I suspect there are two types of “dream jobs.” One is clearly identifiable, charted by a 4-year pre-professional degree, followed by a 4-year training, followed by a 2-year specialty. And voila, you’re an orthopedic surgeon! It might not be a university track but these dream jobs have names. When you say “fireman,” nobody looks at you funny.
Then there’s the nubby dream jobs. They don’t have sharp edges and clearly defined silhouettes. They slip and slide between vocations, and inhabit the hidden crevices of all of them. They start as an amoeba, but amass heft and stretch into fifty directions as you see more and do more. They expand. There are days when I can barely contain this dream job in my imagination.
This post is about the nubby dream jobs.
How does one prepare for this nubby dream job, if there’s no prescribed training program? How disappointing would it be if suddenly your dream job appeared and you weren’t yet qualified?
1) Your dream job molds to you.
The truth is, if something appeared in front of you — not an offer, but say, a newspaper ad — that seemed perfect but out of your league, then this is not your dream job. It is an aspiration. You may use it to guide the work that you do now, but it is not your dream job because it is not meant to be yours at this time.
2) Your dream job changes.
What brings you maximum professional joy in your twenties may no longer do the same in your thirties. This is a good thing, it means you’ve been giving it your all. Which, congratulations, it probably means that it was indeed your dream job! When you give a lot, repeatedly, that energy depletes and what you desire to give will start to change ever so slightly. You get good at giving that thing, and so you will crave more challenge.
3) Your dream job is many jobs rolled into one.
Unless your dream is to follow in certain footsteps — doctors, lawyers, writers, plaster mold makers (all great professions!) — then your dream won’t have existed before. Not with its exact shape and innards. Because how could anyone have predicted all the individual facets that make you, you? If your dream job is to find work that hits all your buttons, then you will have to cobble together your own job from all the experiences that have spoken to you, and present it to someone — an employer, a market, an institution — and hope it speaks to them too.
It is not a job unless it is sustaining you financially. But it is not a dream job unless it is sustaining you spiritually.
Someone recently asked me, “How have you done so much?” (I’m relatively young). I replied that I started early, but in reality I said “yes” to many jobs and experiences — some paying very little — because I saw in them some semblance of my nubby dream jobs. Web designer, startup founder, event coordinator, pop-up chef. They weren’t the dream jobs themselves, but they possessed some quality that would prepare me should that dream job come.