the destructive myth of the “dream job”

When you write a work advice column, you hear from a lot of people who think they’ve found their “dream job” – often based on little more than an ad. They write to me wanting to know how to get hired at the dream job, or how to get over not being hired, or excited that they have been hired … and I’m often left thinking, “Hmmm, don’t be too sure.”

You just can’t tell from the outside whether something is a dream job—or whether it’ll end up being a nightmare job, or a just-okay job. The things that make people think “dream job,” like the type of work or the prestige of the company, can quickly be trumped by a horrible boss, toxic culture, or crushing workload.

I wrote a piece for Slate about why the “dream job” myth can be so destructive. You can read it here.

{ 136 comments… read them below }

  1. Aveline

    The dream job
    The one true love
    Soul mate

    Any concept where you only get one of something and it’s fate and it’s integral to your happiness/fulfillment as as human can be very, very destructive.

    Most people don’t get the Disney ending. Or the beginning or middle.

    1. The Original K.

      I totally agree re: “the one true thing.” There are lots of different paths to happiness, and IMO that’s as it should be.

    2. EH

      THIS.
      I’ve managed to land a job that is basically a dream gig, but there’s still stuff that I don’t like about it, coworkers I find challenging, etc. When talking about it with friends, I describe it as a unicorn because of the cool rare stuff about it – but you know, unicorns can and will kill you dead, so… yeah. There’s always tradeoffs. If humans are involved, imperfection, mild drama, and at least a little inconsistency are inevitable.

    3. Busy

      Well, any firmly held belief is anything really. We should try to maintain a little flexibility in our beliefs.

    4. Anastasia Beaverhousen

      THIS, SO MUCH.

      Did you know, they’ve actually done a study that found that couples that talk of themselves as “soulmates” are LESS happy and less likely to work out long-term than those that talk of themselves as “sharing life’s journey”? The researchers’ theory is, basically, that the ‘soulmate’ people put too much pressure on their own relationship, and have very high expectations, but don’t put a lot of work into resolving conflict because, hey, it’s ~destiny~. Thus, couples are happier if their mindset is more “this person seems interesting, let’s find out more” and “welp, no relationship is perfect, but this one’s still worth it.”

      Same with jobs, or anything, I think – don’t expect one job, or one person, to be the end-all, perfectly fulfilling, every-moment-is-joy, because that’s just not going to happen, and you can ignore a lot of serious problems pretending that it’ll all work out great.

      1. wafflesfriendswork

        A coworker asked me once if my fiance is my “soulmate.” I told him I didn’t really think that was a thing, and that I thought the fact that we are choosing each other every day, warts and all, instead of looking for a bolt-out-of-the-blue soulmate is much more romantic.

        1. Aveline

          I concur with the more romantic part. If it’s not a choice, how is it romantic?

          1. Romantic

            So I have a couple of skin tags. They bother me. So does SO. They don’t bother him. I was thinking of getting them removed but scared it would hurt.

            So he said he’d get his done so he could tell me how much it hurt/didn’t hurt.

            *That* is romance :D

            1. RandomU...

              Awww… that is.

              I remember surprising my husband after 7-8 years of marriage by telling him how much I appreciated the toilet paper he buys.

              He looked at me really funny until I explained “I know when we started living together you didn’t care what brand you bought, but it mattered to me. Every time (and he’s the one who buys 99.5% of our TP) you’ve bought it since, you’ve bought my preferred brand. If remembering the little things isn’t love, I don’t know what is. “

            2. Falling Diphthong

              My go to image for true love is from Sex and the City: Harry and Charlotte went out for a romantic dinner and got food poisoning, and hours later they are lying curled up on the floor of the bathroom yin-yang style, facing each other, fingers barely brushing. When one or both of us have been deeply sick we’ve done that–tiny physical contact for solace, the rest of my body feels crappy don’t touch it–and it is all about this person being the one on whom you can rely when the chips are down. The one who will get up to feed the cat when you both have food poisoning and don’t want to smell the wet food, and you would do it for them in turn.

              Making the effort even when you’re exhausted and feel crappy is what partners who choose each other do.

        2. Foreign Octopus

          I’ve always considered love a choice.

          Once you get past that first delirious rush of attraction and excitement I think you make a choice to continue loving the person, so the idea of soulmates is a little Disney to me. Not that I’ll judge anyone who does believe in it; it’s just not for me.

          1. Parenthetically

            For some people it even works the other way around — I was impressed by my now-husband’s intelligence, kindness, humility, and artistic skill, and by the high praise our mutual friends heaped on him at every opportunity. He was great with kids, well-traveled, and had an interesting, nerdy, niche job. I didn’t have a rush of attraction and excitement at first, I chose to invest and continue investing because he seemed (and was!) so great, and the rush came later. The soulmate stuff is so strange to me as well!

        3. Jadelyn

          I had to face that, hard, when my partner and I separated at one point a few years into our relationship. We both fell hard and fast, moved in together after only a couple months, got engaged only a couple months after that, so we both really ascribed to the “meant to be” model for our relationship.

          And then we had Problems. And we separated for awhile. And even after we reconciled, for a long time I struggled with feeling like I’d lost something, because I could no longer believe in the fantasy of Meant To Be.

          But with time, I came to believe that “Meant To Be” is a cop-out pushed by the romance-industrial complex, so to speak. It makes for pretty, moving stories, but it’s really not feasible when you’re talking about real people.

          And really, what’s actually a stronger statement of love and commitment? “The Universe wants me to be with you, so I’m here” or “I’ve chosen to be with you, so I’m here”? “I have no choice but to be here” or “I could walk away, but I want to be here”?

          It was hard to give up the Fantasy of Meant To Be, but in the end, active choice is a stronger statement of commitment to a relationship than passive acceptance of “what’s meant to be”.

        4. PlainJane

          “Choosing each other every day” is how you get a long marriage. I’ve been with my husband for over 30 years, and this is exactly how we made it so far. Love is a verb. It’s something you choose to do each day, each hour, each minute–or not. There’s no magic, no meant-to-be, no soulmate, just the day to day effort to love and to make it work. And it’s kind of the same with work. Barring horrible bosses and other such things beyond your control, you get out of a job what you put into it.

          1. AthenaC

            “Love isn’t someplace that we fall;
            It’s something that we do.”

