The myth of the “dream job”

“It’s my dream job.”

How many times have we heard variations of this phrase? It usually pops up when someone is interviewing for a job that sounds like a wonderful, perfect fit, or after they just accepted the offer.

If you follow up with them a few years later, it’s likely that reality has set in. It may have turned out to be a very good job, a decent job, a tolerable job, or an absolute horror show. But if they’re still sticking to the “dream job” line, they’re either (1) truly fortunate; (2) fibbing a bit to keep up appearances; or (3) deluding themselves.

Reality check

The idea of a dream job reflects high, often pie-in-the-sky expectations that may ignore the realities of organizations, human behavior, and economics. Indeed, the very concept of a career or a vocation that blends a good salary or wage with a chance to do inherently rewarding work is very much a product of a first world, late 20th century, upwardly mobile culture. A century ago, I doubt that many people were thinking in such a manner.

In the meantime, there are bills to be paid and mouths to be fed. These are not trifling matters. In fact, basic survival is what most of the world confronts on a daily basis.

Furthermore, even a good paying job may be short on psychic income. There are plenty of people who are toiling away mainly for the money, sometimes sacrificing their own desires in order to pay a mortgage or to send the kids through school.

Realistic hopes

Dream jobs may be few and far between, but I’m not suggesting that we give up on finding great meaning and a decent paycheck in our work. When it comes to pursuing our life’s purposes and passions, I’m still a romantic.

I think it boils down to expectations and aspirations grounded in reality. The world of work may disappoint us at times. But we can strive to create better opportunities for ourselves and to take full advantage of those presented to us.

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3 responses

  1. Hi David, landing that “dream job” was not my goal as a young business management graduate. Why? My hard-working parents taught me to simply find a job, work hard, keep my head down and don’t make waves. Unfortunately, I was never good at that keep-your-head-down and don’t-make-waves thing. Simply standing-up for what is right has brought me more than my share of trouble but at least my conscious is clear.

    A majority of American employees have checked-out mentally. Their body shows up to work but not their mind. The biggest reason is poor management. I have found there are way too many managers who are very difficult creatures, if not simply toxic to the soul.

    Experienced employees in the marketplace are not looking for a dream job. They are looking for a good manager. Sadly, according to a blog post this past summer, Gallup CEO Jim Clifton stated your chances of working for a good manager are 50/50.

    Kevin Kennemer
    The People Group
    Tulsa, OK

  2. Even with a job that has meaning and allows one to give back to society; a bully boss can kill the happiness possible. I had one of those jobs but the bully made going to work every day a trial. I guess that I was fortunate to have decent bosses for the first 12 years of my career. The work was challenging and could be difficult but the “customers” made each day a winner

  3. Both of your responses (thank you!) highlight the critical aspect of the people factor, the very thing many of us didn’t look for when we were younger but certainly paid attention to later on. A good or bad boss, in particular, can make all the difference!

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