how do I come to terms with giving up on my dream job?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I have a very specific training and “dream job,” which for the sake of this question let’s say is archaeology (although it’s not). I’ve been passionate about archaeology since I was a teenager and have both an undergraduate degree and master’s degree in it, as well as years of research assistant experience and a number of conference presentations. Unfortunately, the job market for archaeologists is very limited, and most positions either require a PhD or specific mechanical/technical training I don’t have. While I applied for the few number of positions available to me, I unfortunately didn’t get any (and the salary tends to be below the cost of living for the cities they’re located in).

As a result, I got a job in an entirely unrelated field. I enjoy the work, the pay is reasonable for the location, and I am genuinely interested in the org’s mission. It’s just not what I imagined myself doing. Of course, going and getting a PhD is always an option if I want to return to archaeology, but I’m not sure I want to dedicate four to six more years of training just to enter the unstable academic job market, especially when that four to six years in my current job/general field could see me getting multiple promotions/salary increases. I guess I’m just looking for advice from people who have been in similar situations in how to come to terms with this. How do you mentally pivot from seeing your future career in one specific way to an entirely different career/field/goal?

Readers, what’s your advice?

Read an update to this letter

{ 358 comments… read them below }

  1. Miyon Im*

    Could you consider being dream field adjacent, supportive? For example, most companies along side the core “speciality” of the field need people in HR, finance. Sometimes marketing. Could you imagine pivoting to a different discipline (ie HR) but look to work in a place that centres on your passion?

    1. Gondorff*

      This is literally exactly what I ended up doing, OP, and I came here to say the same thing. My “dream job” is in a field that is heavy with burnout and very volatile, and honestly I think it’s worked out better to do more of the support/admin side. I still get to be involved with my dream industry, but from behind the scenes. I’m also very lucky that my current employer has allowed me to be as involved – or uninvolved! – as I want to be in some of the work we do that is in my dream field, and it tends to be the stuff that I enjoy most anyway. And if ever I do want to pivot more to the dream field, I’m still maintaining contacts and networking with folks in the industry.

      1. Silver Robin*

        +1 I work in the field/cause I care deeply about, but my role is admin/operations so I am not client facing and have a 9-5 job. My colleagues have jobs that are deeply prone to burnout and part of me wanted to be them, but I could not do the hours. So I found other ways to apply my skills and support those coworkers instead of being them.

      2. Jade Emu*

        This is how my husband transitioned from video games to a very successful career doing HR for video game companies. Easy enough to move those skills to a wider variety of companies when jobs are hard to come by, but we’ve always enjoyed being connected to the game industry.

    2. JJLib*

      That’s what I did. Got my undergrad degree in Education but the instability of the market and it ultimately not being the right field for me led me to leave after 6 years (3 part-time, 3 full-time). But I segued my education background into a short term daycare job, then a library job that I worked while going for my masters, and now I’ve been in my ideal academic/university library level for 11 years now. And I do still get to use my teaching experience, just on taller students than I did before.

    3. RinaL*

      Thats exactly what I did. My dream job has bad working conditions (long hours, not plannable, not much job security, low income) but, on good days, has the potential to change the world a bit. I tried to work there for a lot of years, always on the verge of burnout . Now I work in a adjacant field, supporting the people that have the ability to work under this conditions. I make their life a bit easier and help them probably change the world – without risking my health in the process.

    4. Presea*

      Thats what I did too; I wanted to be a video game developer for my entire life right up until I realized how awful the industry really was.

      For me it helped a lot to get honest and more precise about what I wanted from my career and which parts I should take and leave. I wanted to write code all day, and work on projects that had meaning. So for me, that lead me to web development, which has been a really good fit for me.

      If possible, maybe try volunteering or seeing what “archaeology” related hobbies you can enjoy on the side as well. I watch a lot of YouTube made by and for amateur game designers and I enjoy mentally picking apart the video games I play as I play them. I would happily be a hobbyist indie developer if I had the mental bandwidth for it.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is, get creative with the ways you can stilk engage with your passion!

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I think there’s a reason “amateur” comes from the root word for “love”, and professional doesn’t. I have a number of hobbies, but I can’t imagine myself enjoying them if I were trying to make them profitable.

        I’d much rather work a stable, low-stress job that makes me enough money to be comfortable, then come home and relax by spending time on my interests.

      2. AVP*

        I love this advice, and it applies to my career too. My degree and passion are in an industry that just did not emerge intact from the 2008 recession and largely doesn’t exist anymore.

        Rather than get a job in a support industry to that cool job (I found that really depressing tbh) I focused on the part of my old job that I enjoyed, looking at which day to day tasks were exciting versus draining. And matched those up pretty well to a whole different career, with a midway transition stop in between. I’m pretty happy! I wish the old career had worked out but it was truly a matter of timing and the industry, and people laugh now when I tell them what I used to do (“AVP, that is not a thing anymore!” said one client recently.)

    5. bamcheeks*

      Similar– I have a PhD and if you’d asked me 20 years ago, I’d have told you that my dream job was to be an academic. I work alongside academics in HE, and I finish work at 5.

      The thing about DREAM JOBS is that the downsides tend to be pretty damn down. This isn’t a coincidence, it’s because when something is a DREAM FIELD for a lot of people, they don’t have to offer good pay or conditions. Fields that have a lot of influence and glamour– theatre, the arts, academia, journalism– can treat people like shit, burn them out, and replace them easily. And then there’s also the fact that even if your DREAM JOB isn’t lots of people’s DREAM JOB and the conditions are decent, all DREAM JOBS are less dreamy from the inside, because as well as the aspects of the work you LOVE, you’ve almost certainly got to do [meetings-budgets-taxes-reports-bids-chasing clients-standing in the rain at a market stall hoping someone will buy the thing-delete as appropriate].

      There are lots of wonderful, amazing, meaningful jobs; there are many, many jobs where the bad stuff is more than outweighed by the good stuff; there are pretty much no jobs where all the stuff is good all of the time. One of the nice things about working up close to your former DREAM JOB is that the crap stuff gets just as real for you as the amazing stuff, and whilst there might still be aspects of the DREAM JOB that you miss and wish for, you’re less likely to the mistake the glamour and the good stuff for ALL of the job.

      1. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet!)*

        This really resonated with me. I work in law, which is often glamorized as a sexy, powerful, prestigious career with lots of money. I had dreamed of joining a BigLaw firm and working my way up to partner, just like my parent did. But then I remember that I never saw that lawyer parent growing up, and they have worked at least a little during every single vacation that they’ve ever been on. I realized the hours and workload of BigLaw was never going to be worth the money for me. I ended up opting for a less prestigious practice area at a small firm, but I have low billables, predictable hours, and steady work. It’s not the glamorous big city job I daydreamed of, wearing power suits and having fancy lunches with a martini, but it’s good work that pays my bills and I enjoy a good portion of it.

      2. Jen*

        My husband has a job that is “dream job” adjacent — his bosses and colleagues are largely in jobs that other people would almost kill to have. Many of them have had to sacrifice friendships (by moving all over for short term career gains), family (by postponing children they wanted and not attending to marriages they had), and hobbies and travel, all to make this job happen. For folks who get to do “fun work”, on pretty pleasant terms, for good pay, they’re a lot of them bitter. When folks throw shade at my husband’s relatively low-status job, he looks not JUST at his job (which is pretty good, too), but ALSO at the life he built because he have to make such huge sacrifices for his work.

      3. Tedious Cat*

        This is such good advice. I don’t believe these fields will ever change, because there is always a new dreamer to exploit up to burnout.

        1. JuniperGlass*

          This 100%! I also gave up a “dream” career in a field that I’d worked towards for close to a decade (museum work). I ultimately realized that while the actual work of the job was great, pretty much everything else about it was horrible – often due to the “dream job” label! Salaries were extremely low, and skilled people had to work for many, many years to get halfway decent jobs, often needing to move to remote locations to advance. There was no training, no professional development, and no incentives for managers to manage well.

          My advice: 1) Let yourself be sad about this for a while! You had an idea of what your professional life would look like, and the reality is going to be different. It’s totally okay to mourn that. 2) Try to figure out what it was about your dream that you really loved – I bet there are other jobs that will let you get the same thing. In my case, I loved that museums are places for constant curiosity and learning, and was pleasantly surprised to find a similar environment in the private sector – it just took some digging to find the right company culture. 3) Think about all the things that you have now that you wouldn’t have in your “dream job.” Would you really want to give those up for a theoretical chance at the job you wanted before? 4) Try talking to your past self, being kind and empathetic about their dreams for this job. Sure, they wanted this “dream job,” but there was a lot they didn’t know about the work world!

    6. goddessoftransitory*

      I’m going to give slightly different advice, simply because I was in the same situation and it stems entirely from my personal emotional setup:

      If you can find something else you like, that you can make a living at, walk away.

      I was a theater major and took longer than I should have to accept the reality that making a living at performance at all is a pipe dream for 99.9% of the people in the field, and to become a bankable star the odds are so vanishingly small as to be theoretical in the real world. I could have and did pick up a couple front of house jobs in local theaters, but it was simply too painful to be close to what I trained for and would never have. I basically had all the suffering in the garret and none of the eventual starring in the opera while the Phantom waits to cut the chandelier.

      If working in an adjacent field will get you both a bankable living, contacts for any eventual return, and professional satisfaction, go for it! But if it doesn’t, don’t put yourself through the longings of unrequited love (which is what it is) because of your past educational investment or hope for a miracle position. It may occur, but you have one real, actual life. Don’t spend it waiting around hoping fate will be in a good mood.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I like both of these perspectives. I’m in a day job (database admin) while also a part-time freelance musician. The beauty of it is that my “dream job” is something that I can do nights and weekends and doesn’t interfere too much with my day job. Most of my “dream job” was actually teaching children how to play instruments, and that wasn’t dreamy to me at all (though plenty of my musician friends still love that aspect of it, I burnt out after about five years). But I think goddess’s point that being “dream job”-adjacent can seem like unrequited love is very accurate. If I’d been unable to actually be a performing musician, I would have HATED to be in arts management. It would have been too painful to be involved in putting together concerts without actually being able to play with the rest of the musicians. So OP, whatever choice you make, think before you make it about how difficult it will be to completely remove yourself from the field vs. how difficult it’ll be to see others working in your field without being able to participate yourself.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        So much this.

        My day job pays for me to live so I can write and have a private space in which to do it as well as things like health insurance. Documentation work scratches the do-what-you-love itch in a slightly adjacent way (and makes use of the English degree I got) but leaves energy at the end of the day for creative work. It also pays for art-adjacent things like editing, hiring an actor for VO work on trailers, etc.

        Now if I were making big bucks from it, I guess it would become my day job. But that’s unlikely.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          I might add that working with spreadsheets triggers the part of my brain that likes gaming *ah Tetris* and so I find that part enjoyable more than most people probably would. But I’ll never tell my boss about that part, because that could bring up some unfortunate imagery to her. Even though tax work is wargaming (rules-based) for real money…

        2. Lady Catherine du Bourgh*

          A lot of young musicians consider playing in a professional orchestra a dream job. But I know a lot of symphony musicians and with a few exceptions, most of them don’t really *enjoy* music. They never go to symphony concerts, they don’t listen to music in their free time, because it’s just work to them. Even if they once loved music, they don’t so much anymore. I find it both interesting and kind of sad.

      3. SeaShells*

        Same. And I agree with your point of view. I am a “llama groomer” that has been out of the game for a few years while raising my children. I have continued to work part-time and further my education, but am having difficulty getting a foot in the door as llama grooming has changed over the years and it is assumed I am no longer qualified. I decided to get back into the industry by finding the field-adjacent position of scheduling llama grooming and feeding llamas. It is very difficult for me to watch other llama groomers do the job for which I was trained. I am doing important work, but I find myself wanting to shout to everyone “I AM A LLAMA GROOMER!” I am now pivoting to find something totally different. Maybe I will like pig-slopping!

      4. littlestviking*

        I relate to this so hard @goddessoftransitory. My schooling (including an expensive MFA) is in TV writing – also a notoriously difficult industry to break into. I didn’t manage to break outside of assistant/coordinator roles before the pandemic and then when that shut everything down, I decided to take it as a sign to pivot and started working as a podcast producer for a nonprofit instead.

        I genuinely enjoy the work, I like my coworkers, and I believe in our mission… but it’s hard not to feel like a failure for giving up on my dream. Especially since some of my friends and classmates *did* make it work in TV. As one of those “former gifted and talented kids who were told they could do anything if they worked hard enough,” it’s a lifelong process to decouple my value as a person from my achievements. Some days it’s harder than others.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          It’s so hard, isn’t it, sometimes?

          I was watching a Thin Man marathon on AMC, and in the forth or fifth one Stella Adler has a role as the Bad Girl. She’s very good.

          Adler, for those who know who she is at all, is most famous for being a very well known and “star making” teacher of Stanislavski’s famous Method Acting. (She trained Marlon Brando, among many others.) She always made a point of never, ever discussing her successful graduates because “for every one who has found achievement, there are others, equally gifted, who did not.”

          And I wonder if part of that attitude (and it’s a laudable one) stemmed from never really achieving the kind of success she trained for, that she got others fame and fortune for, but somehow was overlooked herself as far as acting was concerned. To see all those people go on to the kind of roles you know, for sure, that you could have performed beautifully, but were never given the chance to try.

      5. AcademiaNut*

        At some level it can come down to what matters the most to – the type of work itself, or the cause, or the working environment.

        I ended up in an academic field on the technical, rather than faculty, end. It works for me because I get to work on interesting technical problems in an environment I find comfortable. I could make more in industry (a lot more), but I earn enough to be comfortable, get good health/vacation benefits, and don’t really care about more than that. And I found I didn’t do well at the management/long term planning/complete independence of faculty track jobs. Working a support admin job in the same field would be a disaster, because I’m terrible at that sort of work. I know someone else who, quite young, went into the project management side. They’re good at it, and get satisfaction at contributing to the science end via cat herding. And I know multiple people on short term contracts who are bitter and angry, because the job they can get is not the job they want, and they resent the people who got better positions.

        If what you really want to do is act, then working front desk at a theatre could be soul crushing, and you’d be happier doing an unrelated job, and getting involved in amateur theatre. If you love being in the theatre environment, regardless of the job, then the front desk could work.

    7. Fives*

      This is what I did as well. I went to school for journalism but wasn’t able to get a job in the field. I’ve been working as a technical writer for a completely different type of company for 15 years now. It’s not perfect but it’s right for me.

    8. Shoebox*

      This is also very similar to what I did! My “dream job” is difficult to get into and tends to lead to burnout, and is nothing like how TV shows may portray it. Even if I pursued said job, there’s no guarantee I’d actually get there, and could end up in a similar job with a totally different focus (say I want to be a llama groomer, and go to school for animal grooming, join a company that has an animal grooming division, become an animal groomer….and end up grooming horses instead). I’m now in a support type role that works with animal groomers, but has much better hours, less likelihood of burnout, and was far easier to get into. Sometimes people in my position use the experience to go and become animal groomers, but I’m pretty happy with what I’m doing and it works really well with what I’m good at, tasks I like to do, etc..

    9. Emily*

      This is pretty much what I did. I thought I wanted to be an English professor, but the outcomes looked pretty dismal 15 years ago (and of course, they’re even worse today). Now I work in communications at a university.

    10. ad astra*

      My husband did something along these lines! He had an *awful* first two years as a high school science teacher (non-supportive admin, teaching 7 courses across 4 semesters with zero premade curriculum, the list goes on). Now he does IT work for the district he grew up in and is much happier!

      1. ad astra*

        To elaborate a little more: he find a lot of value in doing the work he does (a lot of which he’s always had interest in as a hobby) for a field he enjoys and believes in the mission of. He wouldn’t find his work nearly as fulfilling if he was doing it for a generic megacorp, even though he by and large enjoys his day to day duties. I hope you kind find a way to pair your passion & your skills that works out long term :)

  2. Sloanicota*

    I would say, if there’s any way to stay engaged with the “dream” industry, even in an amateur/volunteer capacity, do it. Prioritize it. Make it a part of your life, even if it’s not your profession. That way, you have a realistic sense of the field, warts and all, rather than a wistful sense of “what should have been” that may haunt you and prevent you from being fully satisfied. Also, you will continue to network and you never know what opportunities may arise that way – you could still end up being in a professional role someday, if that’s really what you want and are well suited to. I know I was not willing to go for more schooling after I finished my MS – that was an absolute dealbreaker for me.

