We all pretend. Dad hands you an old briefcase and you walk around like you’re on Wall Street. Or, you take your wagon and load it with whatever trash you can find, and now you’re a garbage man. You arrest your teddy bear, you go to war with your GI Joe, and spend endless hours in the backyard filling your hands with championship rings. Whatever it is, from a young age we find that one job, and that’s ours. We think about what it would be like, it fills every “about you” sheet on the first day of school, and probably at least starts the conversation of where to go for college. Unfortunately, too many policemen wind up shift managers and backyard QBs become data processors. But, for some of you, the window for following your idealized profession hasn’t closed yet, so here are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to go down that road.
There is no pot of gold at the end of your rainbow.
When we imagine our dream job, we imagine a finite, specific version of it. We imagine fireman and we set parameters as to what we think the ideal fireman’s job is. For mine, it’s being the head professional at Austin Country Club. That’s my summit. That’s where I want to be. We think we know when we’ll arrive at this peak because we’ll suddenly be looking through gilded lenses, someone will hand us an employment contract titled, “Dream Job,” or there will be some sort of ceremony announcing our arrival, our destination at the end of our journey.
It doesn’t work that way. Technically, I’m at my dream job right now. I’m a golf professional. I have the position title, but the parameters of this job are nowhere near what I thought them to be. At first, I thought the problem was where I worked. I thought I just needed to go somewhere else, and so I envied everyone else in my industry I met because I thought they had it so much better, they somehow got to enjoy this perfect position and mine was the one that was flawed. That wasn’t the case. It was how I was viewing the job, it was the expectations I had assigned to the position, what I thought the job consisted of versus what it actually consisted of. If you’re going to go after your dream job, you need to abandon your perfect parameters of what you think that job should be. That doesn’t mean settling for anything that comes you way, it means looking at each position individually and not trying to pigeonhole careers into your childhood daydreams.
Have a good understanding of success.
More often than not, pursuing an ideal career does not coincide with pursuing a lucrative career. If you want to be an actor, it’s easy to understand that you probably won’t be raking in millions and accepting a bunch of statues a year into your profession. But, for more traditional dream jobs, it can be hard to reconcile why those that seemed to fall ass first into their positions are more financially well off than you, who has been relentlessly desiring and pursuing your career since adolescence. Have tangible benchmarks for what you will consider successful, so as to better alleviate any second guessing you might do. Do you just want to be a garbage man? Or do you want to be the head garbage man for NYC? This not only makes the goal more tangible, but works to prevent the idea of there being a pot of gold waiting for you.
Have the courage to walk away, and have the courage to take it.
Contradictory, I know, but these are important and stressful questions that those of us that pursue our dream jobs will face. Someone offers you a position three states away, what do you do? Do you leap at the chance to take it and abandon all thoughts of risks because you assure yourself this is a step in the right direction, this is just another few feet on the road you feel you’re meant to travel? Conversely, how long do you slave away at a seemingly endless position? If you want to be a lawyer, or an accountant, how many unpaid internships do you take and for how long do you take them before you can no longer convince yourself you’re investing not in dollars but in experience and resume strength? We’re naturally impatient, and when opportunities come up, especially ones that we may perceive as being our “big breaks” we want to snatch them, but only if we have the comfort knowing that they will payoff. This is perhaps the hardest part about following your dream job. Is what you’re doing taking you closer to your goal? We want this pursuit to work like a formula, like a recipe. Follow this, do this, and you’ll produce this. To alleviate and help you make these decisions, define your success and your goals and when these opportunities are presented to you, you’ll have ways to navigate your choice.
Understand if you like your dream job because it’s a dream.
Some people get to Disney World and are sorely disappointed. The castle may be smaller, there may not be any actual magic like they thought there would be, or maybe they forgot where they were because of the other thousands of people with them at the park. Similarly, some people get to their dream job and realize why it was a dream. Maybe they liked the chase more than they like the job. Maybe they imagined it because it gave them the escape from reality they were needing, and to bring this dream to reality has left them devoid of anything to pass their time. Before you pursue your dream career, do your research. Make sure this is what you really want. Do you really want to do everything it takes to be a police officer, or did you just want the gun and the motorcycle? Are you fantasizing about the entirety of being a high profile prosecutor, or do you just like the idea of shouting at people in a suit? I never imagined being a golf professional would entail creating a budget for the golf course, or coming up with marketing schemes on how to get more members and rounds through the shop, but these are things I’ve accepted and shouldered because I still love being a golf pro more than I love doing anything else. Know your career and know whether you love dreaming about it or doing it.
Following your dream job is not for everyone. It’s hard. The reward often comes much later than you expect, and sometimes never comes in immediately discernible ways. You’ll question the choices you make, you’ll wonder everyday if what you did was the right thing to do, and you’ll face yours and others insecurities about daring to pursue something with more than just the conviction of, “I’m doing it because they hired me.” If you’re going to choose to do it, make sure you’re committed, and good luck.