Let’s talk about “the one”. “I want to find my “dream job”” is probably the most popular sentence I hear as a life and career coach. (Hint, there is no such thing). We are so focused on finding that “dream job” because it’s a story that’s been ingrained since childhood. Or even before we were born! We’re asked, from a very early age, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” and most of us say things like, “An astronaut painter racecar driver!” Adults giggle and tell us how interesting that is and move on.
As adults, somewhere between SAT prep and our first apartment on our own, we start to let go of the idea that we can be anything, and start to crack down on becoming “one thing”. We search for the right major in college, the “dream job” that ticks all the boxes. The job that will make us feel like we’re making an impact and offer us financial security and allow us free time to travel and afford us the ability to spend time with our loved ones and intellectually challenge us and is fun and we love to wake up every morning and….
You see my point. Many of my clients feel stuck on their job being the thing that defines their sense of purpose. They believe that there is one thing out there that they’re supposed to be doing and then, and only then, it will finally click.
Expectations vs. Reality
One of my favorite philosophers, Alain de Botton, argues that it is necessary for us as humans to lower our expectations of the life partner that we choose.
In one of his talks, he shares how usually, before being in a relationship, we all are quite content with having different types of relationships. The friend you go out with on a Saturday night. The friend to which you tell all your deepest secrets. Your work best friend that you only see during work and the eventual happy hour. The friend you travel with. The one you can actually live with. And the friend you go to the gym with.
We never expect one friend to be all of these things for us. But somehow, when we’re looking for a partner, we expect that they fulfill every single role. And that’s when a lot of relationships fail.
De Botton argues that, “We need to swap the Romantic view for a tragic (and at points comedic) awareness that every human will frustrate, anger, annoy, madden and disappoint us. And we will (without any malice) do the same to them.”
And I believe that the same thought can be applied to our jobs.
For most of us, our childhood is spent doing many things. We go to school, play a sport or two, maybe an instrument, we spend time with friends, draw and read, and play video games. We are physically, intellectually, and emotionally stimulated by the variety of activities we take part in.
As adults, we struggle with the same unrealistic expectations that if we were to just find our “dream job”, we will be fulfilled and happy forever. Let’s break this down a little bit… Would you trust an 18-year-old you to make very important decisions for a 45-year-old you? Probably not. So why do we expect ourselves to do that when it comes to our careers?
How to let go of the “Dream Job”
It might be an unpopular opinion, but I’m here to tell you that the “dream job” doesn’t exist. Yes, there are good jobs, bad jobs, great jobs, and terrible jobs – but no such thing as a dream job.
That means the power is in your hands to create a fulfilling career and life that you love. Here are three tips to help you put that power to good use:
#1. Rewrite the narrative
“What do you do” is one of the worst conversation starters in the world. It immediately reinforces the story that 1) what you do for work is the most important thing about you and 2) you need to have a clear and concise answer to this question. These narratives perpetuate the belief that we must all find a “dream job”, and it’s time to rewrite that narrative.
What would you want remembered or known for? How do you want to describe yourself to people? What brings you the most joy? What things make you forget that time exists? Focus on those and start to rewrite your narrative around success, career, and life. What does success mean to you and how does it encompass every part of your life?
#2. Develop a growth mindset
The way we view ourselves and our abilities has a substantial impact on how well we perform or how much we achieve. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has studied and synthesized her research insights about two kinds of mindsets in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success: a fixed and a growth mindset.
According to Dweck, people with a fixed mindset “believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits.” They believe that they are either inherently “dumb” or “smart” and there is no way to change this. People with fixed mindsets tend to avoid challenges and tend to think or say things such as “I will never be able to do this” when they face failure.
A lot of my clients get stuck right at the beginning of exploration because they can’t imagine themselves being good at anything else besides what they already do. Their fixed mindset gets in the way of trying new things and taking risks, and causes them to hold on tightly to the idea of one “dream job” because opening up the door to new possibilities seems impossible.
In contrast, “in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment,” shares Dweck. Fostering a growth mindset can help release the pressure from any one job needing to give you everything you want. If you believe you are capable of growing, learning new things, and taking on new challenges, how can your current job situation look different? What other things would you be doing and what risks would you be willing to take?
#3. Be a hummingbird
Whenever you see a hummingbird floating about, going from flower to flower and exploring seemingly aimlessly, do you scoff and say “Hmph that hummingbird just doesn’t know how to pick his ‘dream flower’?” Probably not. I’m guessing you stare at it in awe or point out that there’s a hummingbird floating around.
So why do we huff and puff about ourselves and our career trajectories? I say, be a hummingbird. Explore, follow your curiosities, and float around to see what is out there.
In her book, I Could Do Anything if I only Knew What It Was, Barbara Sher shares a fun exercise to plan an alternative type of life with a hummingbird mindset.
She first asks, “If you had 10 lives, instead of one what would those ten lives be?” (examples: a photographer, DJ, a world traveler, a chef, a pilot). Then she asks the individual to list out the following:
- Which life can you devote yourself to this year?
- And which life can you do after life #1 is complete?
- Which life can you do for 20 minutes each day?
- What lives can you do on the weekend?
- Which lives can you do every once in a while?
What do your 10 lives look like?
There is so much power in redefining the definition of career success. Instead of hitting your head against the wall trying to match a definition created by others, I encourage you to explore, play, and rewrite what it means to be successful for you. We’re here if you need help! Remember that no one is living this life but you, so it’s up to you to make it worthwhile!