    1. Ontariariario*

      This morning I listened to an accountant who really wanted to be a vet but couldn’t, yet they volunteered with wildlife rescue.

      1. Kirara*

        I’m also an accountant who wanted to be a vet or work with animals in some other way. I still tell people that if I won the lottery, I would open an animal shelter/ cat cafe or something. Instead, I work in an office full time, and began volunteering at an animal shelter on the weekends.

        1. NotBatman*

          My sister-in-law is a technician who wanted to be a vet, and volunteers at the aquarium! And my brother is a data analyst who wanted to be a park ranger, which is why he’s going to night school in the hope of a law degree to go into environmental law.

          A job is just a way to get rent and groceries; a passion can be something completely unrelated.

    2. cabbagepants*

      I agree. You can still engage with the field you love. For some people it will be nicer to keep your dream field as a passion project rather than job — plenty of people find the joy drained from their passion by having it be tied to a paycheck and being required to practice it regardless of their mental state.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        This was part of my issue with being a full-time musician: the joy got drained out of it mostly because I had too many students and teaching is absolutely draining but also because I had so little income that I needed to take every performing job offered to me no matter how terrible it was. Now that I’m only a part-time freelancer, I turn down the jobs that don’t interest me and I only do the ones that I know I’ll really enjoy. But I also play music for fun and not money with some really good amateurs and that’s also really enjoyable and low stress, low effort (i.e., I don’t have to practice hours and hours getting it absolutely perfect and performance-ready, though sometimes I wish I could perform the pieces we’re playing). The trick to working with other amateurs while being good enough in your field to be making money is to find other amateurs who are at your level, and that can sometimes be tough. But it’s doable, OP, if that’s something you want to pursue.

        I’m not sure how helpful all my advice is, since it sounds like OP is in a very different field from any kind of art (where PhDs are not really taken into consideration) but I hope some of what I said can transfer over to whatever field you are in, OP.

    3. Minerva*

      Was going to say this!

      My dream job was also in an extremely volatile field and I did all the schooling for it. However I am able to day a solid “day job” that I like well enough for all the mundanities of living. But I keep my dream as a robust, and occasionally money making, hobby. To be honest I probably enjoy it more as a hobby since I don’t have the stress of needing to make enough money to make a living.

    4. Ellen*

      This was my suggestion, too! In addition to the fact that you’ll still be developing connections and experience, you may find that once you’ve spent some time adjacent to the industry, you’ll be glad you didn’t pursue it full-time. Imagine if you gave up a lucrative job and went back to school for it… only to discover three years later that you actually hate working in the field (a not-infrequent occurrence with “dream” jobs, I think).

    5. kbeers0su*

      I agree with this. And I’m in the same boat. Always thought I would be doing one thing with my life but it’s a thing (like archaeology) that sounds super cool but is very hard to break into professionally, even with the right education, etc. So I still do that thing on my own time in some ways, with volunteer opportunities, etc. I know that won’t work for every field (like what sort of volunteer archaeology things exist??) but for some there are those things.

      1. Lexi Vipond*

        I was thinking it was that it wasn’t really archaeology, because there *always* seem to be volunteer digs going on!

    6. new year, new name*

      Yes, I’m doing this currently, and it’s working out pretty well for me! I know that, in a practical sense, pursuing full time work in my own “dream field” wouldn’t be a good fit for me for a variety of reasons, at least not right now. However, I’ve done a lot of volunteering and/or working casual side gigs in that space and it’s been both personally and professionally valuable. I’m vaguely planning on a career shift later in life, when my house is paid off and my family situation is different. You never know where life will take you — careers are long and just because you’re doing something now, that doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll be doing forever.

    7. Web of Pies*

      Eh, I dunno I think it’s tricky and depends on what field ‘archeology’ really is. A LOT of dreams/passions get ruined by the reality of working in that industry. Think anything in the art field (film and music being great examples) where passion and talent is regularly squashed or otherwise ruined by money-based decision-making, and VERY few people get to actually create what they want how they want.

      OP, can you make your dream job into a dream hobby? A dream volunteering position? And save the day-to-day grind and disappointments for something you don’t care deeply about? If not, do consider the realities of working in your dream field; it likely will come with a lot of restrictions you didn’t experience in your schooling.

    8. Ace in the Hole*

      I realized there was an irreconcilable disconnect between my dream field and what I need/value from a career. While I love the core functions of dream field, it lacks so many things I need to be happy and healthy… stability, work-life balance, structure, living wages, etc.

      I kept doing it as a hobby while moving on to other types of paid work. For a while I was very ambivalent about doing so because I felt like my paid job was stealing time from my hobby. Eventually, though, I was talking to a friend who had pursued a career in dream-field and said she wished she’d kept it as a hobby. When we compared how many hours a week we got to spend on the “fun” part of the job, there was not nearly as big a difference as I expected… and since I’m not relying on it for income I have way more flexibility in pursuing things that look interesting but unprofitable.

    9. Hats Are Great*

      I wanted to go on for a PhD in a niche field, but instead I went to law school and picked up a vanity masters’ degree in my niche field on the way. I stay in touch with the field through my friends who DID go on from the masters to their PhDs, and through voracious reading, and at this point, I’m good with it. I watch my friends slog through tenure battles and adjunct roles and so on, and I think that would have broken me. Even when my law job was excruciatingly dull, it paid a living wage. Now I work in an area that I find interesting and exciting, and it’s freaking delightful that it pays me a robust wage to do something pretty fun. (I mean, I write a lot of boring legal documents, but that’s fine, I write boring documents about interesting things. Can’t complain.)

      Because everything eventually falls under the encompassing arms of the law, a couple months ago some senior lawyers mentioned, “Ugh, this case we’re dealing with — we really need an expert in niche topic who also understands the law.” I was like, “I HAVE BEEN WAITING MY WHOLE LIFE FOR THIS MOMENT!” so now I’m getting to consult on that case as an expert in niche topic. It’s SO much fun. And I am legitimately doing a great service for my colleagues who need an expert who can sort through the bullshit and understand how the law is likely to interact with the specifics of the topic. They’re very grateful to have someone who knows the ins and outs of the niche, who fully understands the legal questions at play.

      But yeah, it also makes me realize again that I like my job, but I also like that I close my laptop at the end of the day and go home from my job, and I’m free to read whatever I like, instead of spending 24/7 chasing tenure. Sometimes I’ll tell a niche-friend that I read X niche book, and they’ll say they can’t wait to read it but they’re spending the next six months reading Victorian-era wrongness for a paper they’re writing for their tenure case, and can’t get to it, even though X niche book is probably more important to the field. Miserable!

  3. Elle*

    Art history major turned public health employee here! There were a number of artists in my public health classes. I wanted to work in a museum so bad but for all the reasons you gave it’s not gonna happen. I love art and museums and try to spend time in one when I can. Pre kids I volunteered in a museum and would like to do that again when I have time. But I’ve come to peace with the fact that it doesn’t pay the bills and support the lifestyle I’d like to have.

    1. Atlantic Toast Conference*

      Same! In an alternate universe, I am living an extremely professionally fulfilling life as an art history professor. A part of me still mourns that it didn’t work out for me in this universe.

      But a bigger part of me is extremely appreciative of the financial and professional stability that I have in a completely different field. My priorities shifted as I aged, and as I more fully realized the realities of working in my “dream” field… and I’m ok with that. OP, any career comes with tradeoffs; I’d encourage you to be really clear-eyed about what those tradeoffs are and which ones are worth it to you. Good luck!

    2. Callie*

      Art History major here as well! I wanted to do art conservation. Ultimately I decided to take another path.

      This secondary path was something I was also very passionate about and got my “dream job” pretty quickly. The work was amazing and exactly want I wanted to be doing, but the expectations and the work environment ultimately severely burnt me out. I also climbed the latter super fast and didn’t have a chance to hone my skills as much as I needed. Two years after I left that job, my former job had became three jobs…

      I went into an entirely different field, but had a lot of transferrable skills. However, life stuff happened, and I ended up back in the same field as my “dream job” but a step down the ladder. Luckily it didn’t also have a step down in salary.

      Taking this step back has been amazing. It means that I have more time to dabble in art and other interest areas.

      I might be taking a step back up to a similar job to the one that burnt me out, but I’m in a much better place to set boundaries, largely by working to separate my identity from my job. I was raised to believe my academic performance is my primary indicator of worth, so I had some personal work to do. I’ve also built a stronger foundation in my skill set by having this time to take a step back from a leadership job.

      So yeah–I’m at a point where I can enjoy this rollercoaster of work life. There have been some very, very low points, but I’m in a place now where I can see the bigger picture–and I like that picture. When I graduated from College, I had a very clear, very straight career path in mind. That’s not what happened and I am much happier where I am now than if I stayed on that path.

      So OP–I don’t think you can force yourself to quickly pivot. For me, there was some mourning involved as I came to see the limitations and the fit issues around my “dream jobs”. But it sounds like you have some good stuff going for you! Try to be intentional about reflecting on why you are following this career ladder and identifying ways to incorporate aspects of your former field into your free time. And have curiosity for where the path will take you–there is only so much you can plan for now.

    3. A BA PO*

      Art History major here as well – glad I found my thread!!

      I graduated with my MA in AH in 2010, so right during the last recession. I found that many of the non-profit institutions I would have tried to work for were not taking fresh grads with no experience. In fact, people I knew who HAD experience were taking unpaid internships, which I could not afford to do.

      I found a job after that in Technical Project Management , and eventually found that my real passion is Business Analysis. I am almost 15 years into my career and I’m just starting in my third job of this field, and I have TRULY found something that I love to do.

      I was pretty mad at myself for “wasting” my time & money going to school for Art History. I actually couldn’t really engage with it for a while. However, I have come around to enjoy going to museums again. This year I have made it one of my annual goals to read books about Art/Art History in my free time as well, which has been a fun adventure back into the field.

      I’ll never lose that interest, but I’m definitely not going back into that field (which I decided pretty early on). I like earning money! And that’s something I wouldn’t really be able to do in that field. I also wasn’t the most prolific Art Historian, but I am AWESOME at what I do now. In some ways, I blame the way our colleges are set up. There was a list of majors offered to me, but none of them *really* would have lined up with what I do now. And almost none of my peers went to school for what they ended up doing in real life. I think that’s the biggest disconnect that honestly does a lot of disservice to people.

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Popping in to say I agree about how colleges are set up to not really connect majors with jobs (except in very clear cut fields like nursing or engineering). There is a disconnect, and there should be at least some way to make the connection clearer at least somewhat. Especially if people are going to be dropping tens of thousands of dollars on an education.

        1. Elle*

          They did tell us my first day freshman year that most of us would not end up getting jobs in the field. I wish my parents had been the ones to have a conversation with me about careers, school debt, etc but they’re old hippies who put more value in following your artistic dream. We’ve been talking to our own kids about going to college and being sure they come out with a major that leads to a well paying career.

          1. Baby Yoda*

            I remember real estate school told us the same the first day — 75% of you won’t be in real estate sales. Worked out great for me, jumped into the black hole that is mortgage banking and made a career of it.

        2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          Not doing this feels willful on the part of colleges. And I get it on one hand, I don’t believe the point of college is to be vocational. But it’s in higher ed’s best interest to demonstrate connections between school to career, both in the kind of programs they offer as well as showing how programs that some people perceive as frivolous are actually building valuable, transferable skills.

          I know a lot of people with psych / philosophy / anthropology / literature degrees who have great careers in my field. Unfortunately each one had to stumble through it on their own. Generations of students later, that hasn’t changed.

  4. Dust Bunny*

    Does not-archaeology have volunteer opportunities?

    One of my siblings actually is an archaeologist and leads seasonal digs that involve both students and (knowledgeable, trained) volunteers. Some of the volunteers have been regulars for years and are really valuable in keeping things going . I’m in archives professionally but also do archive-y stuff on my own time so I can work with material that is different from the material in which my employer specializes.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Fundamentally, both of us are history nerds to the bone and would be doing something along these lines no matter what we did for work. We’ve also done reenacting/historical interpretation, etc.

    2. Cj*

      The thing is, it’s not really archeology they’re talking about. I wish people wouldn’t obscure their industry when the rest of the facts are so generic that they would not be identifiable. I think they will get better advice if they revealed what they actually do.

      1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

        Indeed. I find it a little difficult to think of advice in this situation because I too am literally an archaeologist and I would have some relevant suggestions for that field (it isn’t as impossible to get a job as you might think, although it probably won’t be well paid). I’m sure the same thing applies to whatever the actual field is.

        1. Cmdrshpard*

          “it isn’t as impossible to get a job as you might think, although it probably won’t be well paid). I’m sure the same thing applies to whatever the actual field is.”

          While more identifiable info could give more direct suggestions, I think the generic suggestions could still be good. such as volunteer opportunities, the field may not have them but then OP can disregard.

          I think the “well paid” part is a significant if not major part of the problem, OP mentioned pay being below the cost of living for the cities they are in.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I know that: I actually said “not-archaeology”.

        But it doesn’t have to be literal archaeology–lots of disciplines have volunteer opportunities, but what those might be specifically the OP will have to determine for themselves.

      3. Daisy-dog*

        It is a dream job though. So those are usually jobs that the general public know about in some way. Those may not necessarily involve volunteers – like most activities with NASA probably still require a security clearance. But maybe Space Camp needs chaperones.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          Adding to say: I fully recognize that dreaming of being an astronaut and supervising kids learning about becoming astronauts are very different.

          1. Analyst*

            I could have written this, except I have my PhD. do not go back to school to get a PhD, you’re highly likely to just be in the exact same position with a PhD. And that degree can make it HARDER to get non academic jobs…

        2. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Friend of mine actually got paid to chaperone kids at Space Camp! But it was kids at the school where she works, so in reality she was being paid to go to work. She still had tons of fun though. (She also kept trying to convince me to go along as a chaperone as well but I was like, I am absolutely dreadful at keeping groups of adults in line, never mind groups of children in line, thanks anyway.)

        3. SemiAnon*

          On the astronomy side there are citizen science projects, where you can work with data and interact with other interested people (check out the Zooniverse site for lots of options, in a variety of fields). Amateur astronomy is a very active area – astrophotography, public outreach, etc. and there’s still some amateur astronomy professional contributions with observations of solar system objects like asteroids, that can be done with a very small personal telescope.

  5. Les*

    I’ve found it helpful to remind myself that I am not my job and that this is what I do so I can finance and enjoy the time not spent at work. Take the prior advice and find a way to make your dream job part of your free time.

    1. Minerva*


      TBH that saying “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” is BS for a lot of people. More accurate:

      “Do what you love and people will find a way to chronically underpay you, and I hope you have benefits”

      “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life but you also probably really love accountant or something like that”

      “Do what you love and you’ll have terrible work life balance.”

      (Yes this is snark, I am sure many folks here love what they do for a living!! But it’s definitely not true for everyone.)

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        Haha! You are absolutely right. Some people do love what they do for a living, but so often “do what you love” is used to exploit workers. Maybe “do what you are good at and doesn’t kill your soul, and love your hobbies, friends and family instead?”

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Do what you love and people will want to pay you in exposure.

        I am very fortunate to have a job that is passion-adjacent, so I can sorta-use it but not have to depend on it.

      3. Poly Anna*

        So I made my hobby into a business and I ended up falling out of love with it and still needing to do it plus all the things I never liked in the first place. And I needed a new hobby.

        1. Chutney Jitney*

          This is why I never wanted to take any hobby down the “make money off it” road. I knew it would kill all the enjoyment to make it a thing I had to do.

        2. MigraineMonth*

          When I was between jobs, someone tried to get me to monetize my crochet hobby. I asked where I could find customers who wanted to buy a $400 stuffed animal. I’d rather give away my projects to friends than value my time at $2/hour.

        3. Sharks are Cool*

          This is interesting to me! My “hobbies” are things I have skill and training in, and I enjoy doing them, but when I am painting or writing I do think of it as work. Work that fills my soul–but it’s different from other things (like reading, knitting, exercising) that I do just for fun. I feel that I have a limited amount of focus for work per day, and I’m resentful of the day-job taking time away from the work I want to do. So I see advice like this from many sources about not turning your passion into your job, and I think, “Sure, but it will be different for me.” Part of my reasoning is that I genuinely enjoy all the admin/marketing/etc when it’s for something I care about. (This is for an art-adjacent business idea–I have no illusions about making any real money from fiction writing or fine art.) None of this is to contradict you in any way!! It’s just something I think about often, and wonder exactly how unrealistic I am in my goals/dreams. Getting a day job I care about a little bit more might could very well change the equation for me, but I’m still trying to figure out what that might be!

