What Even Is a Dream Job? Themes, Gaps and Some Inspiration

Time and experience are often accompanied by better understanding, growth, lessons and self-awareness. I was interested in evaluating the concept of dream jobs across multiple generations with an assumption that themes would positively correlate with age and life experience.

What even IS a dream job?

Business Insider put it well – “Some think it’s about earning a fat paycheck or being offered great benefits; others believe it involves having a good work-life balance, the ability to help others, or the chance to make the world a better place.” 

I think we could all agree:

  1. There’s no universal definition of a dream job.
  2. A dream job is subjective.
  3. It’s all about your perspective: the lens through which you see the world.
Haley – Baby Photog

Where the idea came from… 

My first blog post talks about how I’ve scored my ‘dream job.’ After thinking about it more, I questioned my authenticity. The term is thrown around arbitrarily. Is this my dream job? Did I just say that for click-bait? I reflected, researched and reexamined, and here we are.

Who else cares? 

I ‘surveyed’ friends, family, and mutual connections to come up with a total of 30 responses on what a dream job means.

Age distribution, but simplified: Two teenagers, twenty 20-somethings, four 30-somethings, and three 40-somethings.

50% of respondents are 20-25 years old. This makes sense! I am 22 and my social media followers would likely reflect that. Also, this age group is hyperactive in the job search. With minimal experience in navigating the professional world, these thoughts are prevalent.

Notice: Roughly 40% of respondents are currently attending or have recently graduated from a college or university. Can ya tell it consumes our brains?

“The survey says…”

The survey says a lot. In order to digest it all and highlight each individual’s uniqueness, I broke it down.

Category Breakdown

Respondents that specified a title: 11

While they may not have described the nuances within the job, they all attached one or more passions to it. From author, to neurosurgeon, to life coach, to teacher, some people are dreaming big and others are already making strides to get there.

Respondents that answered conceptually: 9

If I were a respondent, I’d live here. Call it open-minded or call it confused – these are the people who could find their dream job in many different places.

Respondents that mentioned an industry: 10

After finding high variation across those who were industry-specific, I broke this down further. The subcategories are Concept, Passion and Both. The provided examples will better illustrate the nuances.

Concept (2): Kaylee (21) would love to work in the Marketing field. With that, she’d dream for autonomy over [her] schedule, the ability to express [her] creativity every day, and the opportunity to work remotely someday.”

Passion (4): Julie (47) wants to take care of the elderly once her children depend on her less. She feels that “they’re a generation that’s widely overlooked. They deserve to live out their final years with dignity.”

Both (4): Rob (23) has always dreamed of being a high school Spanish teacher [title], and he got it. “If I’m being honest, my dream job has always changed based on my experiences. Ideally, I want to work with students at any capacity… Being only 23 though and accomplishing one of my biggest goals just makes me want to accomplish more – so my dream job definitely keeps changing.”

Gaps and Limitations

Opposite ends of the spectrum

While some respondents believe a dream job is ever-changing, others feel it entails specific criteria. Where one might wish to make as much money as possible in the least amount of time, another would choose to work for minimal money in exchange for happiness. 

Travel only mentioned twice

Maybe the travel mentality has been tainted by the pandemic, or maybe Americans just aren’t ~global~ enough. 

Renee (23) has a role in which she currently travels across the States. In addition to her dream factors such as a supportive work environment and “fat paycheck,” she has time between travel to rest at home.

Carolien (22) is from the Netherlands and is my only international respondent. Her concept of a dream job is centered around sailing the world while earning money along her voyage by helping people in need. 

Demographics

  1. I only asked for age and gender, though there are other immeasurable factors that can contribute to one’s perspective of a dream job – current job satisfaction, education level, cultural background, religious beliefs, etc.
  2. Within the age range of 17-47, some years lack representation.
  3. I approached this large topic super casually, but there’s room for formal research in my opinion.

Themes and Trends

Concepts

Below, I’ve featured some responses that highlight the gist of the conceptual group. 