            ~Clint Black

            From a song that so aptly describes lifelong love.

      2. starsaphire

        My ex claimed to be my “soulmate.” Except that the girl he was cheating with was his “one true soulmate,” so I guess… maybe his soul had a split personality? *shrugs*

        My current spouse is my TEAMmate. We look at what we do for one another as teamwork. Whether it’s being supportive of each other’s hobbies or mopping up after one of us has food poisoning — we know for sure it will come back around eventually.

        My teammate has stuck around approximately 3x as long as my soulmate did, so… I’m thinking this is a better deal. :)

        At work, I am also a member of a team, and we help each other out when someone is in a jam. We don’t finger-point, we look for root causes, and we retrain and try again. In this way, we meet all our metrics, and it’s harder to get overwhelmed when you know you will not be judged or punished for seeking help.

        So far, the team mentality is working so much better, personally and professionally, in my life!

      3. kiwimusume

        “don’t expect one job, or one person, to be the end-all, perfectly fulfilling, every-moment-is-joy, because that’s just not going to happen”

        I’ve always been a big fan of that part in the Sex and the City movie where Samantha’s trying to talk herself into staying in a relationship that’s perfect on paper but isn’t making her happy. She turns to Charlotte, who’s happily married, and says “I mean, are you really happy every day in your marriage?” and Charlotte replies “Well, not ALL day every day, but yes, every day.” It perfectly captures the way a) something can be perfect on paper but if it’s making you unhappy then it’s not your dream relationship/job, and b) even relationships/jobs that are making you happy overall will still have plenty of imperfections.

      4. Slartibartfast

        Soulmates aren’t found, they’re made. It’s something you become at the end of a shared journey, because you have so many shared experience and your family is the one that you made together. It’s the goal, not the starting point.

  2. Aveline

    Allison,

    The list of bad sides to the dream job could apply to a bad partner, bad friend, etc. It’s sound advice for many types of situations where we idealize and look past red flags.

  3. PlainJane

    Great article. It’s also important to note that a dream job may morph into a nightmare later on. I took a job with a well-respected organization, in a place I was excited to live, with a role that was just what I wanted as the next step in my career. For two years it was wonderful – till we had a big changeover in upper administration. The overall philosophy changed to one that valued bean-counting over employees, and I got an awful new boss. It took me awhile to realize how miserable I was, because the job had been so wonderful and, yes, my “dream job.” The bottom line is, it’s just a job. When it doesn’t meet your needs anymore, when it starts driving you crazy, get out if you can.

    1. Ali G

      Yup – I had a similar experience. Got hired to run a new department for a growing business. I built the team from the ground up, created all our programs and processes, you name it. I was flying high for 4 years, and then I got a new boss who essentially saw me as her competition. I was gone within a year because no amount my effort to make her see the value I brought to the company was going to change her mind. She marginalized me and basically told me I was bad at my job until I couldn’t take it anymore.

      1. Anon for this

        Oh my gosh, this is me! Almost exactly. I spent 5 years developing everything for my department which was the only one of its kind in the US. I’m now doing the exact same thing for a competitor at a 85% raise and got a promotion that old boss would have made sure I never got. Work is fun AND rewarding again, and through work, I was able to literally save a kid’s life last Friday.

      2. Public Sector Manager

        I had the same exact experience. Great job until a new boss came in and changed everything I liked about the work and the boss was so threatened by me that the boss constantly threw me under the bus (e.g. after getting high praise for a board presentation by my boss, other executives, and several board members, I received a written memo from the boss highlighting all the things he disagreed with in my presentation.) I’m surprised I put up with it for as long as I did.

        I was never a strong advocate of “the dream job” before that job, but after I got out, I realized the only dream job out there is the job you retire from.

    2. Fortitude Jones

      YES to your last sentence. A million times. I had a couple “dream jobs” myself (in insurance), and they were dreams because I was (somewhat) using my degree and finally being paid a living wage with decent to good benefits (our health insurance sucked – everything else was pretty great). But I landed in a division with a psycho for a boss, and then when I was promoted into what was once the “fun” division, they inherited a crap ton of work from a competitor that was going out of business, and it became anything but “fun” – I was the 11th person in a 12 month period to resign. Overall, I was at that company for four years, was promoted twice, and I was able to pay off ridiculous medical bills I’d been saddled with at my previous employer (a law firm with crap everything – pay, benefits, management, you name it) – it didn’t end the way I thought it would, What with me retiring from that company and all, but it was a pretty decent experience overall and the best of the companies I’ve worked in since graduating college.

      I was disappointed to leave, but like you said, the company was no longer serving me. I was getting a crap ton of awful claim files and I wasn’t being paid what I was worth, so I left and took a boring job at a smaller, less impressive company with below market pay for my new field (proposal development) and worse benefits – but I just started working for a new company with a 27% salary increase and way better benefits, so it turned out okay in the end. I don’t know if the new job is the next “dream” (only been in it since 8:30 this morning and haven’t started on any assignments yet), but I know the pay is better than anything I’ve ever received or could even hope to receive working at either of my last two companies, and my direct manager seems very nice and laid back, so hopefully, I’ll really enjoy being here. Like Alison said in the article, I took this job because, even though the title is lower than the one I just had, the work is more diverse and I’d get to create a lot of this position myself as it’s a new role they’ve never had before. Having the opportunity to help develop content is going to look amazing on my resume. So I’m going to remain cautiously optimistic about this position (which I get to do full time from home!) and see where it leads me.

    3. Anonya

      Yes to all of this. It’s the job equivalent of the relationship adage “too good to leave; too bad to stay.” You can’t believe how bad it is, because it was once really good.

    4. ThursdaysGeek

      Nightmares are still dreams – that’s what I think of when hearing the phrase “dream job”.

      1. Jadelyn

        “In Genua, someone had set out to make dreams come true.

        Remember some of your dreams?”

        Terry Pratchett had such a succinct way of putting things.

    5. Falling Diphthong

      “The job doesn’t love you back” is the soundest advice I’ve read on this.

    6. sademployee

      I came to talk about this! Almost a year ago now I ended up deciding to quit from a job that, for 4.5 years, was mostly wonderful. In that time it had its ups and downs, but it was creative, a really good fit, and I had amazing coworkers (to the point that if living in a commune with people who worked at this organization would have been a thing, I would have been totally down).

