Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

The Dangerous Illusion of the “Dream Job”

And other magical myths we hold on to at our own peril

From time to time, I will hear someone talk about their “dream job”. It used to be that when I heard mention of that magical thing, I would almost involuntarily start wishing for that mythical job that I could one day wake up ecstatic to do every single day — with each email and phone call resulting in a cascade of joy and happiness.

And then I realized that there is no such thing. A dream job — defined in that way — does not exist. The thing about a “dream job” is it tends to always have one distinguishing property: it’s a job other than the one you have. And you know what? For most of us, it remains that way.

If that is the case — if the grass is always greener on the other side — why don’t we just decide to focus on appreciating what it is that makes our lawn pretty good, even though we don’t think it’s the greenest?

The answer is that we do this for things other than jobs. We do it for relationships, sex-lives, kitchens, friends, bodies, and so many more things.

The dream house tends to be one other than the one you live in.
The dream car tends to be one other than the one you drive.
The dream partner tends to be one other than the one you’re with.
And so on…

Unless you decide to stop thinking that way. Perhaps it’s not easy, but it certainly is simple. Just ask yourself if you are expecting too much of your satisfaction every day to come from X — whatever X is: a job, a person, a situation, etc. Most of the time, the answer is a resounding “yes”.

It is one simple question, but it can make all the difference. And once you ask and answer it earnestly, you can make the decision as to how you will feel about your life and the things in it. You can set goals, establish a purpose, and work toward something realistic and tangible.

The thing about goals is that if you’re going to set them, they can’t be something like “get my dream job” — because that term is at best uninformative and at worst delusional and misleading. It’s like telling someone to to type in “the Promised Land” in their GPS and you both expecting to meet there. Best of luck to you both. In the meantime, you should probably ask for an address or coordinates.

To that end, if you do bear down and get realistic about what “dream job” means to you, you’ll very likely find that you are expecting way too much from a place that pays you to be there. I get it, it can’t be all for a paycheck. But let’s be practical here; when it comes to being happy, you have to do some of the lifting yourself. You can’t expect your job, your partner, or your bank account to do all of it for you.

One day, you will wake up, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll be 65. The world will have changed, the circumstances will have to, but you will still be there. You will have (likely) been trading your time and attention for a paycheck for decades, and you can have done that in one of two ways:

  • constantly hoping to get some other job that you assume (without evidence) will be way better than this one
  • finding things about each job you have that enrich you as a person, get you skills and recognition, and enjoying the things worth enjoying — while maybe pursuing better opportunities as you find them.

I don’t know about you, but the latter option sounds way more attractive to me. That’s the way I have chosen to go. Join me, won’t you?