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Is pursuing your “dream job” a fantasy?

Image by Harmony Lawrence from Pixabay

I recently returned to a “9-5" work week, and I must admit, it’s been an adjustment. It has been a long time since I’ve been on someone else’s schedule, and I miss being free to do errands at 10am on a Tuesday. It’s been an even longer time since I have had a daily commute of more than 10 minutes (I know, entitled.) Finally, I can’t remember last time, I’ve had a daily morning routine that involved showering, dressing and getting out the door before 7:30am. (Though I don’t think I’m nearly as alone in this as I might think.)

All this to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about careers and job transition and what it means to find your “dream job.” Part of this contemplation has included reaching out to friends and asking how they define “dream job.” Like most soul-searching exercises, it has led to lots more questions than answers. In no particular order, here are some questions that I’ve been reflecting on.

  • How do we know if our “dream job” exists or is realistic?

  • Why is there a belief that jobs are EITHER lucrative OR fulfilling?

  • What factors and elements make up a “dream job”?

  • What does it mean to be “under-employed” or “over-employed"?

  • Are some jobs really “unskilled”?

  • How do we determine if we are “over-qualified” or under-qualified" for a job?

  • Is the importance we place on our careers misplaced?

As I tried to distill this all into something I could wrap my head around, I’ve narrowed it down to two topics that people wrestle with most when trying to seek out their “dream job.”

  1. Defining and measuring metrics for success

  2. Releasing judgement

Defining and measuring metrics for success

I’ve divided them into two buckets: tangible and intangible. Tangible factors are things like salaries, health insurance, work schedule, retirement plans, and benefits. These can be easily measured and defined. Intangible metrics (kind of an oxymoron) are characteristics like culture, power, and freedom.

Everyone will weigh these metrics differently, and, as we move through life and our careers, you will probably rethink the weight you put on each of them. For years, money was just not super important to me. If I could pay my bills and my rent, I wasn't too motivated by salary. I valued my time and freedom much more.

Now that my husband and I have a mortgage and retirement is not so impossibly far away, I have changed how I prioritize financial stability. By that I mean, I actually prioritize financial stability. What has not changed is my need to be challenged and my desire to keep developing in my career.

Even at the very start of my professional life, I didn’t last long in jobs where my skills were under-utilized, or I felt there was no room to grow. My threshold for scarcity is much higher than my threshold for boredom.

In my conversation with others, culture has been a common factor in career decisions. There is not necessarily a “right” or “wrong” culture. It’s all about deciding the best fit for the person. Just like a group of friends, the environment doesn’t have to be ideal for any and every type of person; it just needs to be compatible for the people who are part of it. I don’t think a structured office environment with a fixed work schedule is any more righteous than an entirely remote team that lets its employees create their own schedule and workflow. Everyone thrives in different environments.

As you contemplate which metrics by which you measure success or how much weight to give each metric, you may or may not be aware of something that is inevitably influencing this process: Your judgement.

Judgement takes many forms and is ever evolving. Judgement of ourselves is how you feel about where you are in your career and where you are going. Judgement from others is how your spouse/partner, family, and colleagues feel about your career choices. And finally, your judgement of others is how you feel about the people you perceive as more, less or equally successful as you.

As your friendly neighborhood career coach, I encourage you to be honest with yourself and honor how YOU value and weigh success. But let’s be honest. Our judgement and other people’s judgement are going to creep in. We compare ourselves to our peers and those that we think of as “below” us or “above” us.

Some of this judgement from people around us is fair. How we behave and the choices we make are going to directly impact them. If you decide to take a 50% pay cut to follow your passion of giving back to your community, that will have a real effect on your household income and everyone who relies on it. If you decide to value a flexible work schedule, that will have implications for your co-worker's ability to hold meetings and manage their workflow. (Of course, the pandemic showed many workplaces that flexible work schedules don’t inevitably lead to anarchy.)

Judgement, from others or of ourselves, becomes a problem when it limits our potential. It tells us there are conditions to our aspirations. “If I want this, I’ll have to give up this.” Or it convinces us that we are asking for the impossible. “Having a job that gives me A, B, C AND D is a fantasy... it simply doesn’t exist.”

If you can reduce or suspend your judgement, you might not be guaranteed to find your “dream job,” but you will expand your imagination and perhaps stretch your faith in what is possible.

In 2018, I dreamed of a job that would give me good pay, excellent benefits, AND offer me lots of creativity and the flexibility to continue my coaching practice. It felt like a pipe dream. A year later, I was a full-time employee of the public library, where I had a great wage, unbelievable benefits, I could mostly make my own schedule and I had all the creativity I could handle. This experience always reminds me that things seem impossible until they aren’t.

Has this post got you thinking about what’s next in your career? Email me to find out about a new one-on-one coaching package I’ve put together for people who are ready to make a career transition.

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