      Then about a year and a half ago, I stepped in a rage pothole for an employee and the process of trying to get that inappropriate behavior recognized and constructively dealt with resulted in a process that totally eroded my trust in the organization, and in the end I basically felt like all I could do was leave. There were a bunch of other nonsense things happening at the time that resulted in a bunch of the other people I loved leaving (though by no means all of them), but leaving was so so so hard, is still really hard, and I still have so many feelings about the entire situation.

    7. londonedit

      Absolutely. I had a ‘dream job’ where it seemed like I had a ton of freedom and autonomy, where the boss used to throw out perks like ‘Hey, let’s pack up at lunchtime today and enjoy the sunshine’ or ‘Let’s go to the pub for lunch, my treat’ on a regular basis, and where the working atmosphere was generally very relaxed. I climbed the ladder by dint of other people leaving and the boss being too tight to replace them properly, but hey, it was all good for my CV, right?

      Until they ran into money trouble, made a load of people redundant, and left me in sole charge of the ‘department’, which by that point was me and the office junior who had been promoted to fill a gap with no actual experience of the job. Then suddenly my ‘autonomy’ turned into ‘everything is my responsibility and my fault’ and if anything went wrong – which it frequently did because we were understaffed and under pressure – it was all down to me. I lasted less than a year after that before I had to get out.

    8. Parenthetically

      I had a similar experience as well! The “dream job” myth made me gaslight myself, almost, into refusing to recognize or acknowledge the problems that worsened over time.

  4. Akcipitrokulo

    I got my dream job.

    I didn’t know it was my dream job when I applied

    I didn’t know it was my dream job when I accepted it.

    I’d never heard of them before…

    Good management, awesome colleagues and supportive bosses who believed they coukd trust adult professionals to be both asukt and professional, encouraged personal development and a positive, no blame but let’s figure how to do better culture approach to when things went wrong, and a let’s recognise people culture when things went right…

    And I’m about to leave my dream job to move onto the next stage of my career with full support of management.

    Dream jobs can’t be identified from adverts :)

    1. Akcipitrokulo

      (Unless the advert says “wanted: astronaut”. Then you can tell from advert.)

      1. Former Space Cadet

        I guess even then the food would be bad and they’d have very high physical fitness standards. :/
        And the travel! Oy.

        1. Akcipitrokulo

          Yep – the travel :D

          It was actually my dream job that I was intending to pursue when I started uni. I knew it was a long shot… and didn’t work out that way… but it was what I had in mind ;)

        2. Zephy

          I mean, if it’s your job to be in peak physical condition at all times, then you’re going to have the time and resources needed to do so. For most of us peons, if we want to be in good shape, we have to carve out the time to hit the gym and plan/buy/cook nutritious meals around everything else we have to do between work and home.

      2. Jennifer Juniper

        That would be a nightmare job for me! I get extremely sick just on carnival rides.

    2. Karen from Finance

      Yeah, I’m struggling a lot with this in my current job search. It’s typical that employers will ask you to describe your dream job, and typically they push me towards answers about industry, company size, job description, etc. But none of those things make for my personal satisfaction, though they play a part. In each place I’m trying to envision “will I be HAPPY here?” and it’s a much tougher guess.

      1. Akcipitrokulo

        I guess talking about some of the things like culture fir, feeling able to make a difference, opportunities for advancement? That might helpnyou to stand out as well.

        I’m kind of not quite believing I’ve resigned from DJ(tm) !

        1. Karen from Finance

          Yes, you can for sure talk about them in interviews, but they are still very hard to gauge. Specially because a lot of companies pay lip service to things that are personally important to me (diversity, inclusion) but then it ends up being VERY different in practice.

          1. That Girl From Quinn's House

            I tried that at my interview for my last job, I even ran specific scenarios past them regarding commonplace situations in my department, and what the administrative processes would be for addressing them. I was given all the right answers of how things should be run. “Of course we wouldn’t let the llamas run around in the street unsupervised, we’d never ask you to do such at thing, that would be so unsafe!”

            And then the llamas ended up out in the street, and I got told, “No that’s how it works here, the llamas get to run around in the street. Why do you have a problem with that?”

    3. MostCake

      Me too Akcipitrokulo! It’s within an organization I’ve worked for for ten years. But it took eight of those years to end up in just the right department with the right boss. I am so thrilled and try not to worry about the inevitable shakeup of hierarchy that comes every few years. I’ve been absorbing all of the good things about my job and taking notice of how everyone responds and am determined to never fall into the clutches of another micromanager or egomaniac again who makes me doubt myself and cry on the way home everyday. I remind my colleagues often how lucky we are that we are given autonomy and support and encouragement and that it’s certainly not like that in every job. My fingers are perpetually crossed.

  5. Plain Jane

    It’s like that dream apartment or house that you go by and are sure you would love living there, and then it turns out to need major repairs or your neighbors are a nightmare once you move in.

    1. Cookie

      Maybe the process for interviewing should be like buying a house. You should be allowed to get an inspection from a qualified, neutral agency before signing on.

  6. I usually lurk

    Yeah, I got hired for my “dream job.” There was lack of clarity in the role, departmental politics I had no interest in being a part of, and grad student workers whom I had no power to fire (some were fine; one was very entitled and did little work). Another part of it was my own realization that I don’t like managing people. At the time I had a young kid that I occasionally acted as a single parent to when my husband traveled for work. During one of those times I had an emotional breakdown (in private) and the next day quit after 2.5 weeks at the job (at which point I still hadn’t been assigned a computer??). I happily went back to my old job where I manage no one, work in a cool office, have a great work-life balance and time with my kid where I’m not stressed out all the time.

    I feel like the main thing I lost was the prestige that came with the role. I’ll take that trade-off.

  7. Lucille2

    I once had a dream job, but like Alison says, I couldn’t have possibly recognized it as a dream job from the outside. It was intended to be temporary when I started, but went on to provide me with career-growth opportunities I never would have had access to had I held out for what I thought at the time was my dream job. I worked there for many years learning many things that continue to benefit me a decade+ later.

