The Truth About Dream Jobs

Dream job of working at the beach on laptop and phone

Executive Summary

  • A certain job or position won’t bring you long-term fulfilment and joy on its own.
  • Science shows that people tend to find purpose and passion for what they do the longer they do it
  • Studies show that fulfilling jobs have the following characteristics:
    • Work you’re good at,
    • Work that helps others,
    • Engaging work that lets you enter a state of flow (freedom, variety, clear tasks, feedback),
    • Supportive colleagues,
    • No major negatives like long hours or unfair pay, and
    • A job that fits your personal life.
  • You come to find a fulfilling and meaningful career through being intentional and taking ownership
  • If you’re dissatisfied with your career, take stock, get support and do something about it.

It’s all over YouTube and social media – it’s the “quit your job and live your best life” cult. They promise a life and career on your own terms. You get to be the boss and get paid to do what you love. It’s your dream job. And I have to admit, it sounds like such an attractive offer, don’t you think?

But it’s what it is a “dream” job. Nothing more, nothing less.

When it comes down to it, I think it’s more than just wishful thinking. I really think that the “dream job” mentality is really just toxic positivity. sitivity. In this post, I want to share with you the pitfalls of this type of thinking. I’ll end off by sharing a more constructive approach to finding a job you enjoy.

Put away those pitchforks, I’m not against quitting your job you hate or wanting to do something you enjoy. I’m 100% for it. But doing it without any planning or thought won’t get you very far. It’s an escapist fantasy that should be tempered with a dose of reality. More on that later.

So here’s my case against the “live your best life” cult.

Defining a “Dream Job”

A dream job is essentially a position pays you to do work you love. So far, so good.

But the problem is that many of us put these jobs up on a pedestal. It gets to the point that it distorts our expectations and attitude towards what a fulfilling career looks like. And it leads to us having unrealistic expectations oon how we find one of these jobs. That’s the kind of attitude I want to dismantle.

You Don’t Just “Get” Your Dream Job

In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport hammers home the point that if you want to have a great job, you need to have rare and valuable skills to give in return – “career capital”. He shares how top performers didn’t follow their passion compass to achieve success. Instead, they worked hard to build career capital that mattered. When they had enough, they were able to leverage it to gain more agency and control in their careers.

Dream Jobs Go To Dream Candidates

When you’re browsing online or physical stores, companies are clamouring for your attention and, more importantly, your money. Your hard-earned cash. It’s scarce, you worked hard to earn it, so you’re going to make well-damn sure that you’ll only spend it on things that bring you value and joy. The company might have a compelling origin or passion story behind the product. There may even be a dramatic tale of trial and tribulation involved (cue emotional string music). But until it fills some void in your life or makes a meaningful impact, your money’s not going anywhere.

Shouldn’t it be the same with employers too? Businesses don’t hand out job offers just because you’re passionate or it’s your dream job. They want someone who can do the job and do it well. And you make that job a lot more attainable, by working on yourself , your knowledge and skills. You need to show them that you’ve got the career capital they’re looking for.

The Science of Dream Jobs

A well-cited study by Amy Wrzesniewski looked at whether certain jobs are inherently more “meaningful”. The study confirmed that each of us fall into 3 attitudes towards work:

  • Job – It’s something you do to pay the bills so you can enjoy the rest of your life. In other words, the only thing you really get out of your work is money.
  • Career – You feel more personally invested into your work. You enjoy the monetary reward, accruing more social standing and feeling a sense of achievement that comes with advancing your career.
  • Calling – Your work is inseparable from your life. Your work fulfils you; you’re not doing it for the monetary gain or for the career advancement.

Interestingly, the study found that all the participants were spread roughly equally amongst the 3 groups. What’s even more fascinating is what the researchers found when examining a group of college administrators in the sample. They also found that all 24 college administrators in their sample were all roughly equally distributed among the 3 groups. Yes, 8 of the college administrators saw their job as.a calling – they loved their job.

So, what else did the research team find to explain these results? Is it because these 8 staff members all dream of becoming college administrators when they grew up?

Passion Comes With Time

The researchers found that any personal preferences had no relationship to whether or not they viewed their work as a job, career or calling. What they did notice was a strong correlation between how long someone worked with how likely they were to view their work as a calling. Cal Newport explains that this is likely because you start to acquire the skills and experiences that make you good at your job, see the impact and difference that it makes and become closer and more engaged with your co-workers the longer you stick it out.

The researchers observed a similar trend in all the other occupations in their sample as well. Although we may associate certain roles with being more likely to be a calling than others, the results demonstrate that people in all walks of life can experience calling in their work, finding a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfilment. And the biggest reason seems to be time.

What This Means For Finding Your Dream Job

So if you feel like your current job is just a way of earning money and you want something that gives you more excitement and passion, the science seems to say that you should stay and keep growing. Keep collecting and developing your career capital,, because the longer you stay in the field, the more likely you are to view it as your calling – as your dream job. Or even if you don’t end up staying, you’ll have career capital in your pocket to show for it.

Of course, if you loathe your job or you work in a toxic work environment, get out of there. But I think a lot of us (and I’ve been there too) could benefit from sticking it out to gain more career capital and giving ourselves a chance to grow into our roles.

