In school, we get asked: ‘What do you want to do with your life?’ That question usually means: ‘What do you want to do for work?’ We are encouraged to foster a dream for our career and to make any manner of sacrifices to achieve that dream.
I have always cherished to idea of finding my dream job. A job where I feel excited to go to work every day, where I can make a difference in the world, and where I am 100% fulfilled. I am passionate about the environment and social justice, and for years I have wanted to work in this area.
But it’s really difficult to find paid social justice work. I could spend years trying to build up experience, perfecting my skills, and still not get any long term paid work in the field. This is probably true for a lot of the ‘dream jobs’.
I have recently gotten back into volunteering on environmental issues, and the joy this work has given me has made me reflect on my motivations. I have realised that I had conflated two things together: wanting to follow a passion, and needing to get paid. These two things don’t have to go together. Our society perpetuates the idea of a ‘dream job’, but it’s not realistic.
For a lot of people, what they enjoy doing is not something that pays well, if at all! It might be art, or activism, or bird-watching, or travel. Some people do find work in these areas, but a lot of others miss out.
The idea of a dream job also devalues the work that people do despite the fact that it is not their passion. Many people find themselves needing to do boring, difficult, and uninspiring work just to survive and to support a family. The ‘dream job’ narrative would have us believe that those people are just not trying hard enough to reach their dream.
I will no longer buy into the idea of the ‘dream job’. I have realised that, for me, if I am passionate about something, then it has value in my life regardless of whether I might one day get paid to do it. Maybe one day I will find a job that I love and am passionate about, but if not, it doesn’t mean I have given up on my dream. It’s just that my dream and my career are not one and the same, and there’s nothing wrong with that.