    Eventually, I outgrew the job and what it could offer me and it was no longer a dream job. So I moved on to a job and company that just didn’t fit. And I felt every little annoyance acutely in that company. I hung out there for a few years waiting for the right opportunity to be available, and was unsatisfied the entire time.

    Now I’m in another dream job. But I have the perspective of time on my side. For me, the dream is the opportunity to learn, grow, gain something from my job. But I now have the awareness that I will eventually outgrow my current dream job or the company will outgrow me. When that happens, I hope to have the self-awareness to see it coming and plan my exit strategy before it is planned for me.

  8. BRR

    My first job was a “dream job” at the time (I hadn’t started reading AAM yet). I was fired after 6 months with no warning. Looking back I can see it was toxic (minus the great manager I had which shielded me from a lot). While obviously it was awful to be fired, I think there was a good lesson in getting the “dream job” lesson out of the way early in my career.

  9. Amber Rose

    You guys tried to warn me about this job.

    After this morning I feel like I should have listened a little closer.

      1. Amber Rose

        It’s a long story, but a coworker who I’ve talked about before in open threads snapped and got fired. I didn’t realize how bad things had become, but in addition to making people feel unsafe he was convinced everyone was conspiring against him and breaking his stuff and that the Germans are coming to get him. Or something. It was pretty incoherent.

        This dude should’ve been fired years ago but management ignored everything. Strike one for the owners who don’t care how unsafe their employees feel as long as work gets done.

        1. Jennifer Juniper

          Congratulations on losing a dangerously unstable coworker. May his replacement be stable, professional, and safe.

  10. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

    Early in my career I had gotten a job that (at the time) was my dream job (after leaving a toxic job). It was a dream job in all aspects but two–the pay and it was a looooong term temp job so no benefits. But it was a prestigious company (at the time), Wonderful co-workers, wonderful supervisors, not too stressful and it was even in a nice building. I stayed there for 4 years and then I HAD to leave since there was no hope of it ever being permanent. So I got hired full time in another department at the same company. That job was OK at first. And then it actually turned into my dream job after a promotion and a few personnel changes. I stayed in that department for 16 years. Then we got taken over by another company and the job turn back into just OK.

      1. Fortitude Jones

        That can happen. I worked at a law firm for nearly three years and was brought on as a temp – they didn’t hire me on directly until I’d been there about a year and a half. One of my coworkers, who was a temp through another agency, had been in my department four years as a temp – they finally hired her around the time they hired me. And that was after she quit and then, for some ungodly reason, came back as a temp.

  11. agnes

    I shudder every time I hear the words “dream job.” I wonder what someone’s expectations are if they expect something to be a “dream job.” I generally think it’s probably higher than we can offer in our workplace. Because our workplace is made up of real people, real issues, and occasionally we are grumpy. :)

    I have a really good job. I like it a whole lot. It is by far the best work environment I’ve ever been it. But it is not perfect, because nothing is. Occasionally we disagree. Occasionally we have to do things we don’t like to do. Occasionally we have misunderstandings. We all think we are worth more than we are getting paid.

    But we respect each other and we support each other and that is what makes my job an awesome place to work.

    1. Light37

      This. “Dream job” tends to come with unreasonable expectations of a position which in reality actually involves other imperfect humans and situations.

  12. Jessen

    On another perspective:

    My last job, one of the shifts I worked was INCREDIBLY boring. It was basically looking to make sure screen A and screen B had the same info, hundreds of times a shift. That was most of my 40h a week. That’s pretty much anyone’s definition of utter boredom. And since we were a call center and I was still responsible for answering the phone, no music or podcasts or anything.

    And you know what? I wasn’t unhappy with my life. Sure my job wasn’t thrilling. I was legitimately unhappy with my pay/benefits, because they were barely livable where I was. But I wasn’t feeling like I was missing out on life or something because of my job.

    I always felt the “dream job” talk had a lot of echoes of the whole attitude that you can have The American Dream (Job) if you just work hard enough. Lots of people end up in “good enough” jobs that let them pursue other goals. But for some reason that’s treated as sort of weird to be happy with.

    1. Melewen

      Exactly! I just want to work in a place that I don’t hate, with people I don’t loathe, doing things that aren’t evil, making enough to be reasonably comfortable. That may sound cynical (and it is a bit exaggerated), but for me a job supports my life — it isn’t my life’s purpose. I think this is why I don’t fit in at my current workplace. Many of my colleagues see their jobs as their vocation — but for me, it’s more of a means to an end.

  13. Maybe a Disney Ending After All?

    I thought I landed my “dream job” when I landed my previous role. It was in the somewhat niche industry that I wanted to work FT in (I freelanced in that industry while also working at a different job FT).

    I enjoyed the work a lot, even enjoyed some of the challenges. But what I didn’t enjoy was the insurmountable workload and the oversharing coworkers, some whom had absolutely no boundaries when it came to discussing their personal life. I had a boss whom I enjoyed working with but had a very different style of communication, one who was more subtle and avoided “being direct” where I was someone who doesn’t read between the lines very well. I later realized it was a personality mis-match in a lot of ways, they wanted someone who was more client-facing, less wallflower and I was happy doing admin tasks (filling out POs, making sure finance sent checks to vendors, ordering things online) and wasn’t so great at “client-facing.” i.e. chatting up clients appropriately at happy hour. But, I learned what I needed from a job, so in a way, the job taught me a lot about what kind of job suited me.

    When I interviewed for this job, I didn’t see “dream job” but I saw “potential great fit” when they said they needed a “behind the scenes person” to help with admin tasks.

    1. Blue

      Yeah, my last position was, on paper, pretty much an ideal gig for me. It was a super good fit for me. So good, in fact, that they started relying on me more heavily, my responsibilities expanded rapidly, and I ended up completely drowning in work. I was left thinking, “You know, I would really like this project if I had time to feel like I was doing it well.” Instead, I was just super stressed all the time. I ended up leaving, which was a hard choice given how good the position could be, in theory, and actually had been, at one point. But I found another position that focused on the parts of the old job I most enjoyed, with much less pressure. It’s not perfect, but no job is. It *is* probably the best possible fit at this point in my career, and that’s what matters more.

