Why the idea of the 'dream job' is a myth

Lydia Smith
·Writer, Yahoo Finance UK
·5 mins read
Portrait of cheerful african american businesswoman discussing and smiling at the meeting with colleagues
Is the idea of a 'dream job' unrealistic or misleading? Photo: Getty

There’s a lot of pressure in life to find your “dream” job. Not only is it a career you love in an impressive, competitive industry, it easily pays the rent and bills too. But if this sounds too good to be true, you may be right.

Lots of us had a specific picture about what our futures looked like at the start of our careers. Maybe we wanted to travel, do something creative or run our own business in a swish city office.

Fast-forward a few years, though, and it’s likely your career looks different to what you imagined. It might not be everything you hoped for, or you may be doing something entirely different altogether.

Even if you enjoy your job, you may feel like you’ve missed out or taken a wrong turn somewhere. But is this because the idea of a “dream job” we have been sold is unrealistic or misleading?

Working to live

Carving out a successful career you enjoy is very different to living your dream job. You may be doing something creative, but the hours are long and cut into the time you’re able to spend at home with your family. Or you may have a great title with lots of perks, but work for a toxic boss who treats you and your colleagues poorly. Either way, there’s a growing backlash against the concept of a dream job because there are always downsides.

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Many people are coming to the conclusion that they want a life where they work to live, rather than the other way round. However, it can be hard to admit when the job you thought would be a dream isn’t what you envisioned, particularly if you’ve put years of hard work into getting it.

It’s also normal for our perception of a dream job to change alongside our priorities, too. It's crazy to expect we'll know our path when we finish school or university. In recent years, there has been a societal shift from classically-defined success, such as a large pay packet or a company car, in favour of meaningful work and flexibility.

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In fact, more than nine out of 10 employees are willing to sacrifice a percentage of their lifetime earnings for greater meaning at work, according to 2017 research by the professional training and coaching firm BetterUp. Another survey of over 3,000 professionals by LinkedIn found more people cared about core benefits, such as paid time off, flexible working and health coverage, than perks like office snacks.

Our external situation can influence how we feel about our jobs, too. The COVID-19 crisis has made many people think more about the role work plays in their lives, including its usefulness to society. A survey of 2,000 UK workers by Slater and Gordon shows a large proportion are considering a rethink of what they do for work. In fact, nearly half — 41% — are considering quitting their jobs for more fulfilling work when the worst of COVID-19 is over.

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“It isn’t about abandoning dreams but changing your goals as you progress,” says Life Coach Directory member Tessa Armstrong. “For many of us, the journey towards a goal changes how we are and how we view the world.

“As you progress, it’s absolutely ok to change your goals along with the changes you experience. As long as you are enjoying the journey and feel happy, there is no need to abandon your aspirations, it may just take a few steps to achieve them.”

It’s about finding balance

Finding your “dream” job is more about balancing your passion with reality to create the best career path for you. It’s also about accepting that all jobs contain aspects we might not enjoy, such as doing your taxes if you’re self-employed.

“Imagining a ‘dream job’ forms a great and motivational starting point to work from when planning your career,” Armstrong explains.

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“It is then important to evaluate different ideas against your dream job by aligning it to reality and working out necessary compromises to enable you to form a realistic career plan. That said, being realistic doesn’t necessarily mean lowering your goals. Some ambition and aspiration can go a long way in providing motivation.”

However, placing too much of a heavy reliance on work and finding a dream job to make us happy can be risky. It’s easy to define ourselves by what we do or where we work, but becoming so wrapped up in your ‘work’ identity that any setbacks affect your self-worth and mental wellbeing can be problematic.

“This can create a huge imbalance in our lives as we pay less attention to other parts of our lives that can also make us happy, such as building relationships, hobbies and health,” Armstrong says.

“This imbalance is barely noticeable when work is going well. However, when work isn’t going well and you are focused solely on finding your dream job without aligning it to reality or thinking about other aspects of your life, the imbalance can make you feel very unhappy.”

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