Debunking dream jobs

Although I doubt it comes as a surprise, your first job more than likely isn’t going to be your dream job (and if it is, it’s really likely that your dream is going to change). Most emerging adults these days are more than aware of that fact, and a job at all is great, while a job in one’s field is pretty sweet.

My very first “real job” (aka not babysitting) was working at the call center at my college. I worked part time in the evenings calling potential donors, and it sucked. My co-workers were great, but asking a bunch of people who usually didn’t want to be bothered to give money over the phone usually isn’t a recipe for a fun experience. Sometimes people would be kind or chat for a bit, some people would be irritable or angry, and sometimes the computer would accidentally dial a fax machine and an insanely loud tone would blare through the headset. Understandably, I didn’t stay there super long.

My first paid full-time job is the one I’m in now. It is, thankfully, infinitely better than the call center. Pay is good, I like my co-workers, and the work is something I’m both skilled at and decently enjoy. But like any job, it’s not perfect. My desk is in a weird spot and my work is super feast or famine — I’ll be slammed with a bunch of assignments, and then may have nothing come my way for multiple hours. I still do side jobs now and then for the extra income, and I honestly have no idea how long I want to stay in this role.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a job I’m both happy with and super grateful for — but dream job? Like any other little kid, growing up I went through a host of jobs I thought I wanted to do when I grew up, from waitress to teacher to writer to grocery store bagger (and yes, the last one is for real). But here’s the thing: Just like how what a little kid wants to be when they grow up often changes, your dream job can and probably will change as an adult too.

One of the most noticeable differences in terms of career with today’s emerging adults when compared to generations past is that we don’t start working with one company and then stay there for 40 or 10 or sometimes even 2 years. Today’s culture means each of us will likely change jobs and even career paths multiple times. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person will hold more than 11 jobs in their lifetime. That’s kind of a lot. But the moral of the story is simple. Don’t freak out if you don’t know what you want to do for the rest of your life. Don’t freak out if your first job isn’t the dream. And don’t freak out if your dream changes over time. (Are you sensing a trend here?)

In his book Outliers, which is about what patterns contributes to success, Malcolm Gladwell explains that there are three necessary characteristics for meaningful work: complexity, autonomy, and a clear relationship between effort and reward.

Not every job out there is going to fulfill all those things for you. And a job that does for one person may not for another; you are perfectly allowed to have your cup of tea. But if you’re still trying to navigate jobs and career paths — which in truth, is most of us — it can be a really helpful tool to see if the work will feel meaningful while being less intimidating (and less potentially misleading) than “Is this what I want to do with the rest of my life?”

Try some stuff you’re good at. If you’re still in college, take classes or do internships in things that interest you. Do research online. If you know exactly what you want to do, awesome. But if you’re still figuring it out, or realize what you want to do has changed, that’s totally okay. I still love bagging my own groceries, but that’s no longer my career aspiration, ya know? I hope that was helpful, and I’d love to hear any feedback you have in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

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