  14. FS

    Oof, I needed reminding of this – thought “the perfect job” opening had popped up on Friday and was so, so thrilled to apply for it, only to open up the browser Saturday morning (let the cover letter sit overnight for the obvious easier-to-draft reasons) and it was gone. Spent the weekend mopier than Eeyore, but…
    I know better than to put so much on a single thing like that. (Admittedly, part of the issue is that I’m in one of those “dream jobs” people talk about, getting paid to do literally nothing, and it’s driving me mad to get out!)
    It’s a job. It might be brilliant – but in the end, it’s not everything. Now to remember that…

    1. Fortitude Jones

      Getting paid to do nothing sounds good to people in theory, but it’s soul-sucking. I just left my last job because of that – the HR rep in my interview was stunned and said she’d never had anyone tell her they were leaving because they weren’t busy enough, lol. After I explained to her what a typical day for me looked like, though, she nodded and said now she completely understood – she couldn’t work like that, either. So, it’s also important for everyone to remember that what’s one person’s dream job is another person’s hell.

      1. FS

        Exactly this! I have some coworkers who have expressed how much they love this, generally cackling at the look on my face when they say it (good naturedly on both our parts!) – this job is great for them, but definitely slowly erasing my sanity… (And I don’t have enough of that to spare!)

  15. Tangerina Warbleworth

    Bless you for writing this, which has a valuable message for me right now. I didn’t necessarily think my current job was the “dream job,” but it certainly looked great from the outside. I researched the company, I looked at its Glassdoor reviews, I looked at its score as a nonprofit, I carefully reviewed who was in my interview, what positions they had and what their responses were like, I even went to BossMan’s blog and saw nothing but great posts!

    Then I started working here.

    It’s not worth the billions of words I’d need to describe this hyperjudgmental, toxic space — in a company devoted to social justice! {Fortunately, I have met many people outside my division who are wonderfully supportive of my work.}

    But I really needed to hear this. I’ve felt guilty since Day One over what a bad choice I made, how could I be so stupid, what was I thinking…. Having a management expert confirm that there is no real way to know is makes me feel a lot less burdened. Thank you for this.

    1. Miss Astoria Platenclear

      Hyper judgementalism and social justice are unfortunately acquainted with each other.

      1. Jennifer Juniper

        Unfortunately, toxic social justice spaces have much in common with toxic fundamentalist religions.

  16. RandomU...

    I think the ‘Dream Job’* concept is one that the phrase “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good enough” can be applied to.

    So many people are either disillusioned with their ‘Dream Job’ or finding their ‘Dream Job’ that they pass on some perfectly fine and fulfilling jobs in the quest.

    *I think this applies to a job with “Passion” as well.

    1. Mary Richards

      Eh, YMMV on passion. You absolutely need passion to do some jobs and to get through the roadblocks to doing some jobs (i.e. getting degrees and other qualifications). Otherwise, I agree.

        1. Jadelyn

          Which, to me, is still a YMMV thing – my willingness to be persistent without passion to make it bearable is not super high. Some people, that might be different.

  17. Mary Richards

    I don’t understand the concept of a dream job. I always dreamed of having a specific *type* of job, but I never had a specific company as the ONE AND ONLY company where I could pursue that job. Even now, working in my industry, I can’t necessarily pinpoint what my “dream job” would be, down to the company. I only know what kind of work I like doing, what I’m qualified to do, and which companies to full-on avoid.

  18. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

    I thought I had my dream job in my industry. Turned out to be a small business nightmare, including gas lighting and massive guilt trips when I left. They never thought I would find something better and kept me feeling like I didn’t deserve that job at all.
    Joke’s on them- I make more money in fewer hours and work for decent human beings now.

  19. Project Manager

    I actually do have my dream job. I’m doing exactly what I dreamed about doing as a kid. Sure, there’s more (a lot more) meetings than I visualized when I was eight, but I’m still getting to use my skills and still have plenty of opportunity for growth. Plus, the pay and benefits are good, and my management is understanding about work-life balance. My only problem is sometimes I don’t have enough work!

  20. Giselle

    A dream job can also turn into a nightmare when the wrong person is hired to replace the great boss who helped make it a job you loved. Nothing is guaranteed to stay dreamy forever.

    1. BeenThere OG

      This literally describes how every job I have loved goes wrong, leadership changes. Sadly I’ve never experienced a leadership change that made my job more enjoyable.

      I’ve never really had dream jobs however I’ve worked at many companies that folks would consider dream jobs.

  21. BlackCatMama

    I sought my “dream job” for years as a llama analyst. I worked really hard in grad and went on to a doctoral program thinking it would make me successful. 13 years later and I work in a completely different industry that doesn’t tie to my education at all. But, through a circuitous route I’ve landed in a career that is a good fit, pays well and allows for work life balance. It wasn’t what I planned, but I think I’m very happy with how things worked out.

    1. BlackCatMama

      For a time I was really disappointed that “dream job” never materialized, and now part of me wishes I hadn’t dwelled so much on not getting that dream job and simply enjoyed the ride to get here.

  22. kiwidg1

    Thank goodness for a little sanity about this phrase “dream job”. It’s great when it actually exists, but there also needs to be a healthy dose of realism involved.

    1. kiwidg1

      I’d also like to add that “dream jobs” change. (Referencing the last letter in the article.) I was in a position that was pretty darned good – I felt valued, was doing good work for and with people I enjoyed being with, and saw a long future.

      Then a restructuring happened, I was moved, and now I don’t use my best skills, the bureaucracy above me is doubled, and the work is a fraction of what I was doing before. The dream is fading fast.

  23. The Man, Becky Lynch

    Even owning your own business and being “the one true boss” isn’t a dream job. Just keep that in mind.

    I’m all about positivity and dreams but I want everyone to reel it in at some point and be reasonable. I love my career and have only had a couple jobs that made me miserable in the end, each one started out pretty good until you really got to know people and their horrible ways/mentality. Expectations are what really crush us under their weight if we let them get out of hand, expectations for ourselves along with expectations for others. When you’re dealing with humans, you will deal with bad-things at some point. Either in form of a boss or coworker or nightmare customer or the homeless people who live outside of your building, etc.

    1. Jessen

      I can tell you that owning my own business is VERY MUCH not my dream job. My top things are a 40h(ish) work week, a steady paycheck, and good benefits. None of those tend to come with owning your own business.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch

        Well…it depends on where you are in terms of running your own business. I’ve never had a boss struggle with work weeks, lack of benefits or a steady paycheck. Except for back in the recession and due to an extreme illness diagnosis, otherwise before then he was poised to be able to retire with his business still running with him just collecting from it’s profits.