There’s No Such Thing As A “Dream Job”

The deeper misconception behind the “follow your passion” ideal is that there’s this one job that’s a perfect match for you, that you were meant for. It’s almost like the idea that your perfect soulmate is somewhere out there waiting for you. Science has shown that soulmates don’t exist, at least the way that the movies and TV might lead us to believe. Rather, thinking of your partner as a soulmate helps you to frame your relationship from a position of mutual love, respect and unwavering commitment to one another. Destiny has nothing to do with it.

Jobs are the same too. There is no “one” job role or occupation that you were meant for. What actually makes a job ideal for you is how several key factors line up. And as I hinted at earlier, these desirable traits can be present in a whole host of positions, not just one.

The Components of a “Dream Job”

80,000 Hours reviewed over 60 studies about what makes a job that’s right for you. Combining research on what makes a fulfilling life and studies about job satisfaction, they arrived at the 6 factors (or ingredients) below:

  • Work you’re good at,
  • Work that helps others,
  • Engaging work that lets you enter a state of flow (freedom, variety, clear tasks, feedback),
  • Supportive colleagues,
  • \No major negatives like long hours or unfair pay, and
  • A job that fits your personal life.

When we talk about quitting our job to chase after our dream job, it’s more that our current job is missing one or more of these magic ingredients. Your current role could offer most, if not all, of these things with enough time – you get better at your job, you start to see the impact it has on others, you become more engaged in it and grow relationships with your colleagues the longer you remain there.

Of course, some of these may be out of your direct control; you can’t choose your boss and some jobs don’t have very good hours or the ability to flex around your personal life. But when you’re early in your career, it’s difficult to find a position with all of these factors because every other person out there wants a job like that too. So as you embark on your career journey, keep growing and stretching yourself, so that you’re the prime candidate with all the career capital you need to land one of these jobs.

Getting Your Dream Job Won’t Solve The Real Problem

But my real problem with the “go get your dream job” mindset is that it promises endless happiness, satisfaction and self-realisation, but when you get there you probably won’t find what you hoped for. It’s ultimately an escapist fantasy we dream of and may take action on to help us cope with the reality that we’re not where we want to be.

I’m sure you can name someone you know (either famous or personally) who’s fully engaged and passionate about every part of their life. All those overly-perfect and immaculate social media profiles and posts all scream “I’m living my best life,” and insidiously whisper “and so should you.” afterwards. When we start comparing our own lives to the picture perfection we see in others, it’s so easy to look at the flaws and short-comings of our current workplace and position that we can become bitter, resentful or despondent about where we’re at. Our natural instincts scream at us to find a quick fix to end our unhappiness. That vision of a dream job gives us hope that we too can be like all those successful people doing what they love and getting paid to do it.

But the science and anecdotes are self-evident; you come to love your job and ignite a passion for it the more time you spend mastering your craft and seeking to make an impact on those around you. Research shows that the happiest people are those who are selfless and generous with their time and money, rather than those who aren’t. It’s an indication that the most fulfilling and meaningful careers are born out of a dedication to doing a job well, and doing it in the service of others and the greater good.

What To Do If You’re Dissatisfied With Your Current Job

If you’re dissatisfied with your current job and lifestyle, it’s time to stop and take stock. I like the suggestion from Seth Godin:

“Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from”

Now, it’s absolutely normal to look forward to the weekend and holidays. I’d think you were odd if you didn’t. But if you’re constantly looking for a reprieve from your 9 to 5, you need to do something.

Recognise Your Job Dissatisfaction

As Seth Godin recommends, the solution is to recognise and own how you’re feeling, and then make a change. Take time to be with yourself and figure out exactly what’s going on and what’s making you so unhappy. Speak to someone you trust, you might even want to seek help if you prefer. You might figure out that there is something wrong with your work environment or your responsibilities at work. Go and speak to your boss. If it’s something that can’t be changed, get out of there. If you hate your job and the type of work in your field, then it’s time to leave.

But if you don’t hate your job, then stick it out. Keep acquiring and honing your skills and talents. The longer you stay in your field, them ore likely you’ll come to see it as your calling. A job that you love.

Take Ownership Over Your Career

No matter which boat you’re in, your life is yours to live. Throughout school and university, the path is always clearly marked out for you. It’s simply a matter of jumping through the hoops that they set up for you. But after we graduate from these institutions and the regimented structure that they offer, it can be easy to fall into the first role that we’re given and continue to let others direct where we go. We often don’t ask ourselves whether this is what we really want until we feel stuck and trapped in our career.

But when you take ownership over your career path, you take responsibility over your growth and development. You acknowledge when things aren’t working out. Problems and setbacks will still come, but when you choose to make a career move, it’s not a form of escape but a strategic move that pushes you closer towards the type of work that you want to do.

Conclusion: Your Dream Job Is What You Make Of It

Dream jobs as we naturally think of them don’t exist. But what does exist are roles that allow you to grow, develop and employ your skills to create real value and impact. You don’t need to waste your time hunting those elusive unicorns any more, because you’re not going to find any. Instead, start putting your time and energy into owning and mastering what you do, even if it’s trivial and insignificant right now. Future you will thank you for it.

Over to you – do you see your work as a job, career or calling? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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