Career Work Life

Does the Dream Job Exist? How to Find a Career You Love

Because not everyone can be the next Beyoncè.

Adultescence comes with a lot of mental breakdowns. There’s the which-city-should-I-live-in breakdown, the do-my-friends-even-like-me breakdown, and the how-the-heck-am-I-supposed-to-afford-anything breakdown. But perhaps the most common and disheartening breakdown of them all is pursuing the idea of finding your dream job.

What is a Dream Job?

The concept of a dream job isn’t anything new. In fact, you probably spent a good chunk of your childhood envisioning your future occupation. Your parents’ encouragement that you can do anything you set your mind to, coupled with a juvenile optimism made for some wild career aspirations.

A famous singer!

A dog trainer!

A waitress at the Rainforest Cafe!

Dream Job - believe in yourself sign

It was all fair game. You can be anything and do anything you set your mind to. Regardless of how ridiculous these ambitions were, there is one message that likely stuck with you, long after you realized you weren’t going to be the next Britney Spears…

To live a happy life, your career needs to be your dream job.

As a kid, the dream job felt like a guaranteed piece of the abstract puzzle that was your future. In fact, it probably felt harder to imagine a that you’d ever end up in a job that didn’t involve sparkly outfits and teaching animals how to jump through hula hoops. Just us?

But then you learned that being a pop star requires having a good voice, and you sound like a dying cat. And being a dog trainer isn’t the most lucrative of career paths. Unless, of course, you land a spot on Animal Planet. Someone needs to be the next Steve Irwin!

Dream Job - girl singing

Why do we pursue the dream job?

Even as our brains develop and we become more practical, the conflicting societal messages get louder. These platitudes and conventional wisdom around career make us feel like we have to find a job that we absolutely love. You’ve heard the messaging.

“Follow your dreams.”

“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.”

“Do what you love and success will follow. Passion is the fuel behind a successful career.”

It all sounds like such straightforward advice. And it is! Until you realize… you have no idea what you’re passionate about and you couldn’t follow that advice even if you tried.

Dream Job - passion art

Most people’s passions involve a hobby, like art, swimming, or theater. For a lot of twenty-somethings, doing what we love would mean spending our days holed up in our apartments binging Netflix or dropping astronomical amounts of money on trendy dinners. In fact, most of us don’t dream of having a job at all.

All of this leads us to believe that societal messaging around following the dream job is a recipe for an unfulfilling career.

The very thing that is supposed to give us a sense of hope and purpose – finding a passion – is exactly what detracts from achieving it. Instead of feeling jazzed about finding a fulfilling job that checks most of your boxes, you feel guilty and dissatisfied with your current one. After all, how could crunching numbers or working in sales be your life’s purpose?!

Dream Job - fuel your passion sign

Should you follow your passion in your career?

The “follow your passion” advice is not only anxiety-inducing, but wildly impractical. As we mentioned, most of our passions are things that do not translate into a salaried job… unless you become a professional athlete or YouTube vlogger. I think all of us could be passionate about shopping & showing off our hauls for a living.

Cal Newport, author and computer science professor, had this same internal conflict – so much so that he set out on a quest to find answers about how people really end up loving their jobs. He documents his research in the book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You. The book highlights how dangerous the passion advice is, as well as a better approach to finding a compelling career.

“The more I studied the issue, the more I noticed that the passion hypothesis convinces people that somewhere there’s a magic ‘right’ job waiting for them, and that if they find it they’ll immediately recognize that this is the work they were meant to do,” Newport writes. “The problem, of course, is when they fail to find this certainty, bad things follow, such as chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt.”

Chronic job-hopping and crippling self-doubt? Sounds all too familiar.

Dream Job - disappointed worker

Does the Dream Job Exist?

We aren’t sure. But we do know that for those of us who lack clear passions, the pursuit of a passion-driven dream job is torturous.

