When Following Your Dream Job Is a Bad Idea

Following your heart to a dream job? Research, talk to an accountant, consider a tweak to your current job and whether it is really a change of job that will satisfy you.

“Do what you love.”

We’ve all heard that career advice before and we’d like to think we follow it, or would, if given the chance. But what if you don’t? What if, instead of personal fulfillment, your current job offers a comfortable financial position and provides you with a prestigious title and the perks that go along with it. Is life really too short not to chuck it all to follow your bliss?

After years spent following the path set out in their early 20s, many a professional finds himself at midcareer considering if it might be time to follow his heart to a new career. People who have been out of work for an extended period of time may be especially tempted to switch career gears, setting their sights on a new field that is not only more fulfilling but perhaps more promising in terms of job security.

Not so fast, say experts. A pathway to bliss (as opposed to a road to ruin) takes clear thinking, planning, research, an open mind and firm financial footing.

Sally Palaian, a licensed psychologist, said she has worked with many people who have set out to follow their bliss without looking at their resources in a realistic manner and without considering the impact such a change will have on others in their lives.

Palaian recommends seeking guidance from a trusted person who can provide perspective. “While it’s true that often others in our lives tend to snuff out our dreams, they can also serve as a solid foundation to determine the feasibility of our dreams,” she said. “I’d say that following your bliss is a really bad idea when one hasn’t crunched the numbers first with an outside person — accountant; financial planner ; spouse or other objective family member, objective friend or money coach.”

Experts also recommend doing extensive research in the field you have set your sights on. Empirical research is especially valuable for determining whether you will actually like —: or be suited for — your new career path.

“Sure, thinking about running that farm in Vermont makes you happy, but actually understanding what it takes to run a farm — including dealing with insurance, equipment, weather, etc. — isn’t always obvious,” said Darcy Eikenberg, a leadership and workplace coach, speaker and writer. “If you haven’t actually spent a day in someone’s shoes who lives your bliss job, don’t jump until you really know what it is.”

Following your bliss isn’t only for the wealthy, but you do need to have a cushion, especially if others are depending on you. Those without the proper financial wiggle room aren’t necessarily trapped in their current situations, but they do need to think about ways in which they can build up their bank accounts before making any kind of professional move. “Successfully following your bliss is limited to those who take care of their financial commitments,” said Eikenberg. “Think about what you can do now to save more money, cut expenses and start building yourself the foundation on which to build your new dreams.”

Following a Dream or Escaping a Nightmare

Maybe the most important thing to consider when following your bliss is what set you off on the journey in the first place. Are you following a dream or running away from a nightmare?

“Look inward, and ask yourself whether your discontent with your particular career is simply, ‘Been there, done that, ready for something new?’ Or, is it, ‘I have problems within me that are going to come to the next career?'” asks Marty Nemko, a career coach and the author of ” Cool Careers for Dummies.”

Nemko said the next step is to decide whether taking the time to train in a new career and then find a job in that field is worth the inherent risk. More often, he said, what makes people happier when they’re unhappy in a career is not a complete change but a tweak.

A career tweak can range from improving your skill set at your current company to moving to a new company in the same industry.

Indeed, your bliss may be closer than you think, said Nemko. Say you’re a writer who dreams of becoming a nurse. You could go back to school for years, spend a ton of money and maybe, maybe, find a job as a newbie nurse. Or, you can leverage what you know — writing — in the health care field. Another lower-risk avenue to change, he added, is self-employment.

In the end, your pathway to bliss may not end in the workplace. Psychotherapist Nancy B. Irwin recommends expanding your definition of bliss in order to achieve a balanced perspective.

“Perhaps bliss is putting your child through college and making peace with accepting how you accomplished that enormous feat,” she said. “Many people make enough money at a job, yet their bliss is in their family life, a sport, spirituality or a hobby.”

Just remember what Dorothy learned at the end of “Wizard of Oz”:

If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”