        But I have seen this in micro sized sole proprietors who are still in somewhat of a startup phase and before they start hiring staff.

  24. blink14

    I have my dream job, and then reality job. Reality job lets me dabble in the dream job industry, but actually provides a steady (if lower than I’d like) paycheck, great benefits, and a 40 hour work week.

    My dream job may have been attainable if I was about 5 years older, but the jobs were starting to dwindle before the recession fully hit, and the massive effect the internet and social media has had on the industry has lead to a huge loss of jobs.

    If I had the time and energy to really hussle, I could make a living. But then, I’d probably be miserable because I’d be working crazy hours, traveling too much, and likely wouldn’t have much to lean on benefits wise. I’ll take reality job and my side job (which is basically unpaid, but has in trade perks), so I don’t hate the dream and I can live at least relatively comfortably.

  25. Aphrodite

    I don’t think I ever thought much about a “dream” job other than maybe writing fun stuff for a living. My father, on the other hand, though a truly good person and meaning well, thought work, including his, was to be endured. A lot of his anger came out when he was drinking but even after he stopped and the anger was gone he didn’t view it as more than work until his last two years.

    For decades I think I thought like him but with added stupid (and definitely unwarranted) arrogance. I was a nasty little biotch, that’s for sure. But about ten years ago I changed and now I genuinely appreciate a decent admin assistant job in academia where I can keep my head down, work with a fabulous boss, and take home decent pay, fantastic benefits (medical, dental, vision, generous vacation, sick time and holidays), and have a very nice office where I don’t have to deal with any public.

    It would never be a dream job but it gives me enormous freedom to be me through financial security. Plus, the greatest thing is that most of the stories I read here on AAM are not relevant to me. It may be unpleasant at times, but it doesn’t have meandering shirts, boobs stuck to railings, required kidney donations, or any other memorable issues.

  26. Kat Em

    Yes! I currently have a “Dream Job For Now,” and I initially thought I didn’t want it, as it seemed kind of a step down in responsibility, if a step up in money/benefits/stability. But a large part of what makes it a dream job is that I have a great team and a boss who understands that the role doesn’t check 100% of my boxes and goes out of his way to make sure I get to work on extra projects sometimes that make use of my underutilized skills to scratch that itch. In five years, that might not be enough for me anymore, and that’s normal and fine! But in the meantime, I get to do meaningful work for a company I like and a boss I respect in an environment that genuinely treats folks as human beings. Not what I thought my dream job would look like, but I’m happy for now.

  27. Case of the Mondays

    Three times in my career I had “dream Jobs.” I used the talents and skills which I most enjoy using in the workplace, and made decent-to-excellent money. But there were not-so-dreamy parts to all three. In my first “dream job,” my supervisor had a difficult personality, and I also struggled with having and hiding a crush on a (married, then divorced, then remarried) colleague. I was laid off during the Great Recession.

    “Dream Job” number two started off great. After a month of work I liked, I accidentally made the mistake of falling asleep in a meeting (I have sleep apnea and it wasn’t being treated at that time). Soon afterwards, I was transferred to another office and duties because they claimed they needed me elsewhere. Also, when I was hired as a contractor, they said I’d become an employee with benefits after 90 days. After 90 days, that hiring manager dragged his feet and never gave me a straight answer about making me an employee. I was then laid off at the end of four months. So much for that job.

    “Dream Job” number three was another contract job; originally for three months with the possibilities of longer work and eventual permanent employment. The commute was long but the pay was excellent and I was broke. It was a good job for me. I liked the work, the company, and my supervisor. I really hoped I’d become a permanent employee. However, after a contract extension to work on a special project, the department I was in announced it was merging with another similar department. After my project ended, I was let go. That was two years ago.

    I still wish I had a “Dream Job.” But to me, that means a permanent professional job (preferably no more contracts) which will allow me to use my experiences and pay me a good wage. The rest may not be so dreamy.

  28. hbc

    I feel like anyone who has found a “dream job” has a much narrower source of happiness than most of the general population, or is easier to please. You might be really fulfilled by helping people in the specific way your social services position operates, but you still probably get crap for pay and a regular sense of guilt when you can’t help more people. Or you might really love coding whatever you’re coding, but do you really have a situation with realistic deadlines and not having to interpret someone else’s terrible commenting and not having a single coworker who gets on your nerves?

    And a lot of people who are convinced their dream job is out there haven’t thought through the actual details of what that entails. Even if I could get that job taste-testing wine and chocolate pairings while socializing kittens, there’d be all that cat hair in my wine, and all those stains and teeny holes in my clothes.

    1. Jennifer Thneed

      And I’ll go on to say (since time was running short for me yesterday when I posted that): I had a recent 6-month period where I wasn’t working. I needed to work, I looked for work, I ran down our savings… and my wife and I fostered kittens for our local humane society.

      My wife and I did that for 6 months. We went thru 6-8 litters, about 25 kittens (and 2 mama cats), it was a wonderful time. If I could live on that, I’d call it a dream job.

  29. Anon for Now

    I always thought that those people who were looking for a “dream job” or the perfect job were always doomed for disappointment. Primarily, because no workplace is perfect. And one workplace might be dream like for one employee, but might be terrible for another.

    Plus, I can’t help but think that many people who are hoping and looking for that dream job are also investing too much of their happiness in work.

  30. SheLooksFamiliar

    I look back at what I now call my ‘dream job’, and I laugh – I HATED it for the first 6 months, and tolerated it for the next 3. I was hired to drive a lot of change, and liked what my boss and grandboss outlined for me. We joked about pushing water uphill, and it didn’t help that the person I replaced left a lot of land mines for me. Never found out if it was on purpose, but I took it on the chin every. single. day.

    However, this became the best job I ever had, with the best leadership, and the best team – ever.

  31. Call Me Da

    I really thought I was a pretty level-head, reasonable person until I landed my “dream job” about ten years ago. In hindsight, there were a few small warning flags, but I really did not realize how nightmare-ish the job was until I worked under my boss. It’s a shame, because I really do think that everything else about the job was rather dream-like, but I left the job after six months. I am still disappointed that it did not work out. My replacement apparently flourished, as she went from job to my boss’s… although the company went under a few years later. I will never know where the fault lies there, but getting out of there was the right thing.

