Let’s cut to the chase today, because the title of this post is one that I imagine will raise a few eyebrows. Not too long ago, it would have made my own shoot up so fast it’d probably hurt and take a while to put them right again. So why do I think the idea of having a dream job is overrated? Because the people that aren’t working their dream jobs, especially members of the millennial generation, are often led to believe that they’ve somehow failed in a big way.
But that’s not true.
Unfortunately, we tend to view professional success through a really narrow lens. These are two of the most popular understandings of what being successful in a career looks like:
- You are successful if your job is directly related to a personal passion
- You are successful if your position at work pays more than average or offers unique benefits and perks (i.e. you get to travel first-class around the world on your company’s dime)
The problem isn’t that these definitions are bad or wrong – I’d consider myself pretty successful if any of them could be used to describe my day job – but that we tend to believe they are the only definitions of success. Reality check: success and dreams can’t be defined that narrowly.
Millennials are most effected by this narrow way of viewing success – especially when it comes to believing that being successful means holding a dream job. We were the kids that had the idea of “you can be anything when you grow up” beat into our heads. In fact, it was intoned to us so often that the line between that lofty idea and the reality of how the job market and economy works became extremely blurred. We were in for a rude awakening when we streamed out of college classrooms and into the real world, only to find our dream jobs weren’t there waiting for us.
The result was that many of us ended up feeling like we had failed because we didn’t have our dream jobs, and instead were working in plain ol’, unexciting offices for the corporate world. Because we buy into the idea that we should have gotten a job where the work felt more like play, what we’re doing for a living feels wrong.
It’s unfortunate that so many people keep feeling like they’ve failed when they can’t land a job that’s derived from a passion. The idea that everyone should reach for the stars and become anything they want to be is so misguided, and leaves too many people eternally searching for something that can’t be found. We’ve bought into the hype and we tend to look at dream jobs with rose-colored glasses, and we miss all the reasons why they’re overrated:
- They don’t pay well. Sure, money isn’t everything – but access to more money means the ability to save and invest more, which in turn grants you more freedom (something that’s more valuable than even a dream job).
- Dream job or average job, work is work. In fact, the saying that goes something like, “choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life” is a flat-out lie. You might believe it if you’re not currently doing work you’re absolutely in love with, but anyone who does enjoy their job will tell you it’s still work.. and often it’s harder, more stressful, and more time-consuming that what us desk jockeys have to handle.
- Dream jobs have a grass-is-greener complex. From the outside looking in, a certain position may seem completely different than the reality of working that job day in and day out. It can often be less saving-the-world and more pushing-papers-like-the-rest-of-us.
- Dreams change, and constantly pursing them may lead to a permanent state of dissatisfaction if you’re constantly chasing the next big thing – or your next ideal career.
- No one thing can bring 100% fulfillment to your life, and that includes a job. Holding a dream job is a great step towards happiness, but it’s not the whole picture. In order to be fulfilled, you’ll still need great relationships, interests that engage you, and experiences and memories you treasure.
Everything comes with pros and cons. Dream jobs are no exception, so stop beating yourself up if you’re not working in yours. It is okay if your purpose is derived from a source separate from your job. It’s okay if your work and your fun are separate. Dream jobs aren’t the answer to all life’s problems, and they’re not the only paths to success.
For everyone out there who isn’t working their dream job right now, let me share something with you. You are still meaningful. You are still a valuable member of society. And there are lots of reasons why you’re doing awesome. Because you’re successful too if your current job..
- ..allows you to provide for yourself or your family
- ..helps someone else or provides a much-appreciated service
- ..provides enough security to safely experiment with side hustles or alternate ways of making money (by having a secure, full-time job, the risk of trying a new venue is lessened; you have something solid to fall back on if things don’t work out)
- ..offers a new, different circle of friends via coworkers
- ..gives you benefits in addition to your paycheck, like employer-sponsored (and matched) retirement funds, paid time off and/or sick leave, and discounts or freebies with products or services
With all that being said, please understand that I’m not advocating for anyone to not pursue a dream or a job they love. You should definitely try if it’s something that engages and excites you! I’m working on my own dream right now; I’d love to have my freelance writing business become my full-time job. But if it never becomes full-time work, that’s okay – I still appreciate my average, regular office job because of all it allows me to do. I try to be grateful every day for my 9-to-5. It’s a very far cry from a dream job, and yet it is still enabling me to work at making my dreams come true.
It’s important for millennials (and members of other generations) to understand that we are not failures if we’re not working our dream jobs. We have not come up short if we haven’t yet figured out how to make money off of a passion. Where we work is merely one part of who we are and what our lives look like. The regular 9-to-5s can provide us with so much, and so can all the other interesting, fun, engaging stuff we do with our lives when we’re off work.
Regardless of your job, you are important. You are multifaceted, and it is perfectly acceptable for your passions to take many different forms. Dream jobs are overrated, and they’re not the only indicators of what career success looks like for Generation Y. Stop spending so much time worrying about whether or not you’ve somehow failed if you don’t have yours, or don’t have it yet.
Because the truth is, you haven’t failed. Not one bit.