      4. Rose*

        These are perfect.

        I do what I love… in my free time. My job is there to pay the bills. It would be amazing if things were different but that’s life for me and most people.

        I had an X who was a musician. He was scouted from a passion project to play live for a popular TV show. It made him absolutely miserable and sucked all the joy out of his favorite hobby/passion, although it paid well. He quit after a few months.

    2. Smithy*

      Ah, I have found my people.

      So I love theater, I love the arts and ended up doing fundraising for a different field. Technically I could fundraise for the arts, but for years it was like “theater fundraisers don’t get paid blah blah blah”. Well recently, I saw a fundraising job for a theater in my city and had to look at myself in the mirror and admit that clearly wasn’t true.

      However, what is true is there are parts of fundraising for my industry that I love and am incredibly committed to. And there are days and weeks where the ability to shut off is amazing. And when I need that, I can go to local theater with friends and see a show and decide that it’s terrible and give my unedited Statler and Waldorf opinion without having to think if anyone in my industry is in earshot. To not feel compelled to read every donor list in every program and scan every audience to see if any of them might be present. Basically, I get to be 100% off the clock and do something I find fun.

    3. Sassy SAAS*

      It’s so helpful to consider that framing! In the US’s “work comes first” mentality, you become your job. We even start conversations with new folks by asking “what do you do for work?”. Some folks even see taking a job that isn’t your passion as settling, which it definitely isn’t! We’ve all been a little brainwashed by capitalism to think that we have to be passionate about and love our job, but it’s more than ok to take a job because it offers you financial stability, good work/life balance, and doesn’t make you want to pull your hair out.

      Continue to follow your passions, and maybe that dream job opening will come around again! But don’t feel like a failure or bad about yourself for not being in your dream job. Most folks aren’t, and that’s totally fine!

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. I’m so glad I never bought into the do what you love crap.

        I do enjoy my job, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing it well enough to get positive feedback for it, but I’m not passionate about it. It’s a job that I do for money, and that I don’t think much about off the clock.

        I work for the government, and that also matches my values in the sense that I work for the common good rather than to make rich shareholders even richer.

  6. ICodeForFood*

    I think many people who are interested in the arts face this question… I dealt with it by doing creative stuff on the side, while working at jobs that paid the bills. And I found that a) I liked being able to afford protein on a regular basis (which would not have been the case if I chose to remain ‘a starving artist’), and b) one can be creative while working in non-creative fields.
    I’m 66 years old now, and at the end of my ‘career’ (which was more like a series of jobs, as I’ve worked in 3 different fields over the years), and I still do creative stuff on the side.
    I don’t know if this helps… but hopefully it does.

    1. BRR*

      Music performance major here who doesn’t work as a musician because it’s a super competitive market and I was definitely not talented enough for a full-time orchestra job. I ended up in a different field where I really enjoy the work that I do. The key for me was to switch from starting with my passion to starting with what types of jobs are out there.

      And in hindsight, I’m really glad to have separation between my passion and my work. I’ve met far more people who seem unhappy from mixing personal passion and business compared to happy people. Doing something you enjoy is different when you’re doing it as a career.

      I don’t play my instrument anymore by choice but if I did I could have always done a little freelancing or community orchestras etc. Baking is my passion now but I would never want to be a professional baker or pastry chef. I would sum both music and baking up as I think it’s far better getting to be the one to determine how music/baking are in my life compared to it being my job and employers/society/life dictating how music/baking are in my life.

      1. Recently Retired*

        I spent part of my college years as an instrumental music major. But after seeing “starving” music majors graduate to become “starving” musicians with a degree, I switched to software engineering (1980’s).
        I was in several volunteer bands and orchestras over the years. Now, in my retirement, I’ve taken up ukulele and I’m spending time as an officer in an international service organization focusing on literacy.

      2. Chief Bottle Washer*

        I this music might be a case where even if you are talented enough, your dream job might turn out to be a kind of nightmare. This American Life did a piece on the orchestra for The Phantom of the Opera, and how soul killing it was to play the same damn music every day for decades. Search for “Music of the Night after Night after Night” if you want to hear it.

  7. NewJobNewGal*

    Dear OP, you never know what other fields you will love as much as “archeology,” until you are exposed to them.
    The field that I am in didn’t even exist when I was in high school. I didn’t know that my skills were just right for my future profession, and that I would be crazy passionate about it.
    Basically, if you pine after one career, then you won’t be able to see the other opportunities available to you. So be open! Try different jobs! You will be surprised what becomes available to you in the future!

    1. Nebula*

      This is a really good point, I’ve never had a ‘dream job’ that I’ve pursued in the way OP has, but as I was always mostly interested in arts and languages, I thought my career would be centred on that side of things. Even though I was good at maths, I never considered that my ‘thing’ on any level. Now I’m a data analyst working within a major arts institution – a position I got to in part from reluctantly taking on some data-heavy tasks years ago at a job, then finding I actually enjoyed it more than some of the writing/comms stuff I thought was my forte. And it’s brought me to a job in the arts, which was not the pathway I was on before. So OP, doing different things might get you back to ‘Archaeology’ through a more circuitous path than you expected.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      That’s been true for me too. I went to college with the assumption that Field X was my destiny, only to find out in the first year that nope, I did not like key elements of Field X. It wasn’t until my last year that I happened to take a course in little-known Field Y and it was a revelation!

      But more broadly speaking, I always thought my dream job would be (let’s say) building fabulous eco-friendly tree houses, which involves both Fields X and Y. The end goal didn’t change, but how I got there did. So I was still able to work on tree houses as Field Y, but after a few decades, my interests evolved and now I use Field Y skills in a different way to (let’s say) study and regulate forests rather than build specific tree houses.

      Interests evolve, new types of jobs become possible. Good luck!

    3. ferrina*

      This describes my career path. I found a career I liked in college (basically it was the only thing that got me out of bed when my life hit a really rough patch). I got my masters degree and then….couldn’t break in to the field. I tried for several years, but there was just no openings for me. Finally I gave up and took my career in a different direction.

      The new direction ended up taking me places I could have never imagined. I spent 10 years building up my career in that field. My original field sometimes gave me unique insight and skills that no one else had, and it was in really weird ways (think: an artist that mixes their own paints is working in a bakery and is great at getting the cakes just the right color). I moved to a new company that quickly realized that they could utilize my unique skill blend more widely. They created a custom position for me where I utilize both skills. I absolutely love my role and as a bonus, I make twice as much as I would have in the original career field

    4. Smithy*

      This reminds me of those career aptitude tests they give that seem well intentioned in their attempt to say “if you like doing X, you should be Y” – but often end up a bit wide of the mark.

      However, what I think they do get right is that the jobs that for many of us, the jobs we actually really like doing as adults are quite difficult to pinpoint when it comes to what we like studying. I enjoyed going into fundraising because I like being a generalist (knowing a little about a lot) and working with people. And while there’s a bit more to it than that, those are the main aptitude reasons why it’s a fit. But to high school/undergrad me – that would have never made sense.

    5. bamcheeks*

      A really big thing as well is that the way we’re told to think about what we love as children and young people is very often by subject- I love history, so I’ll do X; I love maths, so I’ll do Y. In fact, the stuff that makes you happy in a job is often way more practical than that, but you don’t know it until you’re few years into your career. Ali thinks he’s a sports person who loves sport and really wants to work in sport: turns out, he’s someone who loves meeting new people and is really motivated by competition and hates being stuck in an office, and he’d never have guessed he had “sales” written all over him but he bloody loves it. Alex thinks they’re an artsy literature person who loves artsy literature stuff and wants to be a librarian because they just love books so much: turns out, they’re a really visual thinker and really great at systematising information and even better, communicating it to other people and now they run this database that the whole organisation depends on and everyone thinks they’re magic. You often don’t know this stuff about yourself until long after you’ve made what you thought was The Career Decision. And then you look back and think, “huh, I thought I really loved that field trip because I really loved biology– and I do! But it was just as much the combination of being active outside and moving around all day and then settling down with a really tricky data analysis problem in the evening, and who knew I’d love being a construction project manager?”

      1. Expert Paper Pusher*

        Yes! I work in a niche field that didn’t exist until I was in undergrad (and is still unusual enough it will never show up on any kind of career aptitude survey). When I realized my dream field (psychology) wasn’t going to work out for me, I took a job just because I could BS a cover letter explanation of how my psychology coursework made me a good candidate. I fully expected to hate the job but needed to pay my bills. From there, I was able to figure out what aspects of a job were really valuable to me and eventually made my way to my current niche. The work is meaningful, I enjoy it, and I have work/life balance that never would have been possible if I’d stayed in academic psychology.

        OP, I hope you find whatever niche will fit you just as well!

      2. Joron Twiner*

        This is a great point and a very valuable addition to the debate of “should schools train for general knowledge or for the labor market?”

    6. Chief Bottle Washer*

      Great advice. I have a technical degree and expected I would be working at the bench. Did I ever do that after I left school? Nope, but I am very closely adjacent and still using that knowledge everyday. And it was a career I had no idea existed until I applied for the job and got it.

  8. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Find the meaning! I was a teacher until circumstances made it impossible to do so anymore. It was all I had wanted to be since I was a child. But now I’m an editor and I have found so much meaning in being able to help people in another way, and in finding ways to still incorporate teaching into my life through tutoring, reading industry literature, or even offering instruction in my company. It doesn’t have to be “I was this, but now I’m this”, it can be “I’m an editor who has some awesome skills because I was a teacher”. Heck, if you studied so much “archaeology” you’re still sitting on some valuable skills. You could be a weekend docent at a museum or tutor or whatever. :)

    1. Everything All The Time*

      ^^ Find the meaning is 100% my advice. I wanted to be an industrial designer to make products that’d support other people in making great strides (like better shoes or chairs for healthcare workers). I couldn’t get my foot in the door with the unpaid internships for experience and now I work in infrastructure designing system upgrades.

      it still feels like I’m disappointing my inner child sometimes, but having a job that fits the same purpose helps so much.

    2. ScottishVix*


      I was a dog trainer working towards becoming a certified behaviourist who became disabled and just physically couldn’t do the job I loved.

      When I was ready to renter the jobs market, I really thought about what transferable skills I had that I could pivot into a desk (preferably WFH) job. Turns out I liked helping people so I decided to try customer service. I’m currently doing call centre work dealing with finance (my accountant sister howled with laughter when I got the job, I’ve always been terrible with numbers). Turns out the strategies for calming a stressed dog work very well on stressed humans and callers love me.

      It’s far from my dream job, but I had no choice but to pivot and I console myself that 1) I got to do it for a while and that was a gift, 2) I was good at it but I cannot control what happened that meant I had to stop, 3) it gave me great skills that made me a valuable employee and well rounded person, 4) I am many things and dog lover will always be one of them, but I am more than my job.

  9. Hills to Die on*

    Just keep it in mind, stay open to options, and enjoy what you DO have. I am in that position currently and I don’t mind my field but it’s not what I wish I had done and I can’t go back to school right now. It’s not a reasonable option. But I have a great job for many reasons.

    But what volunteer opportunities are there for you as a hobby in archaeology? And what is it that interests you about your dream job? list those things. Not, ‘I adore anything with 8 or more legs’ but WHY 8+ legs is fascinating to you. Find other things that fill that mental engagement for you.

    I also know this: Some of the things I wanted most in life would have been terrible for me. I am grateful for what I have but I have also come to be grateful for what I never got.

  10. Sloanicota*

    I will add my perspective as someone who was very much drawn to an impractical field (fiction writing) that a lot of people dream about and few people make it in full time. I loved writing but I pursued Plan B, a more practical job market where there were full time positions with benefits (even if not always the best salaries or working conditions) while writing on the side (to be fair, artistic pursuits may lend themselves to the side-hustle model much better than, you know, travel nursing or archaeology). Now a decade in, I get to see “both sides” – the people who stuck it out and followed the dream, and the people who stayed dream-adjacent as hobbyists. No doubt in my mind that the first path would never have worked for me. I am still a writer but I’m so thankful I gave myself the gift of a more dependable income, mainly because I ended up staying single and it means so much to me to have retirement savings, health insurance, enough money to take vacations etc etc. That’s me. You know yourself best.

    1. Fish*

      At one point I did consider giving up a super-draining job for writing, because I do have the talent and the job was that draining.

      In the end I didn’t do that, which would’ve been the wrong move long-term for all the usual reasons. But considering it wasn’t an empty exercise. I realized that most people in this position don’t like their day jobs, period. Liking their other pursuit is a totally separate matter.

  11. Colette*

    Some questions to ask yourself:
    – how much do you value a job/paycheck? If you try to change back to your previous field, are you willing to take a lower paycheck?
    – do you want to go back to school? Would you do it if you knew it wouldn’t lead to a job?
    – are there ways to use your interest in a volunteer or side hustle type of job?
    – are there ways for you to indulge your interest in an amateur way?

    It sounds to me like you’re happy with your current job, but are mourning the life you thought you’d live – and that’s valid.

    1. Colette*

      There’s a quote attributed to Louise Miller that might be applicable:
      “I’m almost 50, and here is the best thing I have learned so far: every strange thing you’ve ever been into, every failed hobby or forgotten instrument, everything you have ever learned will come back to you, will serve you when you need it. No love, however brief, is wasted.”

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yes, I think this is very important especially in light of the fact that the LW has “an undergraduate degree and master’s degree in it, as well as years of research assistant experience and a number of conference presentations.” That’s no small amount of experience in “archeology,” and no job the LW has in the future can take those past experiences away.

        An illustration of this from my own life: a family member took two years’ worth of classes for a physical therapy program before changing their major to a different field entirely. They have no regrets about the change: neither regretting the field they ultimately chose nor regretting the two years of PT classes. They still retain a fair amount of anatomy knowledge, which is occasionally useful.

        LW, I’m sure there will be times in the future where you will call upon your knowledge of archeology or skills learned while pursuing your degrees/research!

      2. Cascadia*

        Or this quote: “there was another life I might have had, but I am having this one.”

  12. Viki*

    Is your life dreaming of working your idealized job, or the reality of being able to afford to live and thrive?

    I left museums/academics because the wages were insulting, and I could not afford rent. I found a job that I loved, very much in a different field, have success beyond what I ever thought and managed to save enough to buy a house, and afford to live.

    Do I still wish I was a curator? A million times, but I wanted a life. I’m passionate about advocating for museum jobs to if you need 5 years experience, and a masters, to even apply to pay a living wage, and have emailed museums about the unethical job wages, and done lectures in my grad school about museums wages and how you can pivot to other careers.

    A dream job is not worth the inability to not afford to live, and taking a job you enjoy that pays your bills. Or even a job you hate than pays your bills, does not make you less passionate about a field.

    It just means you have the desire to surive.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      YES–I know that “archeology” is a stand-in here, but I think this is the same thing as wanting someone else’s life that you see on Instagram. Yes, archeology probably has amazing moments. But are those moments worth all the other stuff, the stuff you don’t think about that much because they don’t fit the dream? It’s completely fine to have regrets and to mourn lives unlived but it’s also important to remember that you’re only imagining part of those unlived lives. I’m in what is my “dream job” and frankly, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be…so I still have fantasies of my dream job, just without all the crappy parts!

    2. another_scientist*

      In a similar vein, hone in on you being in control, OP. You are making a choice. The option available to you is have a career in not-your-dream-field right now, or investing 4-6 years at paltry pay, for a ticket to the lottery that is the academic job market. PhD positions are not that hard to get (depending on the discipline), so the choice here truly is yours. You are less a victim of circumstance, but you are choosing not to follow a career path that has many objective bad sides.
      It’s OK (more than OK, nothing could be OKer!) to prioritize stability, an income that can support you, and to not sacrifice these things for a precarious position that negatively affects the mental health of the overwhelming majority of those in it, according to studies.

    3. Hawk*

      I’m also a former museum professional (visitor services with a goal of going into museum ed) with the same experience. I was able to pivot it to working in libraries. Libraries isn’t exactly where I thought I would be, and I miss the informal education type of work I did in museums, but at least I can live on my wages, have a better work-life balance, and my institution actually helps cover grad school credit if I want to actually become a librarian (I don’t, but I’m good with being a paraprofessional). I did have to make part of that a priority. I had the opportunity to talk with a student at my college who was going in a similar path and I was honest about pay and job opportunities.

