What does it really mean to find one’s “dream job” or one’s “dream school” or dream anything? I would like to explore this topic for the sake of redefining dreams as they relate to our career choices and to consider how managing our notion of dreams correspond to ones happiness. Dreams are by definition a cherished aspiration, an unrealistic fantasy and something typically that’s beyond our reach! Although they can be lofty; most dreams are intangible, idealistic thoughts that are not necessarily good for us.
There are many examples of people who have followed their dreams and done so successfully. The most sensible way to pursue ones dreams, is to have a back up plan incase your dream doesn’t become an actuality. “Plan for the worst and hope for the best strategy“. One of my closest childhood friends, Lisa, has two sons, Simon and Julian, who started a rock band a few years ago while in Orlando Florida. Now at age 22 and 19 they practice day and night, record their music, promote and sell it online and while performing at live concerts. They have negotiated contracts with agents and booked shows in a wide array of venues across the U.S. These young musicians/entrepreneurs have developed a small but distinct cult following for their growing brand described as garage meets punk with a 1960’s twist.
Despite the fact that they have been well received by a broad age group and by people whose music tastes cross a wide spectrum of musical genres, there are still those skeptics who shun their entrepreneurial endeavor and say they’re wasting their time as the music industry is extremely competitive and the chance of them making it big is slim to none.
My advice to these young “rockers” is to ignore the naysayers who have tried (albeit unsuccessfully) to discourage them and here’s why. From a purely practical standpoint, both of these guys are enrolled in a community college pursuing a degree in business management. The real world experience they’re gaining from building a rock band is significant and valuable: They developed a strong brand name for their group by aggressively and effectively promoting their group on and off-line. They have successfully booked over 100 performances across the eastern seaboard from Orlando to New York and negotiated contracts with music producers and agents to get their foot in the door at a few major concert halls and a variety of boutique clubs where they performed before live audiences both large and small. In short, Simon and Julian acquired valuable skills as young entrepreneurs while building their music repertoire and a loyal fan base. These real world experiences are impossible to learn strictly from a text-book! I liken their work in the music industry to a paid internship! They are learning a broad range of transferable, real world skills that could benefit them in the workplace whether or not their band becomes a huge success.
Further, these guys will never have regrets for not trying to pursue their dream of becoming professional musicians because they at least tried, put all their energy into building their dream and did it when they were young enough that the risks involved were relatively low. If you combine both practical concerns (eg. this example where the brothers are both studying business while working to promote their dream career as professional musicians), you can have your cake and eat it too! Pursuing your dreams and being an idealist is not categorically a good or bad thing; It all depends on how you mange the pursuit of your ‘dream’ career. It can lead to a happy future if you infuse realistic data points along the way in making your choice.
So what about the rest of us who don’t even have something we’re passionate about? How do we find our “dream job?” For those of you who fall in this category, there’s no need to despair. Take some comfort in knowing that you are among the vast majority of people who start working after college and don’t know what they’re passionate about; I suggest you don’t invest your energy into pursuing a passion as the pursuit of finding ones passion can result in undue stress and anxiety; In fact, there’s no research to support that people who know their passion from an early age are happier than those who discovered it much later in life.
In order to find satisfaction in life, I recommend that you engage in some introspection and research on what a day in the life of someone is truly like in the job and in the city you esteem. I also urge you to consider what author, Cal Newport says about following your passions. Passion is elusive… in the stories of people who end up loving their work: after they develop rare and valuable skills they then use these skills as leverage to take control of their career path, often veering far off the standard trajectory. This act of leverage requires courage, but can return great rewards… Work is hard. Not every day is fun. Building the skills that ultimately lead to a compelling career can take years of effort. If you’re seeking a dream job, you’ll end up disappointed, again and again.
I think dreams and passions are close cousins and need to be tempered by a dose of reality; make it a top priority to build skills that will ultimately lead to a compelling career! Do an assessment of your personal needs, skills, and interests and then research how they match to a sustainable industry. Once you find a job that will afford you opportunities to develop and hone your skills, strive to become a “giver” in your field. Become that “go-to” person who is known for accommodating the needs of the group and filling needs that haven’t been met! The career you end up with will likely be satisfying and real…something worth dreaming about. Your acquired competency may lead you to having more autonomy at work, which in itself has a strong link to happiness. Don’t become overly concerned if you are not working in the exact “right” field. Just be sure to develop skills that you can leverage both within your current company and elsewhere if you need to move.
Don’t set out to discover passion. Instead, set out to develop it! This path might be longer and more complicated than what most upbeat career guides might preach, but it’s a path much more likely to lead you somewhere worth going”. I agree with Cal’s observation that people who end up loving their work rarely have definite pre-existing passions.
Surprisingly, studies also show that having too much autonomy or wealth tends to increase stress and decrease well-being. That is, once a person’s basic necessities are covered, having more wealth and freedom does not correlate to increased happiness. In fact, trying to keep up with others is shown to cause unneeded anxiety and stress. Psychological studies also support that happiness is a direct outcome of having the respect of your co-workers and a few meaningful relationships in your life. Take time to nurture close relationships with friends and family.
So the question still remains: How do you choose a career that will make you happy if you don’t have a specific passion that drives you? I suggest that your first step should be, getting to know yourself: What are your strengths, abilities, interests and personal needs? What can you bring to the table? What motivates you? Step two: Narrow down your choice of career to an industry and the place that will be most suitable for you to live. Do your investigative research about sustainable industries in sustainable places. Get information from the companies’ websites, glassdoor.com and employees who work there about the corporate culture of the perspective companies. Review the career path and the lifestyle associated with the job that most appeals to you (via informational interviews) and start building your network in that industry by joining related professional associations.
The more information you have about the actual steps it takes to reach your “dream job” the closer it will be to a good match and the less likely your “dream job” will end up being your worst nightmare! Planning ahead in this way will insure that your choices are based upon well-reasoned criteria that will guide you to make a realistic, achievable choice and reduce your chances of having angst in your future.
You may find that your dream job is ultimately the one you carefully selected based on a thoughtful analysis of your abilities, personal needs and ambitions matched to the needs of a sustainable industry that fits your criteria. It will also come after many years of hard work whereby you’ve developed skills that are needed and valued in your industry. (You can find more about how to arrange an informational interview, industry trends, sustainable industries and sustainable places to live in my book, From Diploma to Dream job: 5 Overlooked Steps to a Successful Career).
Beth is Founder and President of Get Hired, LLC. She advises students on how to bridge the gap from school to career. Beth is the co-author of From Diploma to Dream Job: Five Overlooked Steps to a Successful Career (available on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/1461087082) Her coaching assists students to successfully match their needs, interests, passions, skills, and personal goals with the needs of a sustainable industry in a sustainable location. Beth is also a resource for print and online media and offers workshops for University Career Service Departments, Executive Recruiters, Outplacement Services, College Guidance Counselors and College Alumni Associations. See website for more details about Beth’s services www.fromdiploma2dreamjob.com You can follow Beth on twitter @BethKuhel