The Great “Dream Job” Myth – Part 1

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We’re all on a hunt for our dream job – to realize our true calling – in some form or another.

But would you define it as doing what you love (emotion based) or loving what you do (skill based)?

Most people would go with the former, because doing what you love is when the sentence that is the essential you, flows effortlessly into the sentence that is the professional you. And we all want that. We all want to feel like we’re doing what we were “meant” to do and what we have fought so hard to achieve.

And that’s the myth; the idea that a “dream job” is something you set out for at the outset, and that everything else won’t be good enough for you.

From Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You:

Amy Wrzensniewski, a professor of organizational behavior at Yale University…looked at a group of employees who all had the same position and nearly identical work responsibilities: college administrative assistants. She found, to her admitted surprise, that these employees were roughly evenly split between seeing their position as a job, a career, or a calling. In other words, it seems that the type of work alone does not necessarily predict how much people enjoy it.

She surveyed the assistants to figure out why they saw their work so differently, and discovered that the strongest predictor of an assistant seeing her work as a calling was the number of years spent on the job. In other words, the more experience an assistant had, the more likely she was to love her work.

In Wrzesniewski’s research, the happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.

You might want to read that last sentence again.

The happiest, most passionate employees are not those who followed their passion into a position, but instead those who have been around long enough to become good at what they do.

So yes, you can learn to love a job that no 3rd grader ever dreamt about and it can feel like you’re “calling.” Why? From the book:

If you have many years’ experience, then you’ve had time to get better at what you do and develop a feeling of efficacy. It also gives you time to develop strong relationships with your coworkers and to see many examples of your work benefitting others.

Improving. Relationships. Helping others. (aka: all the things we don’t usually think of when imagining our “dream job.”)

We like the idea of “dream jobs” because we can close our eyes and picture living at that pinnacle and what that would say about us: performing on stage, scoring a goal, accepting an award, being the CEO of a non-profit org, traveling the world on a Nat Geo assignment, getting an advance on our next book, about to write Star Wars: Episode VII for the big screen, or painting in our giant Manhattan loft.

But the reality is, most people don’t ever become these mentally stitched snapshots of success (for a variety of reasons). And no, you’re not crazy or weird or dumb or a failure if you can’t figure out a way to make your deep-rooted passion your life’s work.

I never became a professional soccer player (much to my dream’s chagrin), I have yet to write and direct a feature-length movie (I have two screenplays done though), and I have yet to DJ a set for thousands of people (only hundreds) but other things happened in my life, things I thoroughly enjoyed and never expected I would and it has been about the work, and the people I’ve met along the way and how I’ve been able to help others. I’m sure you have stories like that too.

We sometimes don’t give ourselves a chance to enjoy a job simply because it wasn’t a sexy enough thought for us to chase in the first place. Again, I’m the poster child of that if you look at my early career (nuclear engineering, film, mortgage banking, construction).

So, the idea isn’t to NOT dream. For all that is sacred, dream your asses off and learn and tinker and fail and get up, but understand that it takes time to cultivate the autonomy and competence to truly appreciate fulfilling work, no matter what that work is.

Because “dream jobs” are a side effect of mastery, not a result of hope.

Yes millennials, you read that right. It takes time.

Anyone have a job they now love but never thought they would when they were younger?