      1. Nargal*

        Ha, I left libraries for similar reasons! I pivoted out of my digital library “dream job” I prepared for in grad school cause I was burned out and didn’t like how I was defined by that job. I’m now in a data related IT job and much much happier. The work life balance is better and most of us aren’t doing this work on our off hours. It’s a job I’m good at, I enjoy, and I don’t worry about when I’m not at work.

    4. Emmy*

      very similar–I was in education for a while but wanted to pivot back into natural resources education/history education at museums or parks. Ultimately couldn’t find a job that worked with having a family. I still wish it had paid enough for me to do it long term, but I went into immigration law instead and discovered another “dream job.” it’s hard though!

  13. Keyboard Cowboy*

    My dream since I was wee was to be involved in spaceflight in some way – when I was very young I wanted to be an astronaut (doesn’t everyone?) and when I went to engineering school, I wanted to work on flight control software. For the first part of my coding career I focused on things that would help me – the types of software and languages that are typically used – and I kept applying to JPL every year or so. But the roles are few and very competitive, and I never got a call back. In the meantime I found something else I cared a lot about (open source software) and have since turned that interest into a career. It definitely sucked to try to come to terms with the idea of letting go of space. Space becoming a billionaires’ game definitely helped.

    So my advice: remember that when you were studying, you were young and didn’t understand as much about how the world works as you do now. Find a reason to care a lot about what you’re doing instead – maybe it’s the mission, maybe it’s a role-specific thing like focusing on your colleagues’ career growth, maybe something else. And if at all possible, convince Elon Musk that he needs to do archaeology in order to impress Jeff Bezos.

    1. Jackalope*

      I had a dream job that I got, and then it turned out not to work for me – I burned out so hard, and had to spend the next few years working temp jobs to bring myself back to a point of semi-health. Then one of the temp jobs was in a field I’d always been interested in – working at a zoo! It was great! I loved my co-workers, I loved the responsibilities, etc. I wanted to go full-time. But I would have needed a new degree for that, and I couldn’t figure out how to swing it. And I talked w/ someone at my zoo who said that I would have to be okay with moving around a lot because our region was popular for zoologists and so I’d have to build up seniority in the zoo world to be able to come back here. The idea of moving around the country for years to have a future *possible* chance of getting a job in my area, where my friends and family were, all after spending thousands of dollars on a new degree, just didn’t make sense.

      So I switched to a completely different career, and I’ve been here for over a decade now. Not gonna lie, sometimes I wish I was still working in one of my 2 prior careers. But for the most part I like where I am now, I’m doing things that have meaning and purpose to me, and I’m getting paid a livable salary that’s much higher than what I would have gotten at either prior job. So I don’t regret my decision, even if I wish that the world had worked out in such a way that I could make a living doing one of my first loves.

    2. Rick Tq*

      I spent 10 years in aerospace out of college, working on the Space Station Power System program in the early design phases. I moved from Systems Engineering to IT, and then out of aerospace entirely in 1996. Part of why I left was living thru the chaos Congress inflicts by changing funding every year. We lose 6 months of work time every time funding changes as we reschedule the remaining tasks to meet the new budget.

      I also left because basically every job in the field worked for NASA at some level. The final blow was realizing I would never earn a real living as an engineer, I’d have to move into management at some point to continue to get pay rises.

      Now there are a dozen or more rocket companies all running with their own funding outside of the annual reschedule process, you might want to look again for flight control software jobs.

      1. Keyboard Cowboy*

        Maybe. But I have a hard time stomaching working for most of the private spaceflight companies. When I compare the amount of good I can do working in open source (lots!) to what I’d feel, ethically, about working for SpaceX, I become a lot happier staying where I am. I realize that that’s a very privileged stance to have, and I feel lucky to be able to stick to it.

        1. Former NASA Contractor*

          Oh man, the aerospace engineering “are we doing bad things” thread! I do commercial spacecraft operations. I’ve always done spacecraft operations. I lasted less than a year flying spacecraft at NASA because the work environment was so toxic, the benefits so low, and the chances of advancement nonexistent unless you somehow magically became a civil servant… in which case you’d never have work-life balance because that’s Wasting Taxpayer Money on programs that were always behind. I would cry in the parking lot before driving home because I felt so frustrated and useless because we weren’t allowed to innovate or change anything.

          NASA was always the dream. NASA is the only place in the aerospace industry you can maybe? say you’re not part of the military-industrial complex? It’s the happy Starfleet place. And every commercial spacecraft operations company I’ve worked for has gradually become more and more defense-adjacent as what they do becomes more useful or valuable. Am I really making the world a better place?

        2. Alatheia*

          Maybe apply to JPL again if you’re willing to take a paycut? Anecdotally I’ve heard they’re hemorrhaging personnel because they cannot match the Blue Origins and other “new space” institutions, and have been trying to hire. JPL employees are not NASA civil servants so the pay is better but benefits are worse.

  14. soontoberetired*

    I actually know someone who has a degree in archeology but isn’t out digging in the fields. He has a job that his training comes in use for related to the construction industry. He’s better paid for this job then if he was working sites. He’s worked plenty of sites while in college and for a bit afterwards in his first job. So he’s not out on sites but he is enjoying being a hands on parent which he couldn’t be if he was away a lot.

    1. Sloanicota*

      In my original field (botany) there was a super-tricky conundrum where being a botany field researcher was tough to make a living at, but there was an adjacent relatively in-demand job working for construction/siting/environmental consulting groups. You could even do the thing you wanted to do, which was being out in the field all day assessing sites and identifying species! For pretty reasonable pay!! But, unfortunately, at many – not all, don’t come for me in the comments – of those jobs, the idea was you were there confirming for WalMart that their new construction site didn’t contain rare / protected plant species. I think that was a harder decision for me than stay in field / leave field.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        My sibling who actually is an archaeologist worked for a [unnamed specific government agency] for awhile that basically did this, except with historical sites. Sibling appreciated the other-side-of-the-coin experience but got out for fear it would prevent them from doing actual archaeological work later.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      I know an archeologist who works for the state highway department. He has promoted out of field work, but he did that for years.

  15. first year assistant prof*

    Early career academic here – I’m sure you’re aware of many of the ways in which academia/your chosen field is not all sunshine and rainbows. if it helps you to remind yourself of those things, focus on that! the pay is not competitive, we’re at the mercy of our government funding agencies and in some cases of our reactionary state governments, there just isn’t enough money to pay students enough to make for a more equitable future, bad behavior is often rewarded, I could go on…

    1. Sloanicota*

      Academia REAALLLY seems to do a number on people’s psyches, like if you don’t end up as a FT tenured professor, you “failed” – even if you end up in a far more lucrative position! I have seen so many of my friends go through this agony, and as a non-academic it’s so striking to me. What brainwashing are they doing in those PhD programs???

      1. Former academic*

        Best case: Professors in heavily-PhD producing fields got a LOT of career development in how to succeed at careers in academia and little/no training in how to find/succeed in careers outside academia, so the advice they have is biased toward the former.
        Worst case: Publications & grant money are professional currency. From that standpoint, it’s beneficial if your PhD students (a) spend all their time on publishable activities [vs. “wasting” time on internships or other activities that benefit their non-academic career potential] and (b) go on to academic jobs where they can continue to collaborate with you, since that results in more publications than you could produce on your own; potential to be a co-investigator on grants/have other people supporting the work for grants where you’re the principal investigator. (It’s not NOT a pyramid scheme, in that respect…)

      2. bamcheeks*

        I am slightly obsessed with how much academics are under the thrall of their own ideology. It’s especially amazing to me in arts and social sciences subjects, where “identifying and pointing out ideology” is like nine-tenths of the job description. But I just know an incredible amount of academics who constantly tell you that the PERFECT JOB is in here somewhere, and if you could just take away the stress and the admin and the job insecurity and the insane demands from students/admin/management/government and the two-body problem and the lack of funding and the need to write bids and demonstrate impact and sit on committees, you could do the PERFECT JOB and it would be PERFECT. and like, doll, literally everything you’ve said there, that’s the job. It is not the 1950s, you are not an elderly white man with a tweed jacket and a pipe who chats to students twice a term and concentrates on the Life of the Mind, you are a stressed mum trying to do a 60 hour week for less than the living wage, and it isn’t going to change until a hell of a lot more of you say no.

    2. Abbey*

      Another thing that might be interesting to think about is the driving force behind “dream job.” In the U.S., it’s very much the culture to hustle, make work your purpose and make all the money you can doing it. I think some other commenters are saying something similar/adjacent. It took me a LONG time to get past the idea that I should be looking for my dream job as a larger goal. I eventually realized that for me, there were things about a job that were important to making it enjoyable, but to feel so connected to my job that I got all of my satisfaction and achievement from it wasn’t interesting to me anymore. I’ve since changed careers (editing to social work) and love what I do, but I also love leaving work and exploring the other interests I’ve developed and nurture the relationships in my life that will keep me going long past a career might.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “Another thing that might be interesting to think about is the driving force behind “dream job.” In the U.S., it’s very much the culture to hustle, make work your purpose and make all the money you can doing it.”

        100% agree with this. And why is this the culture? Capitalism. Once you see that, you can decide that maybe you would prefer for capitalism to NOT be the driving force in your own life.

  16. Music With Rocks In*

    My degree is in archives and I spent years trying unsuccessfully to break into the field. I don’t know if I’ll ever find a different career that I’m passionate about. Eventually I just settled for finding a job that pays enough to live on even if I’m not enthusiastic about it.

    1. Anon Y Mouse*

      Can you see yourself in records management or information management? Data protection officer? These kinds of things can be adjacent and make you a better candidate down the line.

      I was the same for a while. I got lucky very early in my career and got a wonderful archives graduate traineeship… which I then could not parlay into an actual paid job. My archives master’s was designed to be done while working in an archive. Much of that time I spent in university admin (something for which I could easily get hired). I then got a job as a records manager in a university, which… well, I now think I didn’t bring the right mindset to it. I saw it very much as a poor relation to archives (not helped by archivists’ tendency to refer to RM as “the dark side”). I wasn’t happy and was looking for the exit by about year 2. It took several years of applying and getting rejected, and some retraining, to pivot back to archives.

      But! My RM experience has actually been really valuable and the job I’m in now is about 60% RM (but the working environment suits me better). I am glad I hung on in there although it has taken me till my early 40s to get where I wanted to go, and this is still not a “dream job” (I like the public-facing and engagement side of archives and this job has none).

      1. Tammy 2*

        My “dream job” was in academic libraries, and I did work in that field for a few years before pivoting to records management due to a series of personal circumstances. For many years, I felt like I’d failed because I wasn’t doing exactly what I went to graduate school for.

        Recently, I’ve come to realize that I am so, so much better off where I am now, financially and emotionally-speaking. My current work leaves me with the work-life balance and mental and emotional bandwidth to pursue a creative career on the side, which I am finding far more intellectually fulfilling than work at my “dream job.”

        As a young adult I fell hard for the “do what you love” concept, but I now I think it’s pretty much a capitalist scam designed to get us to sacrifice our personal lives for the sake of our jobs. (Don’t get me wrong, I am truly happy for those who love and are fulfilled by their work, but I think it’s rare enough to be an unreasonable expectation.)

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I’m a sub-professional in archives and this is why I do not plan to get an MLIS: I’m probably better off staying here but without the student debt.

      1. Anon Y Mouse*

        I can understand this. I am in the UK so my qualification was “only” a few thousand pounds, but it took me over five years to qualify while working and put a strain on family life. There are now para-professional routes to qualification in the UK, although they are still pretty new, and if I was in your position now, I think I’d be trying for that.

  17. Rocket Raccoon*

    You can be passionate and involved with archaeology even if it’s not your job. SO many kids were told “follow your dream” without a real discussion of whether their dream had a viable career path. And this way you won’t have to worry about burning out of archaeology with a low pay, unstable job.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I suspect that this is generational advice that changes with the boom-and-bust of the economy. I’m betting the children of Depression-era parents were told to be practical and consider trades. As a millennial, I got a lot of “follow your dreams” and “you must go to college, avoid the trades” advice. Children of millennials are probably being told to find a stable job that pays well and consider going to trade school.

  18. Linguist*

    I’m in the same boat. For me, I’ve been asking myself– what broader aspects of the field are not being served by the current academic community, and how can I, by taking a position outside of academics, fix that? For me, it’s that science communication on linguistics topics is generally poor/absent (can fix that by writing nonfiction on the side, which is easier to support if you have a stable 9-5 job), and that not just students but professors as well don’t have a good idea of what careers exist in linguistics (can fix that by working in business/industry, doing outreach talks to students in departments, advocating for internships).

    You cited archaeology as an example. There are plenty of worthy and very necessary archaeological projects (especially less glamorous things like site preservation) that really need money. Could you organize a fundraiser? Arrange some sort of corporate sponsorship?

    Again, what are the major things the field isn’t getting right that only you are in a position to notice or fix?

  19. Richard Hershberger*

    Oh, dear. Welcome to reality. The thing about dream jobs is that, unless your dream is very unusual, lots of people share that dream. This is why they can pay so poorly. It looks like you have landed on your feet, which puts you ahead of a lot of people with that dream.

    What I tell my kids is that if they can land the dream job, great! But don’t expect your dream to also pay the rent. It sometimes happens, but more often it does not. So find a job that will, and which doesn’t make you hate getting up in the morning. It seems you have managed this. Then have a passion hobby. If you can do not-archeology on this basis, there you go. This is what I do with my early baseball history stuff. I do my research, give presentations, write articles, and have moved into writing books (shameless plug: The Rise of Baseball, 1744-1871, coming out next spring from U. of Missouri Press). How does not-archeology feel about the “independent scholar”? If open to such persons, this can be very fulfilling.

  20. J!*

    I ended up with a couple of major career turns and am not doing what I thought I would be doing (and wanted to do for a long time). When those pivots happened, it kind of felt like my entire world was ending. I was not in a great space. But with the distance of almost a decade since the most recent one, and another half decade for the one before that, I can see that they were the right choices for me. I like my job, I like my life, it’s not what I would have pictured but it’s pretty great. Who knows, maybe some multiverse version of me is happy having gone down that first path, but I can’t even imagine what a successful version of that would look like anymore.

    It’s easier to say on the other side than while I was going through it, though, and if someone else had said this to me while I was going through what you are I would have been pretty skeptical. I try to focus on moving forward, finding ways to incorporate the stuff I liked from that world as a hobby (reading about it, volunteering in adjacent ways that I can, etc). But more importantly than anything else, I worked really hard on finding other meaning/identity for my life outside my work. That was the biggest thing that helped me move on. I have a job that I like and that pays ok, but it’s just my job. It’s not who I am, and it’s not the primary way I define myself. And that’s ok!

  21. TCO*

    Pretty early in my career I also decided to move from my “dream job” into adjacent roles for the money. I saw that the work I thought I loved most would relegate me to barely-livable salaries with long hours and a lot of emotional toll. Going to grad school would increase my earning potential eventually, but only after many years. So I took a different path.

    My work now is also very meaningful and fulfilling, but I make almost twice as much money and have better work-life balance. And due to all of these factors, my job now really feels a lot like a dream job! I love it both because the work is satisfying and plays to my strengths (maybe even more so than my original field), plus I enjoy a happy out-of-work life with a fair salary and healthy boundaries.

    Don’t discount how fulfilling it can be to make good money doing something you like, even if it’s not what a past you thought you would love. Focus on the future and you might find yourself quite happy.

  22. Chairman of the Bored*

    There are advantages to keeping your passion separate from your source of income; it can be tough to have something you have a strong connection with tainted by filthy commerce.

    I recommend looking around for the more-practical version of this dream job, one that will get you paid while still staying adjacent to the field and keeping your knowledge current.

    I get paid to design complex equipment that I’m not passionate about; but the job is good, the work is interesting, and the pay is stellar. I can do my fun equipment design projects on the side – my own way, on my own schedule, without having to answer to anybody or worry about whether they’ll find a market.

  23. ThatGirl*

    I wanted to be a journalist for like 8 years. That was my dream and goal. I made it. And then I flamed out. And now I’m in marketing.

