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Dream Jobs Are Overrated

September 21, 2021
4 min read

I’ve been working as a Management Consultant for the last 4.5 years (quick aside – if you’re wondering what we do, watch this video). This is my first job out of college. I wanted to go into consulting because I believed in the idea that I’d get exposure to and experience in a bunch of different industries, and then after 2-3 years, I’d find the one thing that I was truly passionate about, and that would lead me to my dream job.

Interestingly enough, I do think that I’ve found a job that I really like (hey boo @Chezie), but it didn’t come from my work experience. Rather, I realized that I wanted to create career opportunities for other minorities after doing some diversity student recruiting at my alma mater. That’s a story for another day.

My youngest sister graduated college in May of 2020, and she’s had a tougher time getting her career footing. Things are definitely looking up now, but she and I have had multiple conversations about the concept of a dream job and the many issues that come with that way of thinking.

A dream job is unrealistic

One of my new favorite podcasts is Call Your Girlfriend. Hosted by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, the show is centered around the idea of relationships. The episode topics vary, but one of the themes is that we put too much pressure on certain relationships, specifically the relationships that we have with our romantic partners. They argue that it’s unfair to expect one person to be your everything. Your partner shouldn’t be your best friend and the person that makes you laugh and the person you can cry with and the person that knows all your secrets and the person you raise kids with and the person you admire the most.

I think that we unfairly put this same pressure on our jobs. This is probably an oversimplification, but bear with me. Let’s say that there are three things that everyone wants out of a job:

  1. Meaningful and impactful work
  2. Fair compensation (not necessarily high compensation, because not everyone is concerned with making a lot of money, but we all want to be paid what we are worth)
  3. Good work-life balance

It’s safe to say that most jobs will not give you all three. In my own job as a Consultant, I’d say that I have 1.5 of these. I’d also say that a good job is one that gives you two out of the three.

Here are two examples:

  1. Medical doctors do meaningful work and are paid well, but many of them don’t have great work-life balance (8pm-8am shifts? Yeah, nah.).
  2. Teachers do meaningful work, and have what I think is a decent work-life balance, but as we’ve seen in the past year of the pandemic with all of these parents trying to home school their kids, teachers aren’t paid what they’re worth.

The thing is, most people would look at doctors and teachers and think “those people are in their dream jobs; they’re doing what they want to do.” This may be true on the surface, but I would bet good money that both teachers and doctors can list a number of things that they wish they got out of their jobs that they just don’t.

This is important to consider because it shows that even the jobholders that we typically think of when we discuss dream jobs aren’t 100% happy with the work they do. Does this mean that they aren’t great careers? No. It just means that they don’t meet the fantastic requirements that most of us put on our work.

Reframing our thinking

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

We’ve been conditioned to think that our careers are supposed to check every single box and provide us with this overwhelming sense of fulfillment. That’s unfair. Instead of always searching for our dream jobs, we should start looking for light-sleeper jobs or REM-jobs…

*sent in invisible ink* You laughed at that didn’t you? It’s okay. My dad jokes are really good.

In all seriousness, if we start to rethink the idea of a dream job, I actually think that we’d generally be a lot happier with the work that we do. There’s always going to be something that you don’t like about your job, and there are always going to be days that you wake up and aren’t super excited to go to work.

Let’s move away from thinking that one job is going to be everything that we need it to be. All this does is leave us with a disappointing feeling that we aren’t where we should be in our careers, which leads us to resent our jobs and the people that we work with.

Instead, if you realize that your job isn’t doing everything that you need it to, figure out how you can fill that gap outside of work. If you aren’t paid enough, think about what you’re good at and see if you can find a side hustle for some supplemental income. If the work you do isn’t fulfilling, find a charity or non-profit that serves a cause that you’re passionate about, and volunteer your time with that organization.

Focusing on being content

A dream job is nice in theory, but realistically, it’s impractical to think that your 9-5 will meet all of your financial, personal, and emotional desires. I am sure that there are people out there who have everything that they want and need from their jobs, but they are the exception and not the rule.

Move away from these unreasonable expectations, and move towards being happy with your work and identifying ways to fill in the holes elsewhere. You’ll probably be more content and grateful for the job you have.

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