The dream job doesn’t exist—at least not in the way we have “dreamed” it up.
Ever since we were little kids, we had this idea of what we wanted to be when we grow up—and, for most of us, that goal changes throughout our lives. One of the hardest things to give up is the myth of the dream job, but I’m here to tell you again—the dream job doesn’t exist.
It’s actually pretty invigorating to let go of the notion of the dream job. I did this a few years ago when I left my own “dream job” at Hulu—and looked ahead to a future that held a lot of unknowns.
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We are led to believe that a “dream job” should instantly infuse us with power, belonging, and meaning. While your job can provide those things in doses, it will inevitably have its drawbacks. For example, I never saw myself managing payroll or completing the super-glamorous job of Swiffering up hair from an office full of women. Even with its challenges—and there are many—I love my job.
This doesn’t mean—not even for a second—that you should give up on your insatiable ambition and your relentless drive. This simply means reimagining the “dream job.” So, even if do land the coveted “dream job,” it’s totally ok to be unsatisfied or to move onto something else. That’s the real dream—to be able to grow and pivot your career.
A 2017 study conducted by researchers at Stanford University found the myth of the dream job closely aligned with the myth that human beings have “fixed” passions. The problem with this? It presupposes that once we “find our passion” and apply it to work, we will be fulfilled. Forever. Umm, that’s a pretty long time.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE DREAM JOB DOESN’T EXIST?
Anything that’s classified as a “dream _____” is a bit of a myth.
Like a dream mate or a dream home, the dream job is not going to magically fix your life. To start, it’s a huge expectation that any single job will be perfect. Elements of it could be pretty sweet, but you might have a hellish commute, long hours, lower pay, or absentee bosses. Given enough time, these elements (present, in some way, in every job) will wear you down. By not expecting a job to be a dream job, you can temper your expectations and weigh out what really matters.
Oftentimes, we work so diligently towards a tunnel-visioned goal—so much so that when we arrive, we end up asking ourselves, “Is this it?”
So, while that CEO position at that Fortune 500 company might be “the dream,” does it really fit into your life? Will you be able to visit your family over holiday weekends or will you be stuck in the office? Do you really want to move back to the East Coast and brave polar vortexes? Maybe you do, but maybe this “dream” doesn’t suit you—or where you’re headed—anymore. Guess what? That’s totally fine.
In order to truly get what you want, you’ll need to shift your thinking from what you think work “should look like” to defining how your job should best work for you. So, instead of looking for this “dream job” to fill a void in your life, look instead for the job that is going to be rewarding in the long-term—one that can grow with you.
DEFINE HOW WORK SHOULD LOOK FOR YOU
So, we have let go of the idea of a dream job—isn’t that freeing? Just because we let go of the “perfect job” doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for the job that works for us and can grow with us. When I was looking to switch things up, I made a few lists to weight it all out.
Make Your Wants + Needs List
This wouldn’t be Career Contessa content without a list component—so let’s make some lists! Just like an apartment hunt, your job hunt should include your negotiables, your non-negotiables, and everything in between. For example, if you were looking for a two-bedroom apartment, you are likely not going to sift through hundreds of studios to find it.
Make some lists of your wants and needs. If you’re in Los Angeles, you probably want a job with a decent commute. While my own “dream job” would have included a zero-minute commute, I currently commute 90 minutes every day. In this case, the commute wasn’t a “need” for me (although sometimes, it feels like one.)
Salary is likely another huge factor, too. Research your salary and have a set salary range before ever beginning your job search. If you want a job where you can grow, think about working in a startup environment or a larger corporation.
Then, there are smaller aspects that make up the day-to-day of an ideal job. Perks, like free lunches or happy hours on Friday, are nice but are they crucial? Create your lists of must-haves and nice-to-haves. Remember that no job is going to be perfect, but weigh your options.
Identify Ideal Companies
Next, let’s identify your ideal companies. What companies out there really resonate with your own core values? What do they have to help you grow and learn within a work setting?
Don’t just say, “I want to work at x company because they pay well.” Great pay is great, but it often comes with sneaky side effects—most commonly an abysmal work/life balance that could lead to serious burnout.
You’ll want to have a great “why,” in sentence form, explaining why this particular company is the right fit for you. Use sites like InHerSight, Glassdoor, and LinkedIn to find more about these companies and the “real” employee experience.
REMEMBER THIS ONE KEY THING
You are more than your career. When I left Hulu and went out on my own, people thought I was completely unhinged. While the recruiter position at Hulu had been—at one time—my own dream job, my dream faded into a reality. I paid close attention to the changes that I was experiencing and took the time to re-evaluate how my work could really grow with me.
- Stop tormenting yourself with the idea that a job is supposed to be amazing all of the time.
- Learn to accept the negative aspects of the career (or careers) you choose.
- Know that what you’re actually looking for is a simple calculation, it’s the intersection between what you’re good at, what gives you energy, and what will pay you.
We’re all pretty intrinsically aware that perfection doesn’t actually exist—not in any form. Take some time to look at what steps you can take to release yourself from damaging perfection traps. In this case, progress is your own personal Power Move.