Whenever I hear the words ‘dream job’ my heart sinks just a little bit; I can’t help feeling the quest for career nirvana is doomed to end in disappointment. Reality will come knocking sooner or later. Even the coolest workplaces in the world have their flipside. It’s easy though to see why the ‘dream job’ meme is so pervasive: type in dream+job and Google joyfully spits out 594 000 000 results! And while it’s not quite trending, there are plenty of #dreamjob tweets too. Is the fantasy here to stay?
Dare to dream…?
Now, I can see why you might be casting me in the role of careers grouch; surely I should be encouraging you to think big and idealise your perfect job? After all, a life lived without aspiration and ambition can feel pretty soulless. And I do think we should all dare to dream – I still do! But….holding fast to the vision of your dream job can make you hostage to fortune. What if you never find it? Maybe you’ll miss out on some great opportunities along the way? What if you do find it and the reality doesn’t quite match the myth? It also seems horribly reductive to view your career choice – and options – in such narrow terms. We can’t all be Renaissance (wo)men, but there are thousands of jobs out there and you’re likely to be good at – and satisfied with – any number of them.
What is a ‘dream job’?
I’m reminded here of a useful English maxim, “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”. In short, what works for person x can be the biggest turn off to person y. Well yes, and no. It’s certainly true that interpretations vary widely: a dream job may offer work-life balance, the chance to follow your passions or a huge starting salary. Occasionally, it will encompass all of these things – good luck finding that one! However, I think the whole narrative around ‘dream jobs’ suggests something quite specific and risks fuelling a false dichotomy of ‘exciting, fulfilling jobs’ and ‘boring, monotonous jobs’. Hundreds (probably thousands) of people worldwide are blogging/tweeting/writing about the need for us to ‘seize the day’, ‘follow your passions’ and ‘pursue that dream’ in a bid to throw off our shackles, quit our mundane jobs and continue the search for career perfection. Or something. Add to that the numerous lists and surveys of cool jobs, great workplaces and to top it all the Top 10 dream jobs in pictures and it’s not surprising if we’re all feeling a little job envy. Now, I may be stretching the point a little: most of us have ‘dream jobs’ that seem within reach, but trying to find a job that ticks all the boxes still adds a huge amount of pressure to your job search. And worst case scenario sucks all your time – and mental energy – leaving nothing left to tackle the realities of job hunting in a crowded, competitive market.
From dream to reality
Is it time to adjust our sights (and expectations) and start thinking of career satisfaction, rather than career perfection? There’s much to recommend this advice on the Grad-Versity blog:
A rewarding career is something that you will not only enjoy doing, but get rewarded fairly for. My personal belief is that if new graduates spent more time looking for a rewarding career instead of their “dream job”, it will avoid a great deal of stress and frustration
Careers are inextricably linked to happiness: we spend much of our adult life at work (averaging out at 1647 hours a year!), so there’s a strong motivation to find interesting, fulfilling and meaningful jobs. But, you need to be realistic about what this means and consider potential trade-offs. You may have a ‘wish list’ but the chances are you’ll have to compromise on something, somewhere – especially when you’re starting out. I think it’s dangerous and career limiting to get hung up on the notion of THE perfect job. How long do you sit and wait?
Fantasising about dream jobs is a universal pastime – we all do it. But you may just find the ‘right’ job is a much better bet.