Let’s talk about dream jobs.
You’ll probably never have one. In fact, the whole concept of a “dream job” is mostly a load of bullshit. Not entirely, but mostly.
I’m sorry if that isn’t what you wanted to hear. I’m sorry if you wanted me to tell you that with enough hustle, grit, perseverance, Gary Vaynerchuck books and magic fairy dust, you, too, can find that coveted dream job that feeds your soul and ignites your passion and pays six figures and is never boring or mundane and doesn’t even feel like work at all.
Well, maybe you have a shot if your passion is selling unrealistic promises to other people who are desperate to earn six figures off their passion… But I digress. In any case, I have yet to see any of these self-help gurus acknowledge the two cruel yet fundamental truths that make it so hard to find work that truly nourishes us and pays our bills:
- We live in an industrialized, globalized, hypercapitalist system that treats human beings as commodities, and we must find a way to make a living, somehow, within that system.
- This system does not really know how to value those parts of ourselves that we find most worthwhile and enriching, and sometimes it actively works to devalue them. So we must find ways to honor them whether or not they earn us a living.
So here’s the real talk no one wants to admit:
You probably won’t earn a great living by following your passion. You’ll probably always need a day job. If you do go into business for yourself, you probably still won’t get to spend much time doing what you love because you’ll be too busy running a business.
I’m sorry. I really am. It sucks. The system is messed up, and it wasn’t designed with our hopes and dreams in mind.
But… there’s a kind of freedom in learning how to gaze upon the unvarnished truth, however cruel. There’s a kind of freedom in recognizing that most of us need to earn a living and that our ability to earn a good one is drastically circumscribed by a system that cares more about profit and efficiency than it cares about human flourishing.
How could it possibly be freeing to know this? Because it means we can let go of the notion that our job is the primary measure of our worth. It means we can acknowledge the need to earn a living, do what we must to earn it, and move through our days unencumbered by the belief that we have failed if we do not love our work. It means, most of all, that we can begin to construct our own definition of what it means to live well because we see the flaws of the definition that has been handed to us.
And when we begin to approach our work in this way, a very funny thing happens. It loses some of its heaviness. The unpleasant parts — and all work has unpleasant parts, even so-called dream jobs — begin to soften. We stop striving so hard to become more, more, more, and begin to see that we are already enough. We discover that, whatever our job, we have a thousand different opportunities to bring forth meaning and service and yes, even love every single day.
There is always an opportunity to do good work. There is always an opportunity to serve. There is always an opportunity to make one small difference for someone else.
And isn’t that what we seek in our constant pursuit of dream jobs? Meaning, love, purpose, validation that we matter, that what we do is worthwhile? Yet all these things and more are already in front of us… as soon as we stop looking so very hard for them!
This may sound like an excuse to give up on your dreams, but I assure you, it isn’t. If anything, letting go of the need for a dream job is one of the most powerful awakenings available to us in modern life.
Letting go allows us to see the cruelties of the world without descending into cynicism or buying into delusions of grandeur. Letting go clears away the fog of someone else’s definition of success. Letting go eliminates the need to compare ourselves to others.
Letting go sets us free to do our most important work.
And we discover this work not by searching, not by forming perfect lists in our head and seeking to check all the boxes but by plunging wholeheartedly into whatever is in front of us. This is how we become who we’re meant to be. This is how we get to know our own power. This is how we find the meaning we so hungrily seek — by creating it out of whatever mess we happen to be in.
When you discover your most important work (and it’s OK if it takes you some time to do this — it takes most of us years, and it has a way of changing at different points in our lives), you will find opportunities to do it. You will find opportunities in your job and with your friends and in your free time because this work, whether it’s creating or crafting or connecting or something else entirely, will call to you everywhere.
You will do it because you have no choice. Because you cannot imagine living any other way.
And you won’t care about cliches like “dream jobs” and “following your passion” because you’ll guided by the beat of your own inner drum.
And that will be all that matters.