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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Everything You Know About Finding Your Dream Job Is Wrong (and That's Good!)

Everyone’s looking for the proverbial “dream job.” The place where money flows like water and happiness falls like rain. But finding a position with a perfect balance between passion and payment can feel unattainable.

While you can’t beat an inspired job seeker for enthusiasm and work ethic, unchecked idealism can sometimes stifle a healthy career progression. Sayings like “find what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” make you think you there’s something wrong if, despite being really happy at your job you still think it’s work. You’ll end up dragging out your search because you don’t want to settle for something that doesn’t check absolutely every single box on your list.

In other words, these misconceptions get in your way, negatively affecting your career outlook and motivation. So, let’s break these fables down—the helpful parts you can use, and the not-so-helpful facets you’re better off ignoring.

“There’s Only One Dream Job for Me”

Are you the same person you were 10 years ago? No? Then why would you assume you’ll love the same work in your forties as you did in your twenties? Maybe you will, and that’s completely OK—but for the rest of us, passions, priorities, and outlooks will change as we gain new experiences and add more candles to the birthday cake.

I learned this early on as my parents’ careers spanned classical music, the armed services, education, law and, high tech. With each career shift, I learned that a dream job is something that challenges you and forces you to learn and grow as a person. You didn’t do anything wrong if the job you loved three years ago no longer lights you up, it just means you’ve grown and ready for something new.

Rather than feeling bad that you’ve changed, reflect on what parts of your past jobs—no matter how big or small—you’ve enjoyed and why you enjoyed them. This helps you to identify a pattern of the types of jobs you’ll love, rather than restricting you to one field forever.

With that said, don’t ditch an entire field because of one bad experience. There are different kinds of managers, teammates, colleagues and companies that can make or break your dream experience.

“It Won’t Feel Like Work”

I get the idea of this proverb: When you find something you enjoy doing, you’ll enjoy “working.” That’s just not true. Every job has a downside and no work week is totally perfect. Tedious tasks need to get completed and tax forms will always be due.

As someone who once lived the “ultimate” lifestyle as a travel blogger, I get that just because it looks fun doesn’t mean it is. Holding a camera with a broken arm, standing for hours getting the perfect camera angle, and having every travel experience documented for the world, were just a few of the things that made that job not nearly the fantasy it appeared to be to my followers.

In any position, you should focus on the aspects you enjoy. For example, I loved traveling a great deal and still travel all the time for my job now. Sure travel blogging felt like work, but it was still an awesome time in my life. Don’t discount something exciting because of the less fun responsibilities. All jobs require some actual “work.” Don’t believe me? Ask these gaming testers.

“My Passion Will Pay My Bills”

Clarity around what you love doing is worthwhile. But identifying your passion doesn’t automatically lead to a paycheck. Work experience nearly always trumps a bright-eyed interviewee with three pages of big ideas. Before you apply to a role with little more than enthusiasm to your name, take the time to build skills—even if that means paying your bills through a less inspiring day job in the meantime.

There are so many ways these days to get that experience: You can take online courses to beef up your experience, you can volunteer at a nonprofit to get more hands-on responsibility , or you can even take an internship on top of your full-time position (really!).

For example, at my company now, there are lots of people who want to learn to code. The people who get moved into that department are the ones who commit to formal (code school or online courses) or informal (volunteer work or a book about HTML or CSS) learning after stating their intention. The short version: If you’re passionate about something, the hiring manager wants to see you put your money (or time) where you mouth is.

Don’t get discouraged if you fail to get a job because you lack experience. That part can be gained. Let it drive you forward, and remember passion doesn’t equate to practice.

“A Successful Career Path Is Linear”

How many times have you heard from entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and academics that they “never expected to be here?” Even successful people work unrelated jobs in a variety of fields.

The journey to loving what you do is rarely a straight line. Market shifts, company mismatches, and personal revelations all impact career paths. Each job along your journey has an impact on your eventual destination (e.g., You never know when the skills you learned selling Girl Scout cookies will help you confidently cold call customers later in life or when the database you learned at your first job will be required in a future role).

This is why you should look at every position as the learning experience it is. You may find yourself working in many fields, each fulfilling you in a different way. What matters is that you build skills in each role, you never know how you’ll be able to apply them.

Don’t confuse going back with going backward. If you career path is winding, it may be that after trying out a few different roles, you decide to circle back to the field you first interned in. This doesn’t mean the years you spent doing something else were a waste: In fact, they showed you what it is you really want to do.

Your dream job doesn’t have to be the stuff of, well, dreams. While the perfect mix of industry, position, staff, and income may never hit triple-A ratings across the board, that’s not to say you cant be simultaneously happy and successful. By redefining what an ideal role truly is, you’ll be that much closer to finding one.

Photo of person looking out window courtesy of Martin Barraud/Getty Images.

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