    My husband wanted to be a writer, a novelist. He has a whole series of books in his head. But he realized in college that you can’t really get a day job as a novelist. So he pivoted and is now a mental health clinician.

    I know it’s hard when your identity has been focused on one thing for so long. But many, many people do not end up in the careers they ostensibly went to school for. I know theater majors who are project managers and law school grads working in HR. My dad was a music major who went into ministry and after ten years turned his skill set to disability advocacy organizations. If there’s a way to find volunteer opportunities or use your more niche skills in other ways to be involved, go for it. But it’s also OK to just have a job/career that pays the bills – it’s so common to have your career shift over time.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Thinking a little more – this year marks 20 years since I graduated from college. Some of my friends’ paths:

      – comm major, went to grad school for comm science, has worked in finance and as a copywriter
      – comm major, went to law school, has worked as a lawyer and in HR
      – music major, wanted to work in radio, did so for awhile and now is an account manager
      – bio major, got her PhD in cell biology, now a professor
      – art history major, wanted to work in museums, did event planning in public radio for awhile and now works for the Chamber of Commerce in her hometown
      – comm major, masters in journalism, worked for NPR for awhile, went BACK to grad school and wants to teach

      1. Nebula*

        Funnily enough, I think I never had the idea that degrees straightforwardly lead to related jobs because my dad had a degree in Physiology but ended up working in governance for a major museum. Since he retired last year, he’s set himself up as a rare books dealer, something that began as a hobby around 20 years ago. You truly never know how things are going to pan out.

        1. kicking-k*

          I think you see that mindset a lot more now than 10-20 years ago. I did an English and Modern Languages degree and never really expected to get something directly related to the subjects (I hoped I’d get to use my languages – that has never happened!) I eventually did a vocational Master’s.
          These days, at least in the UK, kids seem to go into very vocational degrees from the off because when almost everyone has a degree and you have to pay fees, the humanities are seen as frivolous and not competitive. I can totally see why… but I’m sad for all the people who have to pick a vocational subject at 17-18 before they can really know what’s out there.

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Yep – my dad has a degree in physics (a BA, in fact, which always entertained me, but his college only did BAs, no BS) and taught high school for a few years, but from the time I was 7 until he retired, owned and ran a B2B office furniture and supply store.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Another thing I notice is that all the examples you gave have very transferrable skills at their core.

      OP, you might be good at what you do because of your degree. Maybe you know that, but maybe you don’t and I think it’s important to help realize that time spent was still very valuable.

      A lot of us have passions that don’t make money. I hope you can still find ways to indulge your interest in ‘archaeology’ in other ways, but don’t beat yourself up for your career going in a different direction. You find a way to support yourself, that is at the end of the day what a career is for.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yes, I meant to make that point a little more explicitly, thanks for spelling it out. We all bring our life experiences and skills to our jobs, even if they’re not exactly what we thought we’d be doing.

    3. Richard Hershberger*

      There actually are a fair number of people paying the rent by writing series of novels. The field broke wide open about fifteen years ago, when self-publishing and distributing via Amazon ebooks suddenly became viable. Some writers suddenly found themselves pulling down six figures.

      That is the roses and unicorn farts part of the story. The flip side is that the space filled up fast, and is harder to break into now; the job involves endless self-promotion, as in that is at least half the job; the income is not steady; you depend on the good will of Amazon, who is (and this is critical) Not Your Friend; and the business model is of producing huge quantities of books (one a month at the upper end) sold cheaply. In other words, this is the modern version of the pulp fiction of a century ago. Some thrive writing this way, while many burn out. And if you really want to write the Great American Novel, this would be agony.

      1. ThatGirl*

        It’s more like “nobody will hire you to sit and write books all day” that was the realization.

        While my husband is a super creative guy, he does not have the necessary drive for self-promotion and while he did eventually write a draft of the first book in his head, it took months and he hasn’t done anything with it since.

        So yeah, of course people can and do make money writing (I suspect a lot of what you’re referencing is in the romance space) but for most people it’s a hard slog at BEST.

        1. ThatGirl*

          *writing novels, I should say.

          I make money writing, but it’s marketing copywriting, not cranking out books.

        2. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

          It’s a hard slog that can ruin writing as a hobby. I aspired to be a novelist as a teenager, and I’d say I have an above-average writing sensibility. But I recognize that I am simply a little better than most people. I don’t have genuine talent. And more importantly, I realized that I don’t have anything to say.

          So I went into journalism (and later marketing), and from that moment, the idea of writing for pleasure, without being paid, was a lot less appealing. I love writing, but the only writing I do is for money. It’s my profession. I hope it doesn’t sound crass, and it’s in no way a judgment of people who write purely out of love. I’m glad they enjoy it. I enjoy it, too. But ever since it became my profession, I’ve viewed writing as a trade, not a craft. Words are money to me.

      2. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

        It is VERY hard to make a living writing fiction – especially “literary” fiction, for lack of a better term. Most of the literary writers I’ve known have supplemented with a steady job somewhere teaching creative writing, or go from program to program, semester by semester, as a guest lecturer.

        You can cobble together a livelihood in genre fiction – romance, mystery, etc. – if you can put out a book a year and are really good at what you do. Even then it’s dog-eat-dog and the advances are small. The real money now is in film and TV, which is sort of where it has always been. What you’re really hoping for, at least financially speaking, is a decent paycheck for your novel and a jackpot auction for the movie rights.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          What you describe is the traditional publishing route. The newer self-publishing route works a little differently: higher volume and more time spent with self-promotion. What brought it all together for me was the realization that we are not merely talking about genre fiction, but (to be blunt) low end genre fiction. Think Harlequin romances, not books initially released in hardback. It very much reminds me of the pulp fiction writers of a century back, churning out the word count for a very low per word rate. Those guys only had to sell themselves to editors, not directly to the readers, suggesting that the modern version is worse.

          1. Sir Nose d'Voidoffunk*

            I am admittedly extremely leery of self-publishing. It strikes me as a path to real heartbreak. The idea of being a self-published author who doesn’t sell at all makes me want to die. That said…”The Martian” happened. This stuff works for some people.

            I know people rail against gatekeepers, and lord knows I’ve railed against my share over the years. But from all appearances, the overwhelming majority of so-called tastemakers knows what they’re doing. For every Andy Weir or Walt Whitman, there are a million deluded writers who went that route and did not benefit at all.

            Independent of all that, I have no idea how people write fiction. It really does seem like magic to me.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              As someone who has submitted book proposals to editors, I understand the allure of skipping that step. As someone who reads books, I want my gatekeepers! I rarely buy self-published books. When one slips through (often because the writer disguised that it was self-published–itself a telling phenomenon), it quickly jumps out at me that this book would have benefited from more editing. The exceptions are established authors who in part or in whole have transitioned over. I strongly suspect they pay a real editor out of pocket.

              Reading discussions within the self-publishing field, the idea that a reader might want a gatekeeper seems to be an utterly foreign concept. I have never quite decided whether this is a failure of abstract thinking or these people just have very low standards.

              1. allathian*

                Yes, that’s been my experience as well. I’ve only read original self-published ficition by accident, and all of them would’ve benefited from a lot more editing.

                That said, the best fan fiction I’ve read has been so well-written that I’d happily have paid to read it.

                Only very few authors can do what Agatha Christie did, and write at least one novel a year. Some years, she wrote more than one, her top year was 1934 when Murder on the Orient Express and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? as well as the Mary Westmacott novel Unfinished Portrait were published. The two crime novels are also considered to be among her best work, so it’s not as if she sacrificed quality for quantity. But thanks to her publisher and agent she could pretty much exclusively focus on her writing. The market was very different then and didn’t require as many public appearances by authors.

        2. ThatGirl*

          We actually have a friend who is a published author (through more traditional routes) – but that’s not his day job; he is a professor who just happens to have written two novels and a memoir. And even though his first novel won a prestigious award, he has told us that the various TV options he’s signed have made him far more money than the book itself ever did. (Still not enough to quit his day job though!)

  24. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

    Book recommendation: Barbara Sher, “I could do anything if only I knew what it was”. That has some good stuff on finding the essence of your dream down an avenue you might not have thought of before.

  25. Panda*

    I think of my job is allowing me to afford the necessities of life and as a way to fund my passion. If I worked in my passion (sewing), I may not even enjoy it anymore and I know I wouldn’t be able to afford my house or other lifestyle things I also enjoy.

  26. Chicago*

    I had a similar dilemma when I decided to leave classical music behind. I was a child prodigy with a particular instrument and got into Juilliard but went to an academic college because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a professional musician for my entire life. As I went through college and beyond, I realized just how hard the field of music is. you have to wait for someone to practically die before you can audition for one of two spots in an orchestra. Even if you make it to a top orchestra, you have to work lots of nights and weekends. And if you don’t make it to a top orchestra, you have to do a lot of gigging to scrape up barely enough of an income to live on.

    Anyway, I decided that wasn’t the life I wanted to live, but I did have a hard time with it. I cried, a lot, as I felt my skills slipping. I beat myself up, a lot. And then eventually, I decided to forgive myself for making the right decision and letting my pro skills slip away.

    I still wonder “what if” and it’s been literally 20 years. But I will say that over time, I ran into TWO of my fellow prodigies (other instruments) who stayed pro, and neither of them is happy because this is a very.rough.field. They’re among the very best players in the world, and they’re scraping by.

    I wish I hadn’t beat myself up so much for making my decision. I hope you can avoid doing so too. But if you can’t, just know that the guilt and the what-if is a very real thing, and try to be kind to yourself for living your best life.

    1. ItsTheFinalCountdown*

      I came here to tell a similar story (minus the child prodigy part). Your “wait for someone to practically die” comment hits home. I went to a conservatory, moved to NYC and ended up doing temp admin work at finance companies to pay bills while auditioning and gigging nights and weekends. One day someone offered to promote me to an operations job that paid double so I said ok. For over 10 years I moved up the ladder in finance while continuing my music passion part time. Then I moved somewhere less cultured and had to mostly give up music but am so thankful for my unplanned finance career that provides remote work and work/life balance that lets me raise a family. I too sometimes wonder what might have been had I gone all in with music, but like to say my career has had many chapters, I’m proud of what I accomplished as a musician, and I wouldn’t change anything.

  27. Just Alma Now*

    Did I accidentally write in to Ask a Manager in my sleep again?

    Seriously though, OP, I’m afraid I don’t have any great advice to give, but I do want you to know you’re not alone in going through this right now.

    Sending good vibes and plenty of internet hugs your way!

  28. Candles candles*

    I went from getting my degree in philosophy to working in candle making. It was surprising i enjoyed candle making more than I expected. So I made it my career. It took me several years but i did decide to take classes I foubd a shortened version to a degree that accoubted for field experience. Therefore I did not have to take a whole bunch of classes for a full degree again. It was worth it. I am older than most in my industry but it was very much worth it. Take your time and do research before you decide. There are other ways to learn than a degree. I took time to decide if I wanted to continue with a degree. I weighted the time, money and where I was mentally etc at the time.

    1. Hanani*

      Okay, if you literally went into candlemaking (vs that being a stand-in) I want to hear all about it!

      1. Candles candles*

        Sorry I do not. I do dabble in candle making but I am not good enough to make it a career its just a hobby.

    2. The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon*

      I was enjoying picturing people debating the value of real-world candle experience versus candle theory for degree requirements! “Sure, they’ve made a thousand tea lights but how conversant are they in the history of church votives? Is someone REALLY a candlemaker if they don’t know the various compositions of Greek Orthodox versus Catholic ceremonial candles?” (I don’t know things about candles, clearly.)

  29. Chelle*

    Former theatre person (stage manager) turned IT person here! I am *so* glad I sold out when I did. What has helped me is remembering what things I have because of this job that I would have had if I’d stayed in theatre (a house! a retirement fund! paid time off!) and staying engaged in theatre as a patron at least. You didn’t *fail* because you didn’t end up doing what you thought you would: your priorities changed and so did your goals and that is okay.

  30. Magpie*

    Depending on the field, there are often ways to participate in the field without making it your full time job. My husband and I are both in that situation and have made careers out of jobs that pay the bills but still stay involved in our passions. I’m a musician but knew from the beginning that it would be a struggle to cobble together a living doing that full time. Instead, I play in a community orchestra and pick up gigs here and there while working full time in tech. My husband went to school for journalism and worked at a local station for a decade before being laid off. He wasn’t able to find another full time job in the field so he pivoted to something else but still freelances as a cameraman on a regular basis. Think about what sort of volunteer or freelance opportunities there might be in your field and you might find that’s enough to keep you engaged in the field without needing to make it your life’s work.

  31. glovestealingtaxidriver*

    Is your field something you could do part-time? As a volunteer position? It’s hard to know without knowing what your field is exactly, but is there a way to use your education and training while keeping your stable, well-paying job?
    (I work in EMS, and while I’m career, a lot of my fellow EMTs are volunteers who do corporate taxes or sell real estate by day. Their volunteer work lets them be a part of EMS while still having a fair paycheck, good benefits, and humane hours, which you mostly will not get on the career side.)
    Giving up on a dream you’ve had since you were a teenager is something I tried to do many times, and I was unsuccessful every time, so I’ll leave it at that.

  32. JAnon*

    I wanted to work as a designer/creative director in an ad agency. But then realized that the work it took to get there, with the pay on the way just wasn’t lining up with my other goals in life. I work a much drier marketing role now, but I still enjoy it, get paid really well, and stop working at 5 pm so I focus on what I do have. Very recently I was honest with someone and said I had a lot of fun doing design when I was at a nonprofit but I also like money and saying that out loud made me realize that that makes my job what I want to do because I have that.

  33. Sam I Am*

    My chosen field is in the arts and doesn’t pay 100% of my bills, so I also DayJob. As I age I know that the DayJobs I choose need to be less physically demanding, and there are a lot of crossroads at this intersection. I’ve generally been happy through my lifetime, I drew up a very short list of What I Need To Be Happy in my late 20’s and it has served me well. Very rarely does it get adjusted, but this bit about physicality now has consideration when I think of my list abd the future. I have no children or romantic partner, so it works well being self-focused.
    I suggest you spend a little time on your list, and really, keep it short. Mine has 10 things on it, here’s 7 of them, to give you a sense of what I mean:
    1: a safe place to sleep
    2: clean water
    3: electricity
    4: nutritious food
    5: reliable transportation
    6: the ability to travel at least to friends and family
    7: doing my art

    It’s kept my ego in check, if I feel a little jealous, I think about what I have and how wealthy it makes me. I’ve been at peace with my choices for, well, a couple of decades now.
    Once you have your list, you can make decisions based on it- what’s most important to you? Whatever it is, make it your priority. Unapologetically. Good luck with your choices, it sounds like you’re a person with options.

  34. Smiley Today*

    If you strip away the field, and the specific roles, what about your dream job is important? I think people can get caught up in a dream job being so specific. If environmentalism is your dream, that covers roles from research to janitorial service. I also liked the idea of about field-adjacent – you’d still be supporting the area you care about in a way they cannot. I ran an art gallery for years, and was often asked if I was an artist myself. Nope! I did what the artists could not do for themselves, and needed. Didn’t make me less in the arts.

  35. Belle007*

    I am going through something similar now and have been focusing on my “meta goals”, or the overarching goals behind my focused objectives. This is allowing me to consider how to fulfill my career meta goals, which are truly what’s important to me, from a new perspective, and to incorporate my passions into more areas of life. Hope this is helpful and good luck!

  36. couldhavebeenanemail*

    Volunteering is great, as everyone has suggested, and I love the mindset of “work is what I do to be able to afford participating, even in a limited way, in my passion,” too. Another way I’ve done a similar thing to my own not-archeology is to join professional orgs for their free/low-cost entry fees to at least listen to and partake in discussions in the field that I love. It keeps me up to date on what’s happening and it’s a great way to make contacts and hear if there are any “ins” that happen to arise.

