Americans are free to pursue the career path of their dreams. And obviously, that means something different for everyone. For some, the ideal job revolves around work/life balance, while others desire to make a profound and positive impact on the world. The dream job is certainly not a one-size-fits-all pursuit, but whether your goal is to make millions or to devote your life to helping others, it’s likely that your aspirations will evolve over the course of your career – what you wish for today, may not be what you seek down the road.
The evolution of a career
As with all else in life, careers go through phases: when we are younger, we tend to be hungry to get ahead. In my 20’s, I endured some tough bosses, and logged long and often stressful hours in publishing. I remember times that I literally pounded the floor when I realized that a book had gone to press with an error of my own design. Once, a colleague and I were locked into a conference room until we came up with the perfect PowerPoint presentation for one of our top clients. Of course, now, it seems humorous. But I believe there was learning there, and that it is beneficial to go through the hurdles in our careers, just as it’s vital to enjoy some success along the way.
I am a big fan of the 10,000 hour premise that Malcolm Gladwell explores in his book Outliers: The Story of Success. He proposes that it requires roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. If a typical work week is 40 hours, that translates to roughly five years in a role to gain mastery. Jumping around to give various jobs a try certainly quells a curious mind, but sometimes living through a role and all of its challenges resonates in depth of experience and personal growth, which may come in handy down the road, when you evaluate what’s next.
Beyond the 10,000 hours, beyond a few strategic job moves, often comes the now what phase. So I accomplished this, now what? This is generally the point at which I intersect a lot of professionals. So they have made it, whatever it stands for in their lives, and somehow they believe, hope, wish for something more, something different, and often something with a higher purpose. Hence, the pursuit of the dream job begins.
The ingredients of a dream job
Defining your dream job has a lot to do with knowing what your dreams are. Do you seek more time to live your life and pursue interests outside of the office? Do you want to change the world, or make the lives of others better? Do you desire a bigger paycheck? Or, do you seek more time to accomplish the little things – visit a friend who is sick, go to a nursing home and read to the elderly, volunteer at an animal shelter?
Some points to consider as you formulate your dream job criteria:
- Do you aspire to get to the next level – which may be leading a team, earning more money, an elevated title, or all of the above?
- Do you want to work with ideas and concepts or work in a more hands-on, execution- based manner?
- Do you prefer a hierarchical organization or a matrixed one?
- Do you want to spend your day’s solitary or do you want to interact with people?
- Do you want to be autonomous or do you seek daily accountability?
- Do you need to feel like you are making a difference on a daily basis?
- Do you want to be the boss?
- How important are innovation and creativity to you?
- Do you want to travel nonstop or stay put?
- Do you want flexibility: telecommuting or working virtually?
- Does location play a role for you? Getting closer to family, better schools, warmer weather, mountains, ocean, city, country?
- Do you want more want more time to do the things you like to do outside of work?
It’s important to take inventory every few years to consider what motivates you — what was important at the onset of your career, such as the corner office and a VP title, may not be so important at other points in your career.
Does the dream job exist?
Sure it does. Although the ideal job may not hold the title, position description, salary or prestige that you imagined it would. The dream job is the one that challenges you and forces you to push outside of your comfort zone. It’s the role that enables you to be creative, innovative, insightful, and to help people in some way, too. It’s the position that celebrates your successes while inspiring you to strive for the next thing. It’s the role in which you feel appreciated and valued, and where you feel a part of a greater whole. It’s the job, which on a daily basis, makes you feel excited to get to work.
But before you can aspire to your dream job, you need to know what your dreams are, and to revisit them often, so that you don’t get stuck tomorrow in last year’s dreams. For like our careers, our aspirations are not static – they are constantly in motion and evolving. Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Maybe, or maybe it’s all about working really hard to find or create the job you love, and then giving it your all.