  32. iglwif

    I think this is such a useful corrective. I also wish people would stop using phrases that talk about turning your passion into your job/career, “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”, all that stuff.

    There is no job, no matter how much you love it, that is entirely free of tedious and annoying parts. I’ve had many jobs that I enjoyed almost everything about, but I’ve never had one that didn’t involve some amount of tedious paper-pushing, repetitive and boring but necessary work, dealing with frustrating people, etc. You can find jobs with *less* of that stuff but there’s no such thing as a job with *none* of it.

    And there’s no amount of love or passion for your work that will make every single aspect of it fun. I freelanced for a while and I loved the work but you can’t make a living doing freelance work if you don’t hustle for that work, bill for the work, etc. I’d have kept doing it if I hadn’t gotten a better offer, but I would still have found the hustling parts not-fun, and I would still have had to do them.

    I wish people would let go of the idea that every job has to be 100% fulfilling and meaningful, and that employers would let go of the idea that nobody is worth hiring who isn’t consumed with passion for their mission.

  33. Anonya

    I’m sort of embarrassed by how long it took me to realize that the idea of a dream job is a) privileged (not always, but often); b) naive; c) a setup for being way too wrapped up in one’s career. By all means, strive to do good work and derive some sort of satisfaction in a job well done, but keep your expectations in check. Even the best jobs have difficulties, boring parts and long stretches that just plain suck.

  34. MissDisplaced

    Dream job? HaHaHa!
    It’s called “work” for a reason. Otherwise we’d all just do whatever the heck we want, which is my real dream.

    1. YouGottaThrowtheWholeJobAway

      My dream job is also not having a job! My partner feels the same way. If we could amass enough money and an ongoing health insurance solution, neither of us would hesitate to quit.

      I always feel a little alienated when people love their jobs a lot or have a very particular idea for a dream job….if this is my ideal/fantasy scenario, I am throwing my laptop and my phone in the east river and going to Thailand for a month. If your dreams involve work outside of having your lifestyle needs/wishes met, go for it, but don’t make me pretend I would love to have a job if I had a real choice in the matter.

  35. Cookie

    I was one of those people who believed in the “dream job.” I’ve since learned how wrong that can be.

    The job I had identified was unique as it blended two very different fields where I had experience. There were other jobs like this elsewhere, but the dream job (DJ) was the only one who did this in the city where I lived and wanted to remain.

    I applied multiple times and even became a final candidate, but I was also rejected multiple times. That only made me want it more. And then I finally got it, and I’m dissatisfied. The workload is uneven. In my prior job, we were very busy, but it was predictable so you could plan around it. Here, I’m either bored or working a late night. And that’s the kind of thing you can’t know simply from the job description. You either need to work there or have a source on the inside to advise you.

    So, I’ll definitely look at work in a more detached manner going forward, instead of becoming so attached to a particular job or idea.

  36. wittyrepartee

    And even dream jobs have boring work that you have to be okay with. I feel like this poem applies to jobs as well as life:

    Routine

    By Arthur Guiterman

    No matter what we are and who,
    Some duties everyone must do:

    A poet puts aside his wreath
    To wash his face and brush his teeth,

    And even Earls
    Must comb their curls,

    And even Kings
    Have underthings.

  37. 'Tis me

    When I was 22, fresh out of university, hitting the point of job searching where you’re starting to wonder if you should give up and do something tangentially related to but less competitive and considerably broader than the field you want to go into – I spotted a really promising advert. I had only decided I wanted to go into publishing about 2/3rds of the way through my final year – it was so much “dream job” territory it took me a long time to realise people actually really got to do it. So my degree was totally unrelated… And this little company 5 minutes’ walk away from my flat was advertising, happy to train up the right candidate…

    I interviewed on the Wednesday. I spent the Thursday in bed sobbing because no way would I get it. I was offered the job on the Friday – and on the Monday I started off by going on a 3 day training course that was very conveniently happening a 15 minute bus ride away!

    It was a fantastic first job and I really enjoyed working there. But the owners decided to downsize to spend more time with their families, so a year later we were given advance notice of our redundancies in 6 months. I actually ended up staying slightly longer and getting some pay from the new iteration as I hadn’t found anything before and they had quite a few projects that got delayed a little – and then freelancing for them a bit while also working full-time at my new job! (Well, after 11 years I guess it’s not so new…)

    In some ways it was really sad – I had lovely colleagues, it was a great environment, really supportive managers/owners who were happy to invest in us, varied and interesting work… The pay wasn’t great but it was walking distance and they bought our lunch daily, so after taking those things into consideration it wasn’t uncompetitive (my husband still laughs at me though because when they stated the salary range and asked where I saw myself within it my response was “Well, obviously I would like to be at the higher end but given that I have no relevant experience I would expect to be at the lower end”…). But realistically if I’d stayed there I would have found myself in a comfortable rut – in a 4 person department/6 person company there isn’t really a lot of room for career development.

    My current job is at an international FTSE 100 company – so a completely different culture! The role has changed a lot since I started – but even though I may not have applied to it as it currently stands 11 years ago it suits my skillset in many ways. I feel empowered to make change and encouraged to seek out projects that interest me.

    The dream would still be to get paid to read novels all day and the role is further from that than when I started – but I feel really lucky to enjoy my job as much as I do.

    1. Purple Jello

      “The dream would still be to get paid to read novels all day ….”

      My dream would be to get paid to read really good novels all day. I wouldn’t even mind writing reviews on them. The bad or mediocre ones I’d want to stop wasting time on.

  38. MommyMD

    It’s good you are addressing this. Working with someone who yells, cries, pouts when they are unhappy is exhausting. Yes, you have to control emotions and temper at work. No one wants to be walking on eggshells.

  39. Engineer Girl

    Dream jobs do exist. You just can’t spot one until you’ve been in it for a while and have had the chance to get to know your co-workers, the manager, the work expectations, and the culture

    This is so true!!