  37. Riina*

    art major turned programmer here, here are a few things that have helped me:

    * getting involved in lots of hobbies outside of work helped me stop identifying so much with my career as a big part of my identity, which helped with the chafing i felt when introducing myself as not-an-artist
    * thinking about what drew me to the arts in the first place, and looking for other ways to scratch that itch (eg I can still paint for fun, without all the added stress of trying to make a living from the results of that)
    * like others have mentioned, volunteering if that’s something that makes sense for not-archaeology
    * once i’d made the switch to programming, i picked up a specific niche/company as my dream job and after a while i got it and it… wasn’t everything i thought it would be? it came with a lot of burnout and then the dream turned a little bitter because [reasons having to do with capitalism] and after that happened, the idea of a dream job just kind of drifted away. not that i’d recommend “get horribly burnt out and disillusioned” as a strategy but remember that it’s okay to have a job be just “an okay thing that pays the bills and pays for the hobbies that you really like” rather than a part of your identity or something you’re “passionate” about

  38. Data Maven*

    I did something similar, and this is what helped me
    – It’s okay to grieve that dream – allowing myself the space to do that helped me move on internally
    – Focus on what your current role is providing you. For me, the “dream” would have led to being overworked and underpaid. Because I’m not in my field anymore, I find it easier to set work/life boundaries – and I have time cultivating my hobbies and interests outside of work,
    – Remind yourself that even if you don’t practice “archeology” it doesn’t mean you aren’t still an “archaeologist”, all that knowledge can remain valuable to you and it doesn’t just go ‘poof’.
    – A lot of the skills you learned while studying “archaeology” will still be useful in other fields – so figure out what skills you’ve learned that you can apply to others (for me it was taking really complex problems and being able to figure out how to simplify them, which I can and still do! I just don’t apply it to my original field)

    But also – it takes time. But it does truly get easier, and you will hopefully get to the point where the decision ends up being the best one you could have made

    1. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

      Oh, you’ve said what I popped in on other comments to say but far more succinctly. Thank you <3

  39. Feral Humanist*

    I work with a lot of early career academics who discover this exact problem after the additional 4-6 years (and sometimes longer, if they’ve already done the academic job market 3-5 times by the time they get to me), so I applaud your foresight and your grounding in reality! It can be really rough emotionally, especially since you are comparing your real circumstances to imagined ones that are much easier to idealize. What I often tell the folks who come to me is that it’s important to replace this dream/ambition with some other dream/ambition –– which might be owning a house, or travel, or writing a book, or starting a business, or or or etc. There are lots of dreams out there, and just because one dream no longer seems possible, that doesn’t meant that others aren’t.

    And while I agree with those who suggested staying involved on a volunteer basis, I’d caution you to maintain your boundaries because “dream” fields LOVE exploiting free and underpaid labor and will probably take every bit of it you’re willing to give and then some. This can also contribute to the systemic undervaluing of those jobs, too, because why pay anyone even a minimal amount if you have a gung ho volunteer willing to do it for free?

  40. Heather*

    Ya know, there aren’t really any rules. Your career can just be something you use to pay for your hobbies and personal interests on top of your living expenses. The idea that you need to love a job and be passionate about it is a pipe dream for nearly everyone.
    Most passion careers pay poorly (education, archeology, writing, music) while other jobs that can be less exciting (accounting, bookkeeping, IT, and factory work) can be more profitable and steady.
    Use the job you are good at to pay your bills and support your passions and interests on the side. Enjoy them on weekends, holidays, and vacations. Join a local club or activity adjacent to your passions and enjoy them and stay connected for your own sake.

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      Part of the reason passion careers pay poorly is they can get away with it. Look at the WGA strike ongoing now. Corporate executives keep playing the “but we need people who love to write because it’s your passion!” card to justify unfair work practices and exploitation. It happened to nurses too, and teachers, and artists … as if the work should be its own reward; as if people don’t have to eat or have families to support.

      I love your mindset Heather! I use my job to fund my passion hobbies on weekend and holidays – I’m happy, I get to see my family and friends, AND I can afford it :)

      1. GreyjoyGardens*

        100% agree. Passion careers pay poorly because they can. For “do what you love” careers, there are a hundred people willing to work for peanuts so they can do what they love. For “calling” careers, like teaching – and what a *coincidence* that calling careers tend to be female-dominated! – it’s “you should be paid in warm fuzzies, because this is A Calling.”

        Sorry but warm fuzzies don’t pay the rent.

        1. Heather*

          My neighbor is a teacher. She refuses to give up her family time, weekends, and evenings for unpaid work. She won’t plan won’t or grade after 3:00 p.m. when her school day ends, etc. Her administrator tried writing her up and she fought back against unfair labor practices. She cannot be forced to work off the clock and the school cannot demand she does.
          The issue then becomes the hostility from the principals/managers/administrators that feel slighted by the stance of people who refuse to be taken advantage of.

      2. Heather*

        There has been a strong movement among Gen Z to be both be paid fairly for their work and to not work without compensation. They may be the change that many passion industries need.

  41. Pink Candyfloss*

    At some point I pivoted from “my dream job must fulfill my wildest desires and be the happiest place on earth” to “my dream job will involve doing work I don’t hate and in fact rather enjoy most days, with a team of people I like and respect, in an industry adjacent where there is more opportunity, that allows me to support myself and my family in a comfortable lifestyle with good benefits and job security”.

    And I’m not ashamed of that pivot :) I am never stressed about finances, my work is only occasionally boring, and maybe I’m not a leading field researcher with several dozen publications to my name but I’m also not constantly begging for grant funding and I get weekends/holidays off and time to travel & enjoy being there for my kids.

    In other words I went from prioritizing a career path to prioritizing what such a career path could support, and took opportunities I could to ensure the stability I needed for the future I wanted. I stopped listening to all the hype about “if you love what you do you’ll never ‘work’ a day in your life” which is mostly feel-good mumbo jumbo designed to keep people hustling and dreaming … but not always in a realistic or healthy way.

    It’s all about where your mind is and what you prioritize in life. If your soul will never be able to rest until you have a PhD and are ready to enter the bloodbath that is competing for archaeology jobs – then do it! Throw yourself in 1000%. If your soul is happy with 3 squares, a roof, adequately stress-free and able to be fulfilled in other ways – maybe just shift your mindset to this new, parallel track.

    1. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

      Yes! I had a mentor once who told me to give myself permission to redefine “success” throughout my life. Our values and priorities and needs change, and that’s not a bad thing or something to fight.

      So LW, if your definition of success is still truly linked to working in your dream field, see if there is a way to chase that. But if you’re finding that you’re content with where you are and it’s just that the satisfaction is surprising to you/at odds with how you thought to define success for yourself, reflect on that in a way that is accepting of what you used to hope for, how you’ve grown since, and what you hope for now.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah I think it may have been Alison herself who advised that instead of “do what you love” you should “do what you’re good at” and it was a real lightbulb insight for me. My sister definitely agrees with this, she’s always gone for unglamorous roles which involve her being the go-to person for thankless tasks; she’s been a finance and business officer for local government but she also gets involved with HR stuff and general operations which is no one’s idea of good time, and stressful. However she finds it really satisfying to unravel the kinds of messes bureaucracy can make, because she’s good at it! I went from being a newspaper reporter to a tutor role, teaching kids who are still struggling in high school to decode accurately when reading. I always thought that it was writing, and making contacts within a community, which was my passion but really what makes me tick is communication and connections. I get an incredible buzz from making the words on a page come alive for a student and finding the best ways to make their individual brains retain techniques. I also get to be the person who makes sure they remember the difference between the possessive and plural s, something that I saw everywhere and which annoyed me no end when I was a writer. I can’t remember the last time I noticed that now. It’s definitely considered less glamorous and it’s a much more stable job field and with much better work life balance.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      I also heartily recommend that pivot.

      I work to support my hobbies. I actually do work in the field I studied (by accident, after I burned out in another field) but I still do other stuff in that field for fun, completely apart from my job, and it’s awesome because I can literally do anything I want in it without worrying about if it will feed me or what it will do to/for my career.

  42. Nea*

    I loved the field I got my original degree in, but it would never give me a living.

    So, it’s my hobby. I read about it, listen to podcasts about it… and pay my bills with something utterly unrelated that pays well and doesn’t take my time away from enjoying my hobby.

  43. Spearmint*

    What I have found helpful is to consciously work on internalizing the sacrifices and risks that would be required to pursue my dream career, and always think of those things whenever I caught myself daydreaming about pivoting to my dream career path. It’s so easy to look at these alternative possibilities through rose-colored glasses and start to think that you could have all the benefits of the dream job without any of the downsides.

    I also think it’s helpful to be real with yourself about the odds that you’d be one of the success stories in your dream field. Dream fields tend to be hypercompetitive, and so you can be very talented and still very unlikely to succeed (where I’m defining success as getting an interesting, stable, decent paying job), because everyone in that field is talented.

    1. Csweb*

      This is so unfortunate but true. sometimes the bad in dream-job-industry is just… too much.

      My ex-colleague and I left a dream job adjacent company around the same time as each other – it was related to museums.

      I thought about going back to find a job in museums and/or curation, but a bunch of things made me back away: the the idea of fighting for one of the few jobs in that industry, with a slim chance of a decent salary, and few options if the workplace turned out to be toxic. So I pivoted completely out of the field.

      My friend went back into heritage research. Unfortunately, she’s now on her 2nd job since we quit, and both workplaces turned out to be toxic. She doesn’t know where else she can go because she’s applied and been rejected from most of the heritage/research institutes here. Also looking at the market, many of the positions she might apply for are offering less than her current salary, which is already 20-30% lower than mine. I really feel for her.

  44. Edavis*

    It’s a hard place to be in. I completely understand the thought of not wanting to do all the work of a PHD and still not be able to find a job or afford to live. I was able to find a job that’s semi adjacent to my “dream job” (Same skills, different topic basically). It’s hard, but I still have a passion for the other and try to follow it in my spare time. If you are able to find a good work environment/ job you enjoy doing I think that helps as well. But unfortunately I guess it’s just one of the casualties of having a system that doesn’t promote all fields equally.

  45. Ms. Hagrid Frizzle*

    Field biologist turned educator checking in. I graduated with my M.S. in the U.S. in 2016 – not a great time to be trying to get work in ecology research in the states. That combined with unexpected health challenges and I’ve had to grieve what I thought I should have had.

    I think accepting that it is something you need to grieve/mourn is a big part of moving forward. When I stopped fighting it and gave permission to “feel my feelings” as it were, that helped a lot. And reframing my thinking about what I’ve gained/the positive tradeoffs have been really helpful. (E.g. I have a pet I would never have gotten if I was in my original field, I have good health benefits and a salary that would have been hard to find, I live entirely on my own without roommates, etc.). And as I’ve hit different career milestones in my current field, I’ve had more opportunities to connect back with what I loved about my dream field through volunteer work and activism.

    It still hits me sometimes that my life is so far off from what I used to dream about, but then I get to think about all the richness I do have that I never thought to imagine before.

  46. urguncle*

    My college major is now a “fun fact” sort of anecdote that I tell people because it is so radically different than what I do now. I’ve learned a few things from this pivot. First, that my studies did more than just teach me “archaeology,” they informed how I think about problems that I encounter at work and help me see things differently than my colleagues. Second, they indicate that I’m good at more than one thing. Lastly, it helps me turn work off when I’m not at work. When I briefly worked with children, “do it for the kids!” was a common refrain that would motivate me to do more than I should have. The end users in my field are not exactly sympathetic causes and it lets me be a human not defined by a job.

  47. Littorally*

    Is there a way you can find the ability to utilize the same mindset/skills in a different field?

    Using myself as an example, my dream from childhood was to be a pastor. I studied religion and still read theology on my own time. But my life took a series of turns that redirected me into, of all fields, finance – very far from ministering to a flock! But I got myself into a compliance-type role, so a lot of my work is still based around things like interpretation and implementation of rules, applied ethics, and counseling people on how to balance the rules they have to follow with the daily situations they encounter. I’ve found a lot of similarity there to the kinds of things that drew me, at least in part, to the idea of a religious career. And much like you discussed with “archaeology” actual ministry as a career looks not terribly viable these days.

    A lot of skills are far more transferable than they look on the surface, and there are also many where the trained exact skill may not be useful, the underlying elements of the skill may be – ie, a scientific background may mean someone has a lot of training in how to hold a lot of detail, precision, and complexity easily in the forefront of their mind, which could speed their career in any number of areas.

    1. pally*

      Excellent example, BTW.
      Maybe there are some transferrable skills that can be used in another industry?
      I had a professor who lived for research. She just loved ‘finding the correct answer’ on everything. Became a lawyer but had no interest in litigating or writing contracts and such. She found a job doing legal research as a majority of her job. And teaches it to paralegals at the local community college.

    2. L*

      Yes! I did a similar thing moving out of academic librarianship into (currently) business systems analysis: what skills and mindset do I have? What kinds of tasks bring me satisfaction? Helping people, project management, answering complex questions, troubleshooting stuff, translating for the interface between people and technology, doing work that contributes to the good of society… I rewrote my resume using more abstract skills instead of field-specific jargon and applied to lots of jobs that had at least some of these aspects but wound up somewhere I get to use almost all of them.

      A bonus is that, having done this kind of career turn once, I’m fully confident in my ability to do it again if I ever need or want to. Feels very empowering.

  48. Beatrix*

    As someone who successfully pivoted from desperately wanting an art history academic career to being a happy administrator, the two biggest factors were time and priorities. It’s awful, but the longer I was away from art history work, the less I missed it. And if I had pursued the art history further (beyond a failed PhD), I wouldn’t have been able to live near my family (as I do now) nor make enough $$ to be comfortable – so I feel pretty good about prioritizing those things. I now do a lot (too much) of volunteer history work, which makes the passion part of my brain happy. Some days I wish I could just get paid to do that, but I also think having to do it as work would remove a lot of the pleasure I derive from it.

    One last note: part-time PhDs are a thing! It’s a lot of work, but it might allow you to keep the career trajectory in your unrelated field while continuing to work on the archaeology career.

  49. NeedRain47*

    Absolutely do NOT get a PhD.
    In some fields, higher degrees are not helpful if you don’t have any experience in the field. I’m guessing that realistically, in order to get a job in archaeology you would have to take a low paying, entry level job, despite your years of education. It doesn’t make sense to continue working on this if that’s not something you’ll be able to do.

    Make something besides work your “dream”. Jobs are for earning money. Personal fulfillment can and should (IMO) come from elsewhere.

  50. Fluffy Fish*

    Sometimes it helps to realize that this is very very very normal. The number of people with “dream jobs” pales in comparison to those of with jobs that are…fine. And even those dream jobs come with lots of parts and tasks that are not so dreamy.

    We are often fed a story that we can be anything and if we go to college and work hard and do all the right things it all works out.

    But it doesn’t.

    Sometimes making a passion a hobby helps people feel fulfilled.

    Sometimes reassessing what we actually want in our life, reframes things. When I was young and had no concept really of adult life I wanted certain careers. Now I want vacation time and good benefits and enough money to have all my needs met and some leftover for fun. I want work life balance because what I do outside of work is what makes me actually happy. I want to retire in a few years thanks to a pension where I will retrain for a job in the health field that I can get a job near anywhere…because I have an adult child I want to be able to live close to wherever she may be.

    The work I do now and the work I will do in the future is not what I would choose to do if I had my pick. But it doesn’t matter because it gives me what I want. And ultimately what I want has very little to do with my career.

    1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      also as an adult you have more of a sense of your abilities. I have difficulty with long hours for example

  51. KC*

    I am in the same boat! I have two degrees in film, but my job has nothing to do with film (although it is in marketing/communications, which still uses a lot of skills and knowledge I developed in my studies).

    Here’s how I have dealt with “giving up” on my “dream job”:

    I started to think of jobs/careers as a practicality in my life rather than as the be-all and end-all of personal fulfillment. I want to feel at least somewhat fulfilled by and interested in the work I do, sure, but I’ve come to the point in my life where I actually value having good benefits and good pay–just the necessities for taking care of myself–WAY more than having a job that feels like it meets the glamorous ideals I had for myself when I was studying and later “paying my does” in the film industry.

    That doesn’t mean I gave up on my love of film; I just do the things I love on my own time, when I want to, in ways that make me feel good. I studied it because I love it. Even if I don’t get paid to do it, I still love it! Not being able to call myself a professional filmmaker on my resume doesn’t make me any less passionate about it.

  52. i like hound dogs*

    I got a PhD in English and then decided I didn’t want to work in academia. I actually briefly got what I had thought for years was my “dream job” — editor of a literary magazine — and realized I didn’t enjoy it at all and quit. Now I’m an editor for a big bank and I’m so much happier. I realized that for me, a decent paycheck, good work/life balance and job where I’m not managing people is actually my dream job, even if it’s not as prestigious and the content is not as interesting. I read and write on my own time and volunteer to read for a lit mag when I have time.

