Why I'll Never Have a Dream Job—and You Shouldn't Either

Julia Millay Walsh

Whenever I hear someone use the term “dream job,” I know it’s coming from a place of good intentions. I would never knock someone for having aspirations of working. That’s always a good thing. But I just can’t get behind this concept of the dream job, and you shouldn’t either.

Why? Because it is surrounded by myths. And myths are dangerous things.

One big pie in the sky is the idea that you’ll always be happy in your dream job, but the truth is that even the greatest gig on the planet has its ups and downs. Some days your job will drive you nuts, and that is okay. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a good thing going. Furthermore, every great job should challenge you in some way. If you’re not feeling challenged—by people, your workload, a project, what have you—you’re not growing. You’re not learning.

For a long time, I’ve felt some internal and external pressure to come to a conclusion about what my dream job is. It probably has something to do with that “What do you want to be when you grow up?” line of questioning that is so pervasive in our culture. This brings about another myth, and that is that there’s only one right path for each of us. The truth is that we all have countless skills—and the ability to learn more—and there is an unlimited number of jobs and career paths that we can thrive in. You’re selling yourself short if you think you’re only good for one role. Go do a bunch of things! Try it all! Life is long.

This point relates to another problem of the dream-job construct: When your dreams are too specific, they can crush you because your chances of achieving them are so slim. Sure, shoot for the stars, but don’t put all your eggs in one tiny basket, because life rarely works out the way you plan it.

Another myth of the dream job is that it’s the be-all and end-all. Dreams are adjustable. Yours are always going to be affected by what you’ve achieved. So let’s say you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on your education and years of schooling to achieve your dream job… Then what? Your work is done? You don't have to settle for complacency, and you certainly don't have to stick to the plan. There's always another career goal you can set—or you can calibrate and focus your time and mind on personal or other pursuits.

Every person’s dream job is different, but one common theme of the dream job is that it pays well. If you’re in pursuit of happiness, then working toward a high-salaried job isn’t necessarily the best strategy. A recent study conducted by Princeton economist Angus Deaton and famed psychologist Daniel Kahneman found that making more than $75,000 per year has no measurable impact on your contentment. But do you know what does? Experience. Another study out of Cornell University found that experiences deliver more long-term happiness and contentment than material possessions. According to science, making less (but enough to cover our basic needs), in a position that allows us to pursue our passions and spend more time with people we love, could be a key to contentment.

The way I see it, even if you haven’t landed that cool gig you have in mind, if you have a nice place to call home and you’re supporting yourself (and your family, if you have one) and establishing a future for yourself and your family, then you are living the dream. That’s a major accomplishment, and fulfilling that mission is as good as any career goal.

I admire and believe in hard work, and I’ve seen that great things are achieved when people focus their efforts. So I have plenty of career goals, and I want to work toward them with passion and grit for as long as my instinct tells me to. I hope I’ll be nimble, I hope I’ll always be learning, and I hope I’ll continue to challenge myself. At the same time, I know that work isn’t everything. It’s certainly something, a very big thing to be proud of, but it’s not the only goal worth putting your sweat into, and it's certainly not all there is. Pat yourself on the shoulder the next time you just have a really great day. You're doing something right.

What are some of your career goals? Share with us below.

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