paid one's dues

pay (one's) dues

1. Literally, to pay the requisite fees to enter into or remain in an organization. If you don't pay your dues every month, they will rescind your membership without warning.
2. By extension, to work hard, gain the necessary skills or experience, or suffer hardships (in order to earn a position, set of rights, the respect of others, etc.). I paid my dues working in the warehouse for 10 years before I got this job in the head office.
3. To serve the sentence given to one upon conviction of a crime. He paid his dues in the eyes of the law, so he shouldn't be facing any further punishment for his past crimes. A: "We can't re-hire you—you're a criminal!" B: "Hey, I spent nearly 15 years in prison. I've paid my dues!"
See also: due, pay
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

paid one's dues

Fulfilled one’s obligations; acquired experience the hard way. This mid-twentieth-century bit of American slang was adopted by jazz musicians, although it did not originate with them. It transfers the cost of being a paid-up member to the cost of gaining expertise in some field. Nat Hentoff defined the term in Jazz Life (1962): “‘Paying dues’ is the jazz musician’s term for the years of learning and searching for an individual sound and style while the pay is small and irregular.” However, the expression was already in print in a nonmusical context by 1943.
See also: due, paid
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
See also:
References in periodicals archive ?
To some degree, having earned sufficient idiosyncrasy credits is somewhat similar to having "paid one's dues," since dues-paying gives a person the right to justify an award when it is received.