According to a recent SurveyMonkey poll, about one in five Americans say they are working at their dream job. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner posed the questions that resulted in this finding; in his write-up about the poll, the number gets framed as a low number: “Only 22%” of Americans are already in their dream job.”
But this should not discourage you if you are not among this lucky number. Working at your perfect job is a rare achievement. To be completely fulfilled with your work without reservations is a luxury that many Americans do not have. And that is okay. For the majority of workers who are not in dream jobs, here is what you can do in the meantime to make your job good enough:
What does a dream job look like?
When Weiner asked, “What are the most desired jobs in America?” in his poll, “business owner” was the most common answer given, suggesting that the autonomy is a desired trait for us. It is one you can start to get even if you are not in the perfect job where you are your own boss. When you have more ownership over your job, you have more sense of control.
Dean Burnett, author of “Happy Brain: Where Happiness Comes From, and Why,” writes that feeling responsible for what happens to you helps people feel in control of their lives. When jobs do not have that, we suffer: “Your work can reward you with a sense of control, but it can also provide a loss or lack of control, which can be psychologically harmful, sometimes even clinically so,” he writes. “Jobs that strip you of autonomy with strict rules/policies (dress codes, micromanagement, etc.) and/or make you constantly beholden to others (telesales, retail, etc.) are widely regarded as unpleasant and a source of stress.”
If you are on the hunt for a more perfect job, look for employers that will give you control over what your workday can look like. Ask interviewers if there is flexibility with where and how the work can be done.
And if you want to make your okay job closer to a dream job, you first will need to reflect on what “dream” means for you. There are drawbacks to many jobs. Great work schedules may get burdened with bad coworkers, awesome work may get held up by a large company’s bureaucratic tape. Does a dream job mean more money, better coworkers, or more creative control? Being happy with good enough can expand your definition of what passion can be beyond enjoying everything about your job.
Identify areas of learning and development that you would want to pursue in your current job even if these opportunities comes with caveats, management professor Morten Hansen advised Ladders to do: “See if you can find areas at work where you can do that little by little.”
If you want to completely switch careers, look for projects and training classes at your job that can give you the skills you need for the switch. “If you like learning and development, try to get into some training seminars. … In other words, you start maneuvering yourself. In most jobs, there is some room for maneuvering,” he says.
How you think about your job can change how you feel about it. For people without dream jobs, knowing that you have the freedom to maneuver can change how you think about your daily to-do list. If you do not like one particular part of your job, you can work to like another part of it.
You can find contentment with good enough. It may even be a relief to not put the pressure of perfection upon yourself to find.