The Wrong Way to Pursue Your Dream Career and How to Fix It

Your Motivation Lapses Have Little to Do with Laziness.

Photo by Rachael Gorjestani on Unsplash

Job satisfaction is at an 11-year high, according to One of their recent articles referenced a recent study that revealed a whopping 50% of Americans are now looking forward to Monday mornings.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably not one of them.

Perhaps you’re not so much dissatisfied as you are unfulfilled.

Quite possibly somewhere deep down inside you still holds out hope that you could be one of those lucky ones who rolls out of bed each morning, grabs her cup of coffee, and heads off to your dream career.

I don’t have a statistic on how many get to do that daily.

But I do know a few things you can do to ruin your chances of ever being one of them.

Positive Fantasizing

I recently saw a Masterclass ad in which legendary movie composer Hans Zimmer promises that anyone can write a successful movie score on an iPad from their basement in The Bronx.

I’m not saying you can’t.

But you sure can’t in ten minutes.

And neither did Hans Zimmer.

But he won’t tell you that because you might not click on the ad and pay $99.99 for his forty-year career condensed into 5 hours of video lessons.

It’s mind-boggling how many buy into this lottery ticket strategy to high achievement.

This practice of shooting up with self-efficacy steroids hypnotically reciting affirmations of a blind optimist in the mirror as a legitimate strategy for pursuing one’s dreams is so prevalent that it has its own term.

It’s called positive fantasizing.

The term was coined by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen.

Angela Duckworth, in Grit, elaborates.

Indulging in visions of a positive future without figuring out how to get there chiefly by considering what obstacles stand in the way has short-term payoffs but long-term costs.

In the short-term, you feel pretty great about your aspirations to be a doctor (or a legendary movie composer). In the long-term, you live the with the disappointment of not having achieved your goal.

It’s not surprising that Oettingen’s research revealed that “positive fantasizers” suffer from depression more than those with a more grounded view of their future.

My goal is not to talk you out of pursuing your dreams. My goal is to increase your chances of achieving them.

Doing so requires us to take a hard look at the love triangle between our brain, good planning, and long-term motivation.

Complex Planning

In an article on overcoming procrastination, Call Newport says the following of complex planning.

“Complex planning is a subtle skill: it requires you to both conceive of future steps and evaluate whether these steps are a good idea. “

He goes on to explain why we wind up never completing those ill-conceived plans such as “write every day! work on research for one hour each morning! exercise 10 hours per week!”

It’s because our brains don’t buy it.

Newport continues.

“…the human brain is driven, in large part, by its need to assess plans: providing motivation to act on good plans, and reducing motivation (which we experience as procrastination) to act on flawed plans.”

In most cases, broad-stroke goals like the ones mentioned above are ill-conceived.

For example, if you have small children and a day job, writing every day is next to impossible. If you’re a long sleeper with a night job, creating a sleep deficit in order to do deep research isn’t sustainable. If you have a crammed schedule and no workout partner, you’ll be back to zero hours per week before the month is out (health club business models are built on this phenomenon).

And while your brain may buy into your overall goal of writing a novel, crushing your research paper, or losing twenty pounds, it calls foul on your strategy for getting there.

Buying a Masterclass as a strategy for reaching your goal of becoming a film composer is a one such flawed strategy and your subconscious knows it.

With this in mind, it would behoove you to do your research and build a brain-believes-it strategy for reaching our goal.

Just like Jeffrey Gettleman did.

Do Your Research

Angela Duckworth relates the path Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jeffrey Gettleman took in achieving his top-level goal of living and working in East Africa.

In Gettleman’s own words:

“For a very long time, I’ve had a very clear sense of where I wanted to be. And that passion is to live and work in East Africa.”

Once Getteman had a clear goal that resonated with his inner passion, he created a sound, research-based strategy.

Gettleman continues:

“Once I learned more about being a journalist and how that could get me back to Africa…I set out a very deliberate path that was possible, because the journalism industry was very hierarchical, and it was clear how to get from A to B to C to D, et cetera.”

  • Step A was writing for Oxford’s student newspaper, Cherwell.
  • Step B was a summer internship at a small paper in Wisconsin.
  • Step C was the St. Petersburg Times in Florida on the Metro beat.
  • Step D was the Los Angeles Times.
  • Step E was the New York Times as a national correspondent in Atlanta.
  • Step F was being sent overseas to cover war stories, and in 2006 — just over a decade since he’d set himself the goal — he finally reached it.
  • Step G: becoming the New York Times’ East Africa bureau chief.

A decade worth of steps. A decade worth of deliberate practice. A decade worth of paying one’s dues.

Gettleman set a goal, did his research, then mapped out a sound strategy that his brain believed.

That’s complex planning.

And this is what’s lost in the Masterclass fallacy.

Hans Zimmer’s claim implies that, with the right amount of talent, one can hop from Step A to Step G.

However, if you track Hans Zimmer’s career arc, that’s not what he did. Not even close.

And neither will you.

Photo Credit — Telegraph UK

There’s no easy path to greatness. Slaying a dragon, writing a great movie score, making the team, is never a fluke.

But it can be done.

As long as your brain believes it’s possible.

Researching Your Path

So how do go about making a well-researched complex plan for your your dream goal?

It’s never been easier than it is today.

1. Google

I typed in “How to become a film composer”. The first article on the first page is this one by Lukas Kendall of Film Score Weekly

This article is full of useful but no-holes-barred information. Kendall, an industry insider, even gives four key steps that aspiring composers need to take.

Some highlights include which schools to attend, cities in which to live, and entry level jobs to seek.

2. Read Books

Photo by Dmitrij Paskevic on Unsplash

To take your research to the next level, you must immerse yourself into the world of your chosen field. The value in reading books over blog posts, watching YouTube videos, or listening to podcasts is found in the well-researched content of the former.

Often things like blog posts include one’s commentary or hot take on an issue.

A good book, on the other hand, includes a carefully crafted argument backed by sound research. Such facts are more likely to actually be factual.

Once you consume a critical mass of research-based information you will begin to detect patterns. Similarities, differences, and biases will appear, enabling you to form your own opinion.

A well-founded opinion that your brain will believe.

3. Get Experience

During the research process, you also need to be gaining experience, no matter how small it may be.

Perhaps you’ll be programming music on your iPad in The Bronx, writing your own computer code, working for a company in your desired field.

This hands-on experience provides a regular feedback loop that enables you to contextualize your research.

For example, after getting experience you will find those certain aspects of your domain that you hate, others that you love. At this point, romantic notions will be put to rest you’ll find that your “dream career” is real work.

And that’s a healthy realization.

4. Talk to Real People

One pitfall of the world now being at our fingertips is that we are able to get information and form theories without having to talk to an actual person.

And there is still no substitute for verbal dialogue.

Mining information from someone with experience in your field is invaluable in that it allows you to extrapolate the nuances laid out in content.

This is why developing the skill of asking incisive follow-up questions will take you far.


Your potential is unknowable. I believe that.

I also believe that a great destiny awaits you.

The world needs you to walk in that destiny, getting the very most out of your ability along the way.

Achieving your destiny will require courage to risk it all.

The world needs risk takers and stubborn dreamers.

What the world does not need is for another positive fantasizer to charge out of the gate boldly, yet flame out ten miles into a twenty-four mile race.

To avoid this will require your unconscious self to be all in on your big goals and plan for reaching them.

Do your research, gain experience, and know that if you keep your brain motivated, you might go farther than you ever imagined.

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Originally published at on June 27, 2017.