    There was one job that was highly prestigious and I really wanted it. It turned out to be an extremely misogynistic culture. My work was disrespected because a female was doing it. They even refused to acknowledge my work after they had to replace my position with six (six!) men. They only admitted the misogyny 10 years later. After the government had intervened due to sexism. They kept trying to get me to come back and work for them. Nope. Nope. Nope.

    Conversely, my best job didn’t appear to be anything special. It took over a year to get into a good position. At that point I had job opportunities and connections that would help me for the rest of my career. It also got me closer to my true love of working in satellites. I got to launch several, was the lead developer, worked mission control, and was a key contact for our company.

    You really can’t tell from the outside.

  40. NYWeasel

    I’ve held multiple “Dream Jobs”, and I’ve held multiple “Pay the bills (barely) Jobs”. The latter gave me the inspiration, motivation, and education to be ready for the former when they appeared.

  41. Purple Jello

    Where did this “dream job” myth come from? I don’t remember hearing that phrase back in the dark ages before email – it was just “get a job (or two!) so you can support yourself and move out of the parents’ house”.

    Not to mention – there are job situations that you love, that someone else might hate. So whose dream are we talking about?

  42. Mellow cello

    I was in a weird position where I didn’t realise I was working in a dream job until I left it. I came to it burned out from a job that, in retrospect, had significant problems so anything else would’ve felt great just because it wasn’t the awful job from before.

    I ended up leaving after a year because I changed industries and roles but I still look back on that job with a lot of fondness.

  43. Public Sector Manager

    I was never a fan of the phrase “dream job,” and I had a job that came close but all that changed when a new boss came in with some new ideas and a lot of insecurities mainly directed at me. Even still, once in a while, I will get the idea of looking for a job that is better than my current one (which is, overall, the best job I’ve ever had).

    So whenever I get the wanderlust for a new job and all the things it could be, I snap myself back to reality by envisioning that I direct a TV show and think of all the bad things that can happen: lead actor leaves the series; I’m fired after one episode so the studio head can promote their nephew; the producer stops backing the show; the network cancels the show; the dreaded writers’ strike; low ratings; the show has jumped the shark; etc.

    Then it makes me realize my current job isn’t half bad!

  44. Mary Beth

    I always said I didn’t believe in a dream job, then right out of grad school I got offered a position that I really wanted ever since I was a little girl. I traveled to beautiful places, faced dangerous situations, and saved lives in the process. It was a job that had people constantly asked me for pictures and thrilling stories; I was a frequent guest lecturer at my former university and the hit of many a party.

    And I hated it. We were supposed to be a team, but my coworkers belittled or outright insulted me when they ever actually acknowledged my existence. My cool, flexible boss felt that it was personal, leaving me struggling to complete my work and everyone else’s and often put me in dangerous situations alone.

    Six months ago, I left for a way less prestigious job. My new boss is thrilled with my progress, my new coworkers are kind and supportive. I no longer wake up with my hands clenched in anxiety and I don’t have headaches all day from clenching my jaw. I’ve been able to stop taking anti-depressants and I’ve lost weight from no longer stress eating every day. Thanks to the lack of travel, I don’t have to pay a pet sitter all the time and I have much more time for family and friends, who comment on how much happier I am. All this and a 25% raise!

  45. BikeLover

    I have gotten my dream job twice. Jobs that I had literally wanted for years, had trained specifically for and directed career decisions to project me in their direction. The first time, it was just as I’d dreamed- great colleagues, challenging and satisfying work- but after about a year, the company unexpectedly downsized and the whole department (which had existed for >20 years- was dissolved.

    The second time- the job I have right now- turned out to be a nightmare. Toxic leadership, backbiting coworkers, brutal work schedule, endless travel and the actual work is mindless and unsatisfying. I’m leaving soon, but I wish I could go back 3 years and not even accept this position.

    So, you never know.

  46. parsley

    I got my ‘dream job’ last year and landed myself in a toxic work environment with a chronic micromanager who thought that public humiliation and snide remarks were effective management techniques. No one except the founding director was over the age of 35, and the second in command had worked there since she graduated, so she thought it was all totally normal. After her, the person with the longest tenure had only been there three years, and this was 14 year-old company that was still stuck at start-up size. None of the original staff still worked there. It’s the kind of company that attracts really lovely young people who want to make a difference, but the director is such an asshole to his staff that no one sticks around for long. He made me redundant about nine months in and it was the biggest relief because it meant I wouldn’t have to explain why I was quitting once I hit the year mark.

  47. Peggy Olson's blues

    This article is so important- should be required reading for grads!
    I work in an industry that is filled with passionate people, however when a candidate declares that an opportunity is their “dream job,” its a bit of a red flag. There are so many awesome parts of the work, but it is endlessly romanticized and people don’t realized the breadth of the work required.

    1. Jennifer Juniper

      I assume that “passion” for work is just fakery and endless flattery of the company and the bosses. Passion means faking happiness and gratitude about every aspect of the job at all times and agreeing with everything the leaders say and pretending enthusiasm for everything.

  48. AnonyMouse

    As someone who works in higher education, I will be the first to say that we need to stop promoting this idea to students. I actively try to avoid using words/phrases like “passion” and “dream job” when talking about career related topics with them. I think we set them up for disappointment, especially over what their early career experiences will be like.

  49. Beth

    Hooboy, yes, I can vouch for both sides of this coin!

    My first career, I got my Dream Job, hurrah! I made barely enough to survive, had terrible benefits, zero prospects of advancement, and everyone was treated like the expendable peons we knew we were. The required mental state was “You work here because you loooove it” and “You could never be truly happy doing anything else”.

    Left that field. Re-trained. Got a job that I knew was NOT my Dream Job. Hell, I even had an exit plan!

    That not-a-dream-job started my second career. My second job in this field is where I am now, and most days, it IS a dream job. I hope and expect to stay here till I retire. And I will be able to afford to retire, because I did NOT stay in that first “Dream Job”.

  50. CareerChange

    I got my dream job, working for a mission I believe in at an agency I love, with absolutely lovely coworkers and a great boss, in the field I wanted to be in. And I ended up hating it. Turns out I hated the actual work. The job involved doing all sorts of things I despise (perfectly fine and normal work tasks, like writing reports and making phone calls, just things that don’t float my personal boat, so to speak). I ended up going back to school after a few years and am now starting a much more technical career that is way better suited for my skills and inclinations.

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