We feel like somewhere out there we’ll find a job that makes us excited to wake up, doesn’t feel like work, pays super well, is aligned with our life’s purpose and leaves a major impact on the world. By those standards, 99.99% of jobs do not measure up.

The passion-driven career also makes it feel like our job needs to be something more creative and impactful than selling houses or fixing toilets. But there’s no shame in that game!

At least once, we’ve all considered selling our belongings and starting a coffee business in Guatemala. Or joining the Peace Corps. Or going into thousands of dollars of debt and getting our MBA. Or quitting everything and pursuing our side hustle first time. Those might all be great ideas, or they might be setting us up for greater disappointment when we realize they don’t magically solve our desire for a dream job.

Dream Job - computer working

The point is, the pursuit of our dream job can lead many of us to constantly feel horrible about any job that isn’t inherently sexy or has the slightest ounce of drudgery. Society loves to decry 9-5’s and call Corporate America the antithesis of career happiness, but since when are consistent schedules, benefits, and tangible skills a bad career move?!

The pursuit of a dream job is often sold as simple and intuitive. It’s like the overly simplistic relationship advice spouted by mothers everywhere: when you know, you know. That type of messaging is what makes most of us get to our first job after graduating from college and wonder what the heck we’re doing wrong. Why don’t we just know what career is right for us?

Dream Job - passion sign

So… how do I find a job that I love?

In his book, Cal Newport debunks the theory that you should start with a passion when trying to build your dream career.

“Compelling careers often have complex origins that reject the simple idea that all you have to do is follow your passion”, he writes. He offers up the example of Steve Jobs. Had he followed his passion early in life, he would have ended up as a Zen Buddhist, and you wouldn’t be reading this on an iPhone right now.

Instead of following a passion, Newport encourages us to start elsewhere. One theory he points to is the Self-Determination Theory. This states that motivation, in the workplace or elsewhere, requires that you fulfill three basic psychological needs:

  • Autonomy: you have control over your work day.
  • Competence: you’re good at what you do.
  • Relatedness: you experience connection to others.

You can read more about it (and we recommend you do) in his book. Through his research and a number of case studies, he found that the people who experience the most passion for their careers are great at their jobs, and therefore are able to leverage more control over their careers.

Dream Job - So Good They Can't Ignore You
Available on Amazon.

Having a Job You’re Good at is a Dream

It feels good to be good at your job.

The first step to achieving a passionate career is to, you know, try. Many of us feel like our jobs are just temporary stops on the way to some better, more fulfilling career. This mentality can cause us to slack off at any job that’s not the dream job we feel that we’re working towards.

News flash: you’re not going to love a job that you put zero effort into and suck at. This isn’t The Office, and you’re not Kevin.

Any job you’re in can help you develop valuable skills that will be applicable for the next job. Beyond building skills for future jobs, simply being competent at work will make you feel happier. Every job will feel like work, but it will be more fulfilling work if you’re confident in your capabilities.

Dream Job - dream big neon sign

Our Final Thoughts on the Dream Job

If you take anything away from this article, we hope it’s this: stop beating yourself up for not having what you believe is a societally branded dream job.

Many different jobs can end up becoming something you’re passionate about if you invest the time into building your skills. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t leave a job if you’re absolutely miserable, but give everything a chance. Not only could your job turn into something you love with more experience under your belt, but you never know what other career opportunities it could lead you to.

Dream Job - briefcase


By Jess Lohr

Jess is the co-founder of Adultescence, a podcast, blog and social media brand for twenty-somethings making the transition from life in college to adulthood. She writes about dating, friendship, money, and career. She also specializes in consumer insights, and is passionate about helping brands infuse the voice of their customers into their marketing, product, and CX strategies.

In her free time, you can find Jess spinning at The Handle Bar, obsessively consuming personal finance content, and playing with her adorable (but chaotic) puppy, Luca. You can follow her on Instagram @jesslohr or on LinkedIn.

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