My sister asked the family in a letter recently, “are you in your dream job and if not, what is your dream job?” She was fresh from a social engagement where the topic was being discussed. She is also in her early forties, a good time to be thinking of that question.
If you type the question into google, the top responses are pages which help you answer this question as it relates to a job interview. What a terrible position to be put in! I would have hated to answer this question, in that kind of setting. A dream job is an important and rather personal thing, assuming you are not in your dream job presently.
How can you judge a dream job? Harvard Professor Dan Gilbert’s research has shown that we are terrible at predicting and remembering what makes us happy. This is at a basic level, like a family vacation. So you can imagine the dependability of our cognitive abilities if they are stretched far enough to include something really important, like a career.
According to 80000hours.org, there are six ingredients for a dream job. I’ll take each one in relation to my life, to give some personal examples of context.
- Work that’s engaging – everyone will have a slightly different opinion on this and it will change over time. Autonomy, variety, clarity and feedback as it relates to the actual work being done are considered the benchmarks here. I’ve been in wonderful situations where these 4 are perfectly aligned and then, with the slightest change in corporate direction, the house of cards can fold on itself.
- Work that helps others – the #2 job considered to be least helpful to others is a fashion designer. That is frightfully close to what I did for many years. So I cannot say that what I did could be put in the category of helping others. But, I am keenly aware of this now and have very solid plans to rectify that situation. Incidentally, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to help others, many years ago. That must have been due to my age, because it was not a priority from the get go.
- Work you’re good at – I have been extremely lucky here. There are many things I am good at, (everyone has a list, if they are honest with themselves). The trick is aligning that to what I want to spend massive amounts of time doing. Some honest, self-reflection is required. While I love cooking, am very good at it and have had countless people advise me to open a restaurant, I have played out that scenario in my mind. It is not the life I want. My search continues to match my strengths to potential jobs.
- Work with supportive colleagues – over my first career, I was so lucky here. It was when those people started to move on to other things that I became worried. There was also not enough new ones joining, to back fill who was leaving. When I looked around the room and didn’t feel well supported anymore, that was a tough day. Now, I am on a quest to find like-minded people first. Building a tribe, as the young kids say.
- Lack of major negatives – this is kind of sad really. To think that this is a category. Things like a long commute, hours, pay and job security, these should be a given. It is hard to imagine these are deal breakers anymore. But, I was there. The commute, which would have seemed laughably short when I was starting out became a real problem for me. This whole category is decided during the initial job negotiations and is taken too lightly. It should also be open to review and employers will tell you it is, but in my experience, not so much.
- Work that fits with the rest of your life – sadly this criteria is changing everyday. An unfair expectation to put on employee or employer. Both sides are in constant flux. What is important in your personal life will change over time. Just like in a marriage, are both sides willing to accommodate the changes?
I think I have had dream jobs over the years. There have been many times when I stopped to reflect on how amazing something was. An experience, an event or something important that I learned. There were extremely stimulating and exciting times as well. There were massive accomplishments. All of it created a huge sense of satisfaction and well-being. These positives will greatly outshine any negatives. I have been blessed by many years of high job satisfaction. But was any of it my dream job? No, I don’t think so. Not by the full criteria listed above.
I also think that we don’t carry around this cheat sheet of 6 points and evaluate our jobs against it. I suspect that nobody has a job which ticks off all these boxes. There is another major component of well-being which is has not been identified and that is living in the moment. This is a skill which very few people have, but it is critical to happiness in a job and all other areas of life. We underestimate how important it is to reframe our perspective and truly enjoy what is happening, along the way.
What I know for sure is that by taking time off from the criteria of six and travelling the world, I can live in the moment in a way I could not before. I was not able to focus my attention away from my very important work life to anything else. Not in the way I have been able to since we left. It is also interesting to note, I am present for my family in a way I was never able to be, before. We are forced together and it would be weird not to interact with my husband and children constantly.
This life has a richness and depth, I would not trade for anything. Sadly, this will not last. We all know it. But we are aware of something which has been built and cannot be taken away. So even when my children finish school and take flight, they will know what it feels like to be connected. That is a gift we have given each other and makes up for missing jobs and friends.
At the moment, I don’t have a job, in the classical sense. I’m not being paid to do anything. Do I work? Yes. Have I found my dream job? Net yet, but I am hopeful.
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