    I have no advice other than to say that sometimes something seems like a dream isn’t actually — frankly, I’ve seen so many writer friends turn bitter because they have to work unsustainable teaching loads for crappy pay.

    And I do think having an ongoing passion project helps, too. I actually now prefer to keep my work and avocations/personal projects separate.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “I actually briefly got what I had thought for years was my “dream job” — editor of a literary magazine — and realized I didn’t enjoy it at all and quit. Now I’m an editor for a big bank and I’m so much happier.”

      Your comment resonates for me! My husband majored in fine art in college but quickly realized he was not at all interested in trying to make it as a professional artist. He stumbled into a job managing budgets – it’s all money and spreadsheets and financial predictions – something he would never have thought he would like. But it turns out, he loves it! So you don’t always know what will make you happy, in the end.

  53. Fernie*

    Greetings from the other side of a similar transition! I actually did the PhD and spent several years in Academia, before following a partner to a new city and getting an entry-level job in a different field while I was on a leave of absence. 26 years later, I am still working in that new field and never looked back. I am able to use a lot of the skills and even subject matter from my academic research, but for a lot better pay, with more opportunities to change and grow and travel, and with a lot better laptop!

  54. linus*

    I want to be an art teacher more than anything, and I can’t afford another $30k in education to make it happen (particularly because I would make about what I make now after 20 years of seniority). I feel enormous solidarity with you OP. It sucks so brutally. I am trying to make peace with it. It is hard.

  55. Jessica*

    It might also help to reframe your perceptions of the situation. (I guess I’m assuming you’re a fellow American here.) The myth of meritocracy is very strong, and we also love to assign blame individually for systemic problems.

    So if you’re at all thinking “I am personally a failure who wasn’t good enough or devoted enough to break into DreamField” or “Everyone else is living their passion like the business self-help books say, but when I tried to do what I loved, the money didn’t follow, where did I go wrong,” it might help to remind yourself that
    — there’s a ton of both randomness and structural bias in who gets what;
    — most people in society are working to live and not living the dream of self-actualization through work that’s promoted to us;
    — of people with any higher education, a huge percentage are making careers in something other than what they studied/trained for;
    — in the fields that are most often thought of as meaningful work that people are passionate about doing, there’s a very high correlation with toxic cultures that try to tell those people that if they care about being fairly compensated or decently treated they’re just Insufficiently Passionate;
    — we as a society have chosen to value and reward different kinds of work in a perverse way that is totally not based on whether the work is meaningful, helps anyone, or contributes to the betterment of society in any way;
    so in short, it’s not you. Remember that.

  56. Lottie D.*

    There’s a lot of advice here to volunteer in “archaeology” on the side, which is awesome and I recommend it if you can, but not always possible if you’re limited by time, energy, or other commitments. It’s also okay to be different than what you thought you were. After so long striving for one thing and landing with another, it can feel like doing something against your identity.

    But honestly, if you’re in a good place, you don’t necessarily even have to care about “archaeology” anymore! There’s a lot to do out there. If you still want to read articles and volunteer or whatever in your free time you definitely should, but don’t feel like you have to. It can be enough to reflect back and think “Dang I learned some cool knowledge and skills and I’m grateful for what that did for me as a person. Now it’s time to carve out something new.”

    1. The Person from the Resume*

      Interesting. I didn’t pursue my dream as long or hard as the LW. But nearly 50 years in life, the things that interested me as a child and young adult are not of interest to me. I something hear some news about it and kind of think “I used to care about that” but I just don’t anymore. I’ve moved on developed other interests (not on purpose).

      What I did realize was that suceeding in my dream job was completely unrealistic (and I didn’t love it as much as you needed to to suceed) and the most closely adjacent areas open to me were boring as hell, and I was not built to be researcher (not that that fields isn’t saturated too).

      Now I have a job (Project Manager) that I didn’t know existed when I was younger, and it suits me well. It’s fine. I like it well enough. I make enough money and have good benefits so I can pursue outside interests. I still begrudge the American 40 hour work week expectation because I’d like to work less and have more time for my outside interests, but that’s just working in America and not any particular career field.

      Your outside interest can be your family (kids take up so much time) or hobby or recreational sports or volunteering or helping run a group that creates a community.

  57. Nay*

    As someone who got a masters degree in a very specific field and is now doing nothing of the sort (but making good money at a great company and loving my new career path!) I can relate. I feel like we need to stop asking young children “what do you want to be when you grow up” so dang often because kids have no concept of the different types of jobs that are out there, I know I didn’t even know what engineering even was until I got to college! (I also blame lack of directing women towards STEM but I digress). I also blame the cross-cultural expectation of so many parents that your options are to be 1) a medical doctor or 2) a lawyer and maybe 3) a professional athlete…and that’s absolutely it.

    So, I think what helps me is to think that although I love the field I got my masters degree in, and I miss doing some of the things I did, the whole reasons I wanted to be in that field in the first place, I’ve found a new calling that I love. I didn’t know what my current field was until I was a full fledged adult. I put some time and money into a new certification yes, (not a PhD) but there are other strengths I have that my previous field didn’t let shine as much. This job is not as “glamourous” as my previous field, but it’s very satisfying, the pay is better, the work-life balance is better, the ability to move up is better…it’s almost all better! Focus on the positives, you’ve got a lot you can contribute to the world beyond just one career field.

  58. Wren_Song*

    When this happened to me, I realized that I had achieved my dream job, just like you did. You held that dream in your hand, which is more than a lot of people have. And, for me, that dream job was part of my identity, but life forced me to change my dream. So, I realized it was time for me to have a new dream. Five years ago, I pivoted to a field I enjoy where I make far more money, have far more opportunities for advancement, and way, way less stress. It is a pretty terrific new dream. I also give myself permission to still refer to myself as the old dream job. It is still a part of who I am.

  59. rubies are red*

    My advice: only get a PhD if it’s your only option. Not “if it’s your only option to pursue dream”, but if you’re willing to say: I’m willing to devote 100% of the next 4 to 6 years for this, and be happy if I never work in the field, and be willing to pay 100’s of thousands of dollars for it. (that’s the opportunity cost: the amount of money you will have if you take a job, live as frugally as a grad student and save/invest the rest). The chances are very very great that if you do obtain a PhD, you still won’t have a “dream job”.

    There are way more PhD’s in almost every field than there are jobs. I very unironically say that my PhD cost me a million dollars. If I had moved to this city after my MSc, worked for a few years, bought a house…. the difference between what that house sells for now, and the condo I live in now is a million dollars.

  60. SJPxo*

    Oh OP I sympathise… I’d just say keep at it, and get that training if and when you can/afford it.
    I didn’t get my dream job until I was 35 and longed for ages for it until the right opportunity came along after years of being miserable in my job career. Keep at it

  61. recovering academic*

    I have a phd in a humanities field. I took 7 years off full-time employment to get the phd (because phd programs were so competitive that you had to have a masters to get in, so I did that first). I’m now employed in a completely unrelated field and am very happy I made the choice not to pursue my dream job (academic work) after my defense. I don’t regret my education, but I do regret the loss of contributions and compound interest to my retirement account.

    My pivot was made a lot easier because by the time I was defending, I was completely burned out and disillusioned about academic work, and because I could return to a previous career path I find meaningful. I admit that my first few weeks back in the non-dream career field were emotionally tough, and I applied for a few academic jobs that year.
    I’m no longer willing to accept the sacrifices it takes to work in academia. It helps that friends from my program have reached out to me with advice on how to leave and find industry jobs.

    If I ever feel a desire to talk shop with undergrads, I’ll look for an adjunct gig and teach a few nights a week.

  62. hi there*

    I went to college wanting to be a teacher, ended up doing that for 3mos and hated it. I have an MA in my social studies field. I went into research and now social services. Basically, I found the parts that interested me and have navigated my career toward those things. I train, I do HR type stuff, I make lots of presentations and do data work for my nonprofit employer. I’ve also sought volunteering opportunities that use those skills. My advice in a nutshell: it’s not giving up, it’s reorienting.

  63. Bex*

    I don’t know if this will help, because you might need to go through this yourself in order to know if it would turn out the same for you, but just in case.

    I also had a dream field/career. I got an MFA in the field and was lucky enough to get a full-time job a couple years after graduating. It was an assistant-level job but in a small non-profit; basically my immediate supervisor had my ultimate “dream job.” I took on increasing responsibilities and learned a lot and tried to network and eventually started applying for the equivalent of my boss’s job at other organizations. None of them ever turned out to be the right fit (I usually didn’t get the jobs, but sometimes I was the one who decided it wasn’t right).

    During those same years, I met my husband and we stretched our budget really thin so that he could get his own Masters with me primarily supporting us on my non-profit arts income. My schedule was unpredictable and often grueling. In theory, I spent my time at work doing what I loved; but I didn’t get much say in the projects I worked on or which aspect of the work was mine, so it wasn’t as fulfilling as I’d expected. And, again, the jobs that would let me make those kinds of decisions never worked out. I kept trying to pour creative energy into my job, and my job wouldn’t really hold it, but I still didn’t have that energy left for my personal life or side projects. Also, a new job would have meant relocating, so I was always feeling unsettled because, who knows where I’ll be living in 6 months? And I felt ready to own a home, and have kids, but like I should wait until I was settled.

    So I left the field. I got a job I don’t love but that I like, that pays me well, and that I’m good at. I leave at the same time every day and I don’t think about it when I’m not there. My boss has never once objected to any adjustment to my schedule or request for time off. My husband and I own a home and have a seriously awesome toddler. I spend more time with friends and doing hobbies because work doesn’t take that much of my energy. And I am so much happier than I was in my almost-dream-job.

    I think knowing what you love and trying to make it part of your life is really important. But having that be your JOB isn’t the right fit for everyone. I am so glad it works for some people, because we need artists and teachers and all the people who wouldn’t possibly stay at their jobs if they didn’t love the work. But it’s ok if you have a job that’s just a job. It might even be better in the long run. I hope your dream field is one you can stay involved with on your own or by volunteering, and that you are able to build a life you love even if it looks different from what you first imagined.

  64. Kwebbel*

    I’m glad we’re having this discussion because this is exactly the issue I faced when I graduated from my Master’s program and couldn’t find a job in my chosen field to save my life. Literally 9 months I spent searching for a role in this field, and every job I applied to got over 300 applicants. These jobs were all offering a pithy intern’s entry salary ($600/month was the absolute maximum, while cost of living was closer to $1400 as a bare-bones lifestyle), and half of them were offering no payment during the internship at all. This was in Europe, where there were plenty of legal loopholes that allowed for this kind of thing.

    For me, the main thing I focused on was necessity and pragmatism, to be honest. 2-3 years of these internships, followed by a “high-paying” internship, followed by a low-level chance I’d get an entry level job in my field was just not worth the financial insecurity I knew I’d face. I needed to save up for a mortgage and a family, and that just wouldn’t be possible if I kept following this route.

    I came from a background of financial insecurity: Growing up, I often didn’t know where my next meal was coming from and went to school in tattered clothes that were either too large or too small. This affected every aspect of my life: my position in the school pecking order, my physical health, and how my parents interacted with each other (i.e., dysfunctionally).

    As I weighed my options in my head, I realized that this was not something I could continue as an adult. No 9-5 was important enough for me to sacrifice my wellbeing. I wish it wasn’t that way, and I’m sure if I came from old money I’d have a lot more liberty to pursue a dream career path. But hey, if I work hard enough in the career path I’ve now taken, maybe my children will be able to. As for me, it wasn’t a risk I could take.

  65. Not A Real Manager*

    A branch of my dream field, that I walked away from, is currently on strike. I only worked in it for a few years and sometimes feel bad that I didn’t try harder to “make it”. But the strike has been affirming for me in highlighting all the reasons I left. Long hours, terrible pay, difficult personalities, etc.

    I work a 9-5 corporate job now and it’s not glamorous or exciting. But my life is comfortable and I get to see my family during daylight hours. The hardest guilt to shake is the student loans I’ll be paying off forever to get started on my defunct career path.

  66. KP*

    What’s the job market look like in rural areas and smaller cities? Do you want to stay in academia or branch into something else?

    I’m asking because I have a friend, who until recently, was an archeologist with the DNR. She worked at historical sites as well as getting called out to farmer’s fields to inspect bones. (forgotten pioneer family cemeteries, not crime scenes.) She’s moved onto the private sector but is still working in archeology for a significant pay increase.

    So, if you want to stay – maybe widen your scope?

  67. PhD survivor*

    I was in a similar situation where I envisioned myself in a specific kind of work but ended up doing something else entirely. I wanted to work in public service and I ended up working in industry. At first, I grieved the loss of what I thought was my calling to serve the community but now I am thriving in my career (and still help a lot of people through my work).

    As someone who got a PhD, I strongly don’t recommend it for most people. As you noted, there is a huge opportunity cost even if you have funding for your studies (and not all programs are even funded in all fields) and your job prospects will likely be worse than they are now. The experience can also be terrible with a lot of isolation, stress, and poor treatment. Many people develop mental health issues (I spent a year in counseling during my PhD because I was so stressed out by the environment). For me, having a stable job with good pay where I was treated well ended up being more important than my dream of serving the community through my job. Unfortunately passion fields often get away with poor pay and treatment of workers and at the end of the day, it’s more important for me to be paid and treated fairly. It sounds like your current situation is a good one. If you can be happy in your current field, then I’d strongly recommend not to do a PhD. Hopefully there are other ways to stay in touch with your passions without it having to be your job (for me, I still serve the community through volunteering and donating to nonprofit organizations).

  68. a raging ball of distinction*

    What do you love the most about not-archaeology? If it’s literally only that you’re passionate about dinosaurs, is there a local museum you could volunteer at?

    Or, did you love the way you had to look out for the smallest detail of bone vs rock during digs? Does your current job involve that same emphasis on detail, or could you transition to one that does? Maybe not-archaeology taught you to think about befores and afters from a totally different perspective than the folks you work with, and that’s saved your company from making more than one costly mistake?

    The better you can recognize the skills you enjoy using in not-archaeology, the better the likelihood you’ll be able to get some satisfaction from using those skills in other areas of your life.

    And, be proud of the work that you did and the time you put in to mastering not-archaeology! You did that work, gave those presentations, and EARNED all of those accolades, and no matter what your job is no one can ever take them away from you.

  69. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

    One thing I’ll add that I’m not seeing as many people comment about is this–sometimes, getting your dream job makes you hate the thing you loved, because it turns it into work. So it can be a blessing in disguise to *not* get your dream job. The old adage that “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day” is often not true at all. I know this was the case for me. I never would’ve planned to end up in the field I’m in, but it pays enough that I can enjoy my interests in my free time.

    Your identity is more than just your job–yes, we all spend a lot of time working, but there is a lot of benefit to having your passions be separate from the work you do day in and day out.

  70. SequinPantaloons*

    I did the PhD and now I work in research administration. Similar to comments above, it was hard to let go of the “I’m going to be a neuroscientist when I grow up” but my new field is so much better and allows me to pursue many hobbies and parent the way I want to (i.e. more time with them). My values and priorities changed and that’s ok :)

  71. FrankieCat*

    I had to make the exact same choice. I have an Undergrad and Masters in Biology, with a focus on field ecology. I worked in the field all over the world and biology has been my passion since childhood.

    However, during my Masters I realized that there was no real future for a Ph.D. in this area. I’d have to dedicate 4-6 years for the Ph.D. then likely more for a postdoc, then come out and IF (big if) I was able to find a tenure track job, get paid just about what a first year public high school teacher would make with a Bachelors.

    Honestly, I don’t think the passion, and a little bit of longing, will ever go away but I’ve found the tradeoffs (stable job that pays a living wage) to be worth it. I miss it daily, but I’m happy in my current field. I do environmental good everyday and still apply scientific thinking to my work. I spend a lot of time hiking, traveling, and one day hope to volunteer with field work again. I’ll be the retiree working with candidates young enough to be my kids, which sounds like a lot of fun.

  72. learnedthehardway*

    When I was a young person with a Master’s degree and was contemplating a PhD in my very esoteric field, my grandfather gave me the advice his mother had given him, when he was thinking about a career in acting (during the Great Depression). Great-grandma told him to figure out what he was good at, and what he could make money at, and to what he could make money at as his career, and what he enjoyed as his hobby. Grandpa took the advice and had a great career and led community theatre.

