pay one's dues

pay (one's) dues

1. Literally, to pay the requisite fees to enter into or remain within an organization. You need to be in the union to get work, but you can't get into the union unless you pay your dues, and you can't pay your dues unless you get work—it's a vicious circle!
2. By extension, to earn a position, set of rights, or the respect of others by working hard, gaining the necessary skills or experience, or suffering hardships. I paid my dues working in the warehouse for 10 years before I got this job in the head office.
See also: due, pay

pay one's dues

Earn something through hard work, long experience, or suffering. For example, She'd paid her dues in small-town shows before she finally got a Broadway part. This expression transfers the cost of being a paid-up member in an organization to that of gaining experience in an endeavor. [Mid-1900s]
See also: due, pay