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Paying Dues

Photo Credit: Bonni Titgemeyer. Location: ACE 2016, Toronto.

Photo Credit: Bonni Titgemeyer. Location: ACE 2016, Toronto.

I had the opportunity to hear the legendary Joan Lunden–newscaster, mother of seven and cancer survivor speak at the 2016 Achievers Customer Experience (ACE) Conference, held on August 14th at the Hilton Hotel in Toronto.

I’ve been following Joan Lunden for perhaps as long as 40 years.  Joan is iconic, the one who attempted to achieve everything (a coveted position on Good Morning, America, star power, motherdom, wife, femininity, financial independence) and was successful, at least for a time, in having it all at once.  Listening to her talk about her schedule back then made me tired.  I have to wonder when she slept.  But, Joan rose and Joan fell and did both relatively gracefully.  I admire that. I also admire that she can talk about the inequities she experienced in broadcasting in the face of being on the frontier, without coming off sounding overly bitter.

That seems to be a big challenge for women in important positions these days, this business of coming off without sounding overly bitter.  Well, she isn’t afraid to talk about the challenges, but positions them in the context of the door that opened when one closed.  I like that.

Joan is now in that place where she can give advice to the next generation, which she is doing so through presentations like the one at ACE, and through her new book Had I Known .  The focus of the book is her recent journey in her battle against breast cancer.  It is clear that lessons learned from the past have prepared her for this challenge.

In her presentation, Joan talked to qualities of great leaders that she learned from interviewing a diverse group of people.  And indeed, the list of people she interviewed over the years is long and includes U.S. Presidents, Olympic athletes and business executives.  The common themes that come out of the discussion of the road to success includes the following:

  • Believing in yourself far more than you should.
  • Take initiative.
  • Make yourself unique.

In broadcasting she got her big break as a weathergirl.  She didn’t really want to be the weathergirl, but she saw it as a means to an end; an opportunity; essentially a dues paying exercise.

What are your opportunities?  What are your dues?

If you listen to those in HR today at the most senior levels, they will probably tell you something similar about their road to success.  Perhaps their career started in something tangential to HR which gave them a broader skill set than purist HR.  Perhaps they had an opportunity to do a big non-HR project that gave them insight into business. Perhaps their familiarity with Excel gave them exposure to compensation.  Perhaps they had an opportunity to work with Senior Leadership on something small and gained credibility.

Getting into the good HR jobs requires some risk taking. HR folks are not known as great risk takers. Taking that bold step of just going for it can feel impossible.

Joan encouraged the audience to not overlook the real opportunities associated with entry-level jobs.

So in reading this post, where does it leave you?  What can you do next to get to where you want to go?

As for me, it was a great presentation and I’m glad I was able to attend.  My take away was a reminder to not give up when I feel I’ve lost the battle.



  1. Great post and reflection, Bonni. In life or career, one has to learn when to close a door and open a new one. And often times your heart knows first before your mind decides to follow. Having located to a new country and moved every seven years in my adult life, I can testify that life gets more interesting when you take some risk to try new things. What’s important is you enjoy the journey as much as the destination. I like your summary of Joan’s presentation and that would be my take-away. Great advice, esp. for women!

    – Believing in yourself far more than you should.
    – Take initiative.
    – Make yourself unique.

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