Recently I came across a blog entry, that really got me worked up.
Basically the author complained about being 24 and not yet getting her “dream job.” While I appreciated how the advice that followed was well intentioned and somewhat informative, what really got me upset was the general attitude and premise of the discussion.
I think it is ridiculous early in your career to be out in search of your “dream job.” This causes delusions of grandeur and this mentality leads people to feel certain jobs are “under” them or not worth their time.
The truth is, whatever you think your dream job is right now, it will change. Guaranteed. I am 100% sure that for most people, your idea of your “dream job” will be very different 5, 10 and even 20 years from now.
I think this mentality is where many millennials go wrong. We are a passionate bunch that believe in changing the world. We are socially conscious and enthusiastic and have the energy to make our dent in the universe. But at the same time, the answer is not to go out on a Don Quixote journey to find the job that is perfect for us. This mentality also paints you in a corner because if you focus all your effort on one niche area, when your passions shift, it is difficult to take that experience and relevant skills and apply them elsewhere.
Note: I don’t want to burst everyone’s bubble or come across as a naysayer preaching that we should all “give up now!” On the contrary, I am as optimistic as it comes, but I know that my goals, focus and concept of a “dream job” is very different at 30 than it was when I was 24.
The answer is to build foundational skills
Instead of searching endlessly for your dream job and crying because you have yet to have it handed to you, focus on finding (and seizing) opportunities that help you build transferrable skills.
Instead of focusing on one small niche area that may be interesting to you now, put equal focus into getting experience that will help you no matter what job, company or industry you will be in.
Our parents’ generation made something like an average of 5 career changes over the course of their 40+ year career. For our generation, that number could be twice as large.
Given that change will happen (multiple times), it is crucial to have skills that will make you successful with whatever your career may hand you.
Skills like project management, product development, managing people, and so on, are important skills whether you are in accounting or operations, whether you are in retail or tech, whether you are at a big company or a start-up.
I believe that your ultimate success in business is more contingent upon what you can lead others to do than you are capable of doing yourself (ex: your ability to lead ten people to make 8 widgets/day provides an 8x output compared to your ability to make 10 widgets/day all by yourself). I know that my experience managing teams will help me be successful no matter what company I work for and what functional area I work in.
It doesn’t have to come from your job
But what about my passions? you might ask…
I am not suggesting you discard your passions and join the ranks of mindless drones collecting paychecks and savoring a measly 2 weeks of vacation a year. I am merely questioning whether your career has to fulfill all your passions.
You don’t have to drop your whole career just to seek your passion, be more creative about it. I have seen time and time again how friends have started a side business or taken a leadership position in a non-profit to explore their passions. The things you do outside of work present a prime place to explore your passions. This is why it is important to seek variety, so you don’t fully focus only on your full-time job.
Ultimately, all I am saying is that you shouldn’t be anxiously waiting for or endlessly seeking what you consider to be your “dream job.” The fact is that your dreams and passions will change and you may never even find that dream job you have fixated on. Or worse, you may get that job and realize that your dream job is really a nightmare. Who’s to say that if you find that dream job that you would even be ready for it or would even be good at it?
That is why we all should build foundational skills at age 24 (and beyond) that will help us as our careers take its own unchartered course, instead of just endlessly seeking a “dream job” that will solve all our troubles and make you instantly fulfilled.
Life and careers are much harder than this. Those who are most successful build skills while their passions are developing and then use these skills to be the best when great opportunities come along (note that I didn’t label it as a “dream job” coming along).
“Dream jobs” will always remain just that, dreams. Instead of dreaming, go out there and build up skills that will make you successful wherever your career may take you. Then, jump on opportunities that you are passionate about, and see what exciting results follow.
Aaron McDaniel, is a corporate manager, entrepreneur, author, public speaker and community leader. Aaron has held numerous management roles at a Fortune 500 company, being one of the youngest ever appointed appointed Regional Vice President at the age of 27, and is the founder of multiple entrepreneurial ventures. Aaron instructed a highly rated student-led course on leadership at UC Berkeley’s Haas Undergraduate School of Business and has a book, The Young Professional’s Guide to the Working World: Savvy Strategies to Get In, Get Ahead, and Rise to the Top, due to be out later this year. Aaron offers advice that helps young professionals build the foundation for a successful career. Visit his blog to learn more.