Is there really such a thing as a dream job?

Confucius is famously quoted as saying, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

However, looking for a ‘dream job’ is a problematic career strategy for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that research tells us that we don’t really know what we want.

How many times have you been looking forward to something only to feel disappointed when the day finally comes because the reality didn’t live up to the hype? Many career counsellors will start the conversation with you regarding what you want to get out of your work and what you enjoy doing regularly for example working with other people, helping the community, working on a computer. And while these elements are important, they aren’t the only factors that need to define the conversation. Research tells us that while self-reflection is important when considering career paths, we need to temper our self-perceptions with a dose of reality. 80000hours.org recognises that we are actually ‘really bad at predicting what will make us most happy, and we don’t even realise how bad.’ Therefore, our approach to working out a good fit for us career-wise needs to go beyond thinking about what we love to do.

People often consider the elusive ‘dream job’ to be either hard to get into, hard to make money at or involves a sacrifice or leap of faith to achieve, such as a teacher who dreams of being a full-time artist, a pub owner who dreams of being a professional singer, or a tradesperson who aspires to be a best-selling author. While some people dream of helping others and don’t care about where they live or how they eat, others dream of making millions in cryptocurrencies from the comfort of their recliner lounge suite.

For some, it’s all about lifestyle, for others it’s about reputation, but for both it’s about status, regardless of whether you are a hipster non-profit agent or a Wall Street shark; what people rarely dream of is the hard work and daily grind involved with getting there – they are dreaming more about success than about the job itself, you just have to figure out what success looks like for you.

80000hours.org have applied positive psychology research about what makes life fulfilling in combination with research on job satisfaction and they have come up with ‘six key ingredients of a dream job’ that goes beyond the omnipresent desire for successful outcomes and whether you like to ‘work outside.’ These ingredients include:

  • Work that is engaging – you need to feel connected to what you are doing on a daily basis and find a sense of flow. 
  • Work that helps others – this might not be the only path to meaning in your career, but it is definitely a powerful route to take.
  • Work that you are good at – nothing drives performance and success like a job that makes you feel like you are achieving something. 
  • Work with supportive colleagues – you could be doing what you’ve always wanted to be doing, but if your boss is a jerk and office politics does your head in, this will kill the buzz.
  • Lack of major negatives – if it pays fairly, the commute is ok, hours are doable and is secure, this enhances the experience.
  • Balance – it allows you to live a little outside of work.

You don’t have to be an astronaut to find a ‘dream job’ – ‘follow your passion’ can be misleading advice to say the least. Be a contributor and as Tim Minchin implores, no matter what you do, be a teacher. 

Zoë Wundenberg, www.impressability.com.au