Looking back to my middle school years, I can distinctly remember obsessing over what my dream job would be.
I guess the notorious “What do you want to be when you grow up,” which adults just seem to be dying to ask unsuspecting kids, caught up with little me, who anticipated high school with the utmost gravity. In my mind, grade 9 being just around the corner meant that I was being propelled into the world of grown-ups. A world where you’re not only super cool, but you have the answer to that question straight away. And the answer is probably something cool, too.
So began my struggle to make sense of what I then didn’t know were adolescent misconceptions about dream jobs, grown-ups, and coolness in general. But the most interesting thing about the whole story, I think, was that moment in university when I came to realize this struggle with the concept of career, this burdening question of the dream job, was a shared one among my peers.
Yeah, I thought I was alone.
For one, I think that the competitive college environment, not to mention that annoying question we’re asked since childhood, drives us to obsess over the idea of a “dream job”, “dream career” and so on. Growing up in a very different world, we Millennials certainly don’t see the concept of a career the way our parents do. We don’t expect to land an out-of-this-world lifelong position that we’ll be enjoying until we’re ready to dive into our dream retirement or whatever. But we’re not seeing quite clearly either, because way too many of us think that working a dream job entails a dream life.
We think this because we’d like it to be true, but there’s absolutely no guarantee of that. Humans are creatures of fluid identities and conflicting personalities. What happens when you have to move to a megalopolis to work your dream job but you crave the quiet contemplation of the countryside? What happens when the price is spending less time with your family, or simply doing less and less of what you love in your free time? Are the compromises worth it? Where do you draw the line?
One of my best friends, a fierce and altogether badass lady, always stood out as the one who had it together. She had a clear vision, a path set out for herself long before the rest of us learned which way is up. She wanted to be a teacher since she was a kid (might have something to do with her parents being teachers, go figure) and she stuck to this dream, working devotedly towards it, all the way to college.
When she got her dream job at a high school in Seattle, things were great for a while, until it didn’t feel like the dream job anymore. She found her new dream job as an ESL teacher in China and loved it to the bone. She still talks about the job experience being amazing, but ultimately, it was China’s environmental issues, propelled by homesickness, that drove her all the way back across the ocean. If you’d ask her today, she would tell you that working as an ESL teacher in that same school in China would still have been her dream job – only if it managed to fit into the life she wanted.
The truth is, although we work our jobs for a certain amount of time each day, we make our lives revolve around them. What if it was the other way around? Why shouldn’t our idea of a dream job alter and evolve along with us?
It makes sense that your idea of a dream job would be different when you’re a parent, for example – you’d want something more flexible to support your life with children, as what was once a dream job simply doesn’t fit into your lifestyle anymore. And I think there’s too much pressure, on both men and women, to uphold this idea of a dream career once they become parents, to show that they can “have it all” and that they haven’t given up on it despite having to take care of another human being.
With all this being said, I propose an idea. Before thinking about jobs at all, we invest ourselves mindfully into thinking about the lives we want. We reflect on our values, on our identities, on the things we like to do. And once we’ve looked inside long and hard, we go on to look at the people who are working what we currently perceive as our dream jobs. Is that person, and similar others, living the type of life you want to live?