When I was little, it felt like adults knelt down in front of me and asked, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” nearly every chance they got. And, like most little kids, my answer changed approximately every half-hour.
A veterinarian, pilot, hairdresser, teacher, Broadway star, nurse, a veterinarian again, and finally a baker. But, not just any baker—a baker who makes exclusively chocolate chip cookies. What can I say? I was a strange kid.
Today, I find that I’m often asked a similar question, just in a slightly different form. “What’s your dream job?” People pose this prompt frequently, assuming that I have an entire canned speech ready to whip out at a moment’s notice.
But, typically my response goes a little more like, “Uhhhh…I have no idea.”
Of course, I have some ideas. A certified puppy snuggler, expert blanket hog, or professional taco taster sound like decent career paths, for instance. But—let’s be honest—if I spewed out those answers in response to this dreaded question, I’d just be laughed at.
Don’t get me wrong. As a freelance writer, I definitely like what I do right now. I never loathe getting out of bed each morning and sitting in front of my computer to crank out some work. But, if I had to close my eyes and picture the career of my wildest fantasies, would this be it? Well, I don’t know.
Needless to say, coming up short with an answer to that standard question about my career aspirations doesn’t make me feel too great. In fact, it can make me feel downright unmotivated—like I’m not working toward anything. I’m not dreaming big enough. I’m not making any steps to reach a final goal.
However, I’ve actually found that not having a fantasy career in mind doesn’t automatically qualify me as a fumbling idiot without any ambition or direction. In fact, I’ve discovered quite a few plus sides to not having one position that’s at the very end of my career tunnel with a big, bold, beaming ring of light around it.
What do I mean? Well, allow me to explain a few of the benefits.
For starters, not having this concept consistently lingering in the back of my mind allows me to feel more content with my current situation on a daily basis. I have many friends and acquaintances who never feel really happy with their careers. They’re simply biding time until they can eventually move on to something that pushes them a little bit closer to their end game. They never allow themselves to feel settled or even somewhat satisfied, because they’re too preoccupied with trying to wrap their pinky finger around that next rung of the ladder.
On that same token, those people who allow their thoughts to be consumed by the position of their fantasies are often just setting themselves up for disappointment. You’ve heard the horror stories about those career-driven people who spend their entire professional lives working toward that dream gig—only to eventually find themselves in that seat, and then discover that they don’t really like it all that much. Remember, there really is no such thing as a perfect job—even if you do believe it’s made out of cotton candy, clouds, and rainbows.
What else? My lack of a dream gig means that I’m more flexible. Sure, I’m no longer that little kid who hops back and forth between wanting to be a veterinarian or a hairdresser every two minutes. But, I’m still human—things (including my thoughts, desires, and circumstances) change.
What I wanted two years ago isn’t necessarily what I want today. And, what I want today probably isn’t going to be at the top of my priority list one year from now. I constantly make choices and adapt to the situations currently in front of me. But, I can’t help but to think that these sudden alterations and total changes in direction would feel a lot more devastating and detrimental if I felt like they were impeding on my end goal—that elusive dream job. I’d be so rigid and singular-focused, I just wouldn’t be willing to bend.
Finally, the idea of having this in general seems a little too all-consuming to me—like I need to wait for that piece to fall into place, and then I can finally be happy. And, if I don’t eventually land that coveted gig, my entire life was a waste and a failure. But, as Muse writer Stacey Gawronski explained in her article on personal branding, I’m so much more than just my career or “brand.”
Yes, I’m a writer. But, I think that I have a few titles that are just as (if not more) important than that—like wife, daughter, sister, friend, and pseudo-mom to the cutest, scruffiest terrier mutt on the planet. Yes, I can crank out a pretty decent article. But, I have plenty of other skills and interests outside of my career that I don’t want to be completely discounted, forgotten, and overshadowed. Because, you guys, I make some pretty good banana bread too.
Just because I haven’t scored (or even identified) the title that’ll thrill me all the time, doesn’t mean I’m not successful and—most importantly—happy. My career is really just one piece of a big, somewhat complicated puzzle.
So, if you’re like me, you might draw a total blank when someone probes you with the infamous, “What’s your dream job?” question. But, I don’t think you need to feel bad about that. In fact, I think you should feel good about it.
You’re not floundering and unmotivated. You’re not lacking direction and ambition. Instead, you’re content. You’re taking things one day at a time. And, if you ask me, that’s the best way to be.
Do you have a “dream job” that you’ve set your sights on? Or, are you just taking your career day by day like me? Let me know your thoughts on Twitter!
Photo of woman thinking courtesy of Shutterstock.
TopicsThe Ultimate Guide to Figuring Out What You Want to Do , Syndication , Dream Job , Career Paths , Finding Your Passion
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life. In addition to writing for The Muse, she's also the Career Editor for The Everygirl, a columnist for Inc., and a contributor all over the web. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her rescued terrier mutt or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author