The Journey

Respondents with convoluted backgrounds seemed to be more at peace with the journey. Lexy, Tori and Meg have all had “untraditional” college paths.

Lexy changed majors more times than I can count, Tori went from a major in Digital Forensics to Early Ed/Special Ed, and Meg eventually went back to school to pursue her Master’s in School Counseling. None of them expressed regret for starting over again, despite getting thrown off track. 

Finding THE Dream Job

As the noble Kelly Clarkson once said, “some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this.” 

Dawn, who finished school in her 40s to become a Hospice Nurse, is one of the lucky ones. “Not many people understand my love for Hospice. Honestly, sometimes I don’t either. It’s a job that found me and I am blessed to have been found.”

Only 6.67% (2/30) of my extremely important, credible survey found their dream job. Stay focused and visualize it now. Eventually, some version of your dream job is bound to manifest.

Why should you care?

If you’re feeling lost…

Let this serve as a reminder that you are not alone. Most people are figuring it out as they go. It is okay if you don’t land the most glamorous job right out of college or by a certain age. Give yourself grace!

If you’re longing for direction…

The five-year plan can wait. We don’t have control over anything, really *insert nervous laugh.* Take it one day at a time and take baby steps to visualize your future.

And if you’re seeking more tips on navigating post-grad life, check out my recent post!

If you’re a manager…

Let your employees express themselves and find their passions within the company! Everyone will be happier and more productive.

Why do so many people hate their jobs? Because employers work with the age-old model that all workers are lazy and financial incentives are the key to motivation. By removing meaning from work, you inadvertently make people more miserable.

Disclaimer: some of my thoughts were inspired by the pros. For more on this topic, check out this episode of the Happiness Lab. 

If you’re scared to make the jump…

Are you scared to switch your major? Leave your job for something better? Pursue a degree? In my most confusing college years, I stumbled upon a quote that I had to hang in my room.

“Never feel guilty for starting again.” -Rupi Kaur

This quote has everything to do with your mindset. My dream job has everything to do with my mindset.

Where do I stand?

Growing up, I wanted to get paid doing what I loved most.

Haley of Yesterdays

Age 3-7: *An artist. I’ll paint with my fingers and do it for fun.*

Haley – Baby Painter

Age 8-10: *Still an artist, but a sophisticated one.*

Age 11-18: *Regardless of what I do, I want to land myself in a creative space. Maybe painting ain’t it, but interior design? Architecture? Graphic Design?*

Haley of WCU

College changed it all for me. I declared Marketing primarily due to my interest in the field, and partly to do with my fears of calculus and being the staple art major (no shade – I’m still jealous of how cool you all are). Marketing would provide job security. Marketing would be my dream job.

My perspective shifted based on conversations I had with role models, mentors and peers. For instance, I joined New Student Programs and met many driven students like me, then questioned my Marketing “dream job” in exchange for a role in higher education. 

Later, I enrolled in an Honors class called Leadership and the Good Life where we discussed the purpose of life. I questioned everything after that course. Whew. I even went through a period of resistance to the idea of Corporate America, then I fell in love with my QVC internship. 

Allison, Kate & I touring QVC live set

Haley of Today

My dream job will continue to change with the seasons of my life. 

Right now, it is one where I can be my authentic self. At the very least, my opinions are considered and my creativity is recognized. There’s no limit as to what I can learn each day in the role or in the field.

I don’t have to worry about the balancing act of work vs. the rest of my world, because I’m given autonomy over my schedule. I’m trusted to get tasks done without a hovering boss or a rigid schedule. I’m encouraged to consider my physical, mental and emotional well-being before even checking my work email in the morning.

My dawgs and I doing yoga ‘on the job’

I feel seen. I feel valuable. I feel excited. I feel aligned.

According to Dr. Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale and host of the Happiness Lab, research shows that any job can turn into a calling if you bring the right mindset.

I agree, Doc. This mindset got me to where I am today. This mindset got me my dream job.

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