sulking I couldn’t get any work done. I felt discouraged and then I got lazy and it was just this awful, non-productive cycle of hating others and in turn hating myself. When I decided not to wallow in it anymore I was so open. Free–like you said. And that was really the turning point for me. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  10. So true–story of my life, and yours, and everyone’s. Really enjoyed reading this.

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