The Myth of a Dream Job and the Chance of a Dream Life

People are drawn to the promise of articles, books, videos, courses and more that promise the landing of a dream job. And why not? Who wouldn’t be compelled to realize a dream by virtue of completing and synthesizing reasonably priced tutorials?


I’m a nay-sayer to the very idea of a ‘dream’ job because I believe that it sends the wrong message about what is worthy of the word dream. 


Given my current age, physical condition, and lack of athletic or musical talent, it’s unlikely I would be a Heisman Trophy winner with a lucrative job, and apparel contract, as a starting quarterback in the National Football League. It’s unlikely I’d be in a successful boy band. I’m unlikely to win an EGOT (the foursome: An Emmy, A Grammy, An Oscar, and A Tony). These are dreams.

I’m more pragmatic.

It’s why I always swap out words like “dream” with a more approachable word like “fulfilling.”

Calling something a “dream career” makes it sound beyond you.

Most things are not beyond you. To realize a professional goal may require some tactical decisions about what you need to learn, who you need to meet, where you need to be seen and what you are prepared to give up in exchange for making this happen. We limit your self-efficacy at our own risk.

I could decide to compete in a future Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition, but I would need to be ready to take time away from streaming television and consuming pop-tarts. Many decisions involve trade-offs. I am unwilling to make the ones necessary to be a professional bodybuilder. But it isn’t beyond me were I to dedicate myself to a lifestyle overhaul. 

Realizing fulfilling work that meets all your goals is not a dream, but a set of attainable choices.

Many people in “dream jobs” aren’t happy.

My apologies for bursting that bubble, but you are better off knowing the truth.

Far, far too many of my conversations lead off with a variation of the following sentence:

I worked hard to position myself to get my current position, but I am deeply unhappy. I can not see a way forward. Furthermore, if this was my ideal, I’ve no idea what to pursue next.

Usually some combination of schedule, pressure and staff/boss dynamics moves them from the dream to a nightmare working situation. Although truthfully, it mostly isn’t a nightmare, it is just a continual disappointment and a reaction to the unrealistic expectations that come along with a dream job. 

My parents have been married for over fifty years. Their marriage has weathered a range of challenges and seeing that helped me to understand that everything takes work. I suppose that one of the reasons that all of my siblings have been in long-term marriages is because of that very realistic example of how a marriage works. It isn’t a dream, but continual effort. 

Dream Job. Dream Marriage. Dream Child. There is a complexity to life that is well served by understanding what it is fair to expect and what it will take to sustain these complex situations. Dreams are a regular subject for popular music, but less well served as a road map for life planning. 

Calling something a dream career ignores the idea that what you should aspire to is bigger—a dream life.

Let's say you are going to push me on this notion of a dream job. It would irk me, but I‘ve learned to expect such things. Rather, I would pose the following question to you.  

Why limit yourself?

Why wouldn’t you instead go for the grand prize and aspire to a life that is dream-worthy? Why settle for that wedge devoted to work when romantic love, family, friends, travel, hobbies, etc. is what you are really after. Stop dreaming so small.

Consider, if you will, all the component parts as you are building a fulfilling life. What do you want to prioritize now? Are these pieces congruent? For example, losing 30 pounds may not work well with your goal of hitting the best dessert spots in your city every weekend. And I can tell you which of those dreams I most aspire to if you’re interested.

The individuals who have been unhappy after realizing their self-described dream job have two overarching complaints. First, they didn’t realize the reality of what it meant to do the work. Second, they didn’t calculate the trade-off required from the rest of their life.

It isn’t a popular position to be anti-dream. It is a good thing that I’ve never been one to focus on being popular. My 2 cents is that you don’t need to dream. You can realize the most exceptional goals in your waking life once you decide exactly what you want.

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