    I, too, took the advice – went and found a career while making money for the PhD, figured out that the career gave me the intellectual challenge I needed, and never did the advanced degree (despite getting full funding for it). In fact, I never looked back at the field in which I had done my degree until recently, and now only because I am getting into something tangential as a hobby.

    I would suggest doing the same – at least for a few years. You can always go back and do a PhD later, but getting a career off the ground is important. It’s quite possible to be fully satisfied and challenged outside of what you thought your career path was going to be. It’s also quite nice to make money and to be able to afford to do things. There’s emotional fallout from abandoning your academic dreams – yes – and that’s hard to deal with. But if you’re not 200%, absolutely committed at the beginning of a PhD, you will decide to quit in the middle, anyway. You’re at a natural stopping point now, and that will be easier to process.

  73. Polar Vortex*

    Speaking as two degrees with research/conference work who is now in a fully opposite field and truly was in your shoes at one point:

    I always thought I was a person who wanted passion for my work over stability (pay, etc). And I truly love what I have degrees in, it’s still where I spend all my free time learning more. And sometimes I miss that world.

    But like you, I love where I work, and what I do, and what my company works towards. I love the stability of my paycheck, the growth. While I joke I’d go back to my interests if I ever won the lottery, I don’t know. Once you’re away from it, you idealize what you left behind – a bit like we idealize our high school romances. You forget the publish/perish aspect, the terribly misogynistic/racist parts of academia, the way people rip apart your work. The long, long nights, the paycheck to paycheck worries. It’s like when people talk about the reason why you think an affair person is better is because you don’t have to live with them. That dream job is better because you don’t have to live it.

    About letting go and accepting where you are: I’ve talked a lot at work about how my degrees – as unrelated as they are – have actually better prepared me for my roles. I’ve identified what skills that I had in that field I left that I truly love, and found what I never knew would’ve been a dream job in the area I’m in because I now get to use those skills every day in my new dream job. Moreover, my job gives me the free time and money to indulge that old passion whenever I want in ways I didn’t get to before. It was a gradual shift though, there’s no way to turn off your love for the old dream job, just a gradual readjustment about what you love in your current world. Small realizations that “I couldn’t do this” or “I’m lucky to have that”. Until one day you wake up and realize you haven’t thought wistfully about “what if” anymore.

    Good luck.

  74. I forgot my commenting handle*

    Ack, that sounds hard – I’ve been facing something similar, and it’s a tough realization. That said, once you make peace with a certain future that you won’t have, a lot of new possible futures open up.

    I suggest doing some reflection on what drew you to your dream job/field, to distinguish between 3 elements:
    1) the objective of the field (develop new technologies, understand human civilization, fight poverty, make art, etc.);
    2) the type of activities you do all day (writing, data analysis, sales outreach, team management, lab tech work, etc.);
    3) the characteristics of the working environment (mostly solo versus mostly collaborative, structured and predictable versus constant surprises, details versus big picture, etc.)

    When people think about their dream job before they work in their field, they are often focused on the first point. And, while the objective of the work can sometimes matter a lot, it’s often the case that points 2 and 3 matter more to your happiness over time. If you can find a different field that draws on similar types of skills or activities as your dream field, but which pays better or has more open positions, you may be happier in the long run. Using your archaeology example, if the skills you’re interested in are discovery and being at a dig site, you might also enjoy work as a lab tech in a STEM field; if the skills you enjoy are thinking about human behavior and context in a data-driven way, you might enjoy marketing work.

    Good luck!

  75. Juicebox Hero*

    There’s nothing that’s going to make you automatically all right with having to give up on your dream. You’ll be going through sort of a grieving process and chances are you’re going to feel a bit angry and resentful about the unfairness of it all and the time and money you’ve spent on education. The best advice I can give is allow yourself to feel those feelings and work through them in a healthy way, and don’t let your degree or your job descriptions define you.

    For a long time I resented the hell out of the fact that I wasn’t doing anything with my degree; that I was too good for the “inferior” jobs I was “forced” to take. I lost too many years out of my life to those bad feelings (which were tied up in a big knot of other issues, but that’s a story for another time).

  76. BalanceofThemis*

    I feel you on so many levels. I have always wanted to work in museums, I held onto that dream through a recession and Covid, taking part-time and unpaid work hoping I would eventually be deemed worthy of a full-time job. And now I have it, and less than 2 yrs. later, I am trying to leave the field entirely.

    Take solace in the fact that you have found a job that you like, in an organization you like. And if you still wonder, try and find volunteer opportunities, they will keep you connected to a field you love.

  77. One of the many voices of experience*

    No question, my dream job was making movies. I was one of those kids making two-and-a-half minute silent Super 8 movies before I had a driver license. I worked in movie theatres every summer to watch as many movies as I could. I chose a college based on the strength of the film program and graduated with a degree in film. I took acting classes, even though I have not acting talent, to try to learn how to be a better film director. My first paying job in the film industry was as a production assistant to a producer whose career was just starting then … he’s won an Oscar for best picture now. I wrote/c0-wrote six screenplays.

    None of it worked. I had to take a job in a different field to pay my bills and had no time to continue trying to work in the film industry. I know I tried hard for many years, but my lack of success was telling me: I did not have a talent for this.

    So I turned away from it completely, instead finding other jobs where the stability, potential for career growth, and work/life balance were sensible. I’ve been doing this for decades now and no longer feel wistful about film.

    I had a dream. Then I woke up. It’s been OK; I think more people have had my life experience than have succeeded doing their “dream job” … yeah, I have to put it in quotes now.

  78. timeshifted*

    I had a similar thing happen in undergrad – I imagined I’d study one thing, and then had to come to terms with not actually enjoying that thing. The mindset shift that helped me was reframing from “failing at the thing I always wanted” to “I actually would rather do this other thing” – I didn’t have to commit to being miserable forever just because of what I decided as a kid.

    You’re allowed to change your mind about what type of future you want.

  79. Sazikpr*

    I worked in my dream field for nearly 25 years and switched to an unrelated field 2 years ago. I was ready to go for the sake of my own well being, but refused to connect myself at all to that line of work for nearly 1 1/2 years out of a sadness for my loss. I tried working in my institution prior to leaving in a different capacity and that felt worse to me…being so close, but not one of the people who do this amazing job that had become my identity.

    I recently opened myself up to volunteering and while I don’t think I could go back to that life in a professional capacity, it feels great to do something that has always been important to me at my core. It’s who I am and nothing will ever change that. Good luck finding your way….

  80. anna*

    I think this is like grieving any other loss in your life. A lot can be healed with time! But like many others have said, you can find ways to honor your passion for the other field, while still moving on to your new career. You can acknowledge that it’s a bummer though while knowing it won’t feel that way forever.

  81. Ex Poet*

    I’m curious how long OP has been in “just okay job.” When I was in my late teens and much of my 30s, I thought my dream job was writer, poet, professor. Got well into grad school when I realized that was what I no longer wanted to do, though I did finish out my degrees. Went into a profession I didn’t even know existed and it has more or less been the perfect fit for me (well…except the pay…which is above living wage but lower than benchmarks.) I’d say I love my job 55% of the time, like it 25% of the time, tolerate it 15% of the time, hate it 5% of the time.

    1. H.Regalis*

      Similar. I got my master’s degree but halfway through realized that I didn’t want to work in the field anymore. Now I’m a software developer. I like my job and I DO NOT miss the low wages of my degree’s profession: my entry-level salary was what someone mid-career in my old profession would make.

      My best friend is struggling financially right now, and this week I was able to send her a few hundred dollars so she could buy food and medicine for her family. Having enough money to be able to just do something like that without worrying about my own finances feels amazing.

  82. WillowSunstar*

    I temped for years because the things I originally wanted to do for a living don’t tend to lead to a stable income. (Think all the creative things like art, novel writing, etc.) In the end, I realized I had to do these things on the side while having a very boring but well-paying job, because I’m single and still somehow have to support myself while not living in my parents’ basement.

  83. UpstateDownstate*

    Oh OP, this hits close to home and I completely feel for you as I am in a similar situation. I miss the field I studied for and dedicated so much of my life and time to and it’s hard to realize that it may not be in my future.

    I dont have much advice and am curious to see what other’s post in response. For now I’ve expanded my job view into other industries (as much as I really dont want to) and I am keeping one eye on my dream field hoping that one day something opens up that will be a great fit and I can return. I guess I am looking at it as sharpening my experience with other companies so that I can be a great asset to the place I eventually end up in (if ever!).

  84. H.Regalis*

    -Time. You’re not going to instantly be totally fine with everything. It takes time to process and grieve. It’s okay to feel weird about things or have mixed feelings.

    -If there are non-work things you can do to stay involved in Not Archeology (which I know varies greatly by what your actual dream job is), get into those things.

    -Have a life outside of your work. If your job is the only thing you have going on in your life, giving up on your chosen field will be a lot more devastating because it’s not just a job: it’s your identity. You’re grappling with losing who you are. If you have a good life outside of your job, it’s easier to handle emotionally.

  85. Ex-prof*

    What others said: Stay involved in the dream job field, through volunteering or part time work or attending conferences or whatever makes sense. And keep the Ph.D on the back burner as a maybe-in-the-future; you may be more interested in doing that when the master’s degree is further in the rearview mirror.

    My story: I put the dream aside for a good job. Over the years the dream receded and advanced, in and out of view. The good job was good. I worked at the dream a little. Then one day the dream came true, and I quit the good job for the dream. That was 16 years ago.

    And honestly? There are days I still miss the good job.

  86. The Cosmic Avenger*

    Someone probably already suggested something like this, but if you also like, say, coding, you would probably do well working as a programmer for a company that does archaeology, or something like that. I find that if I do coding, education, web development, or whatever not for an organization that specializes it that, but for another subject that I like, I’m much more valued. So for me, it’s that I have always liked computers since back in the TRS-80 and Commodore PET days, but I’m not a programmer. I like public health and teaching, but I don’t want to be a teacher or clinician. So I am in UX/UI/BA for government websites, helping them understand how to get the message across about their programs, and helping the developers and programmers understand what is needed, while understanding both of their duties well enough to know how they do what they do, even if I can’t always do it. I happen to work with a lot of technical people who are better communicators than average, but being the nerd whisperer could transfer almost anywhere.

  87. Yes And*

    Been there, and I sympathize. In my case, I was able to get and advance to a high level in a job supporting the field that I had wanted to be a creator in, and I’ve found that very fulfilling. And I do still engage in creative endeavors on the side, though I’ve recently come to terms with that being a hobby, not a second career.

    The advice others have given is all good. I just wanted to acknowledge, having been there, that emotionally it’s not as simple as saying “Oh, ho hum, this is my hobby now” or “Oh, ho hum, my job is not my identity.” It’s hard to get over that hump, but it’s worth it for your general mental well-being. Good luck!

  88. morethantired*

    First, start thinking about the kind of life you want outside of work. You’re so much more than a job. Putting too much weight on your career can cause serious mental health problems down the line. None of us were born to work.

    I focused on film and video production in college. I wanted to go into TV and movies. After I graduated, it became obvious that I would have to move to either NYC or LA to do so. During my internship as a PA, I met many folks who worked as PAs in NYC and LA. They talked about jobs being sporadic and then, when you do get a gig, they’re working 18+ hour days in rain, cold, heat, etc. and none of them seemed happy or excited about anything they were doing for work.
    I have no family or friends in NYC or LA, and I’m really close with my family. The more I thought about it, the more I realized “when I die, I’m not going to say ‘I wish I’d worked more.'”
    So, I found other jobs where I could apply my skills and stumbled my way into a job in digital marketing — something that barely even existed when I was in college.
    The pay is good, the benefits are good, I’m good at my job and I’ve worked with some of the greatest people over the years. And I get to edit and produce videos as part of my work sometimes! Most importantly, I’ve gotten to spend so much time with friends and family that I never would have had if I had pursued what I thought was my dream job. I ended up finding a dream job I never even knew existed before.

    There’s still a dream job out there for you. Focus on finding the work that will let you build the life you want. Seek work/life balance and know your worth. I promise you’ll find yourself exactly where you need to be.

  89. Anonymous Educator*

    I know a lot of people in this situation.

    I actually got my dream job, and then I got burnt out from it and disillusioned by it, and I had to pivot to something else.

    My spouse had something similar happen.

    I have a close friend who got her PhD and wanted to get a research position, but that didn’t end up happening, and then working in the tech industry ended up working out.

    I also worked at one point in an art college, doing office work. Almost all my co-workers (doing office jobs like accounts payable, registrar, admissions) were artists who’d studied art (sometimes with an MFA). They couldn’t make a living (and get health benefits) doing their dream job, so they did an office job at an art college so they could get a steady paycheck and also be close to the art community, and then do art in the evenings.

    Right now, I do something completely unrelated to my dream job (which was being a classroom teacher), but my job is intellectually stimulating, I still get to teach co-workers stuff, my compensation is much better, and my job is way less stressful.

    I don’t know if you’re Gen X or Millennial or maybe even Gen Z, but there was definitely some indoctrination in the 90s and early aughts around the idea of having a “dream job” and that silly cliché about “if you enjoy your job, you won’t have to work a day for the rest of your life.” At the end of the day, though, your job is… a job. It’s a way to use your labor to get a paycheck to pay your rent/mortgage, buy groceries, save for retirement, etc. If you really enjoy “archaelogy” and can’t find an “archaelogy” job, you can do “archaelogy” in your spare time, and earn a living a different way.

  90. The Happy Graduate*

    As someone who also just left academia to pursue the industry, I completely understand the difficulty in justifying pursuing a PhD later in life in comparison to the career and salary advances one would otherwise see… That being said, the biggest thing I’ve seen from fellow academics (including myself) is staying involved through volunteer organizations. For example, there’s a large Women in STEM organization that prioritizes networking and career building for women both in and out of academia, and an old post-doc colleague of mine has been working with them for a while and is now organizing a conference for one of their sectors! There’s plenty of options for all academic sectors to be involved in some capacity, with a range of time commitments.

    What’s important to keep in mind that while you may not be in your dream job now, your passion for the field will always be there and you’ll always find a way to kindle that love for it. <3

  91. Qwerty*

    Can you consider how your background set you up for success in this role?

    I know a couple former (actual) archealogists who went into software development. On the surface it is totally unrelated, but they like working with old legacy systems where you have to do a bit of forensic analysis to figure out how everything is working between the virtual dust and duck tape. So we joked that they were code archealogists!

  92. Eether Eyether*

    Are you able to volunteer somewhere related to your dream job? I wanted to be a dancer and trained for a long time, but decided against it for various reasons, but I volunteered on the board of directors and helped with event planning for my city’s ballet events. I LOVED it.

  93. A Genuine Scientician*

    I had a very specific type of academic job I wanted. So I did the research, got the degrees from well known schools and people in the field, published in the top journals, did complementary research as a postdoc to build a wider skill set, gave talks at the big conferences, even had my work covered in the popular press while also winning teaching awards as a student.

    All the while, the specific type of academic job I wanted was disappearing.

    In my field, it used to be possible to run a small research program primarily on funding from within a school. As a result, people could still be heavily involved with their lab, and devote substantial time and effort into effective teaching. That changed; most universities stopped providing that kind of internal support. Meanwhile, the rate at which the governmental agencies funded grants dropped lower and lower. Most faculty in my field now spend nearly all their time writing grant proposals so that a couple of them get funded to allow their students to do the research. The faculty barely have time to teach, so they give the standard sage on the stage lecture with mostly multiple choice exams. They also barely have time to mentor their research students, and are instead essentially acting as entrepreneurs. I decided that I don’t want to do that, so I turned down the job offers I got to do so, even though just getting such an offer in the first application cycle is itself really unusual these days.

    Instead, I pivoted to a purely teaching position. It’s not tenure track, though I do have some actual job security — after 4 years of yearly contracts, I just got promoted into a 5 year rolling window contract. The appointment is Aug 15 to May 15 yearly, so I can spend summers doing research if I want, or teaching extra for extra pay, or taking some time off, or a combination of the above. I shifted some of how I approach research to be far less funding intensive, and be able to take advantage of shared resources. I don’t get to teach the specialized classes in my field for juniors and seniors, but I’ve recently become part of the pool who teach the honors version of the intro courses, which helps. The pay is lower than on the tenure track, but I’m in a low cost of living location and happy with the lifestyle I can afford. And I’ve found a way to stay involved in the big conference in my field by helping to organize it, which comes with a small check and more importantly to me reimbursement for getting to and attending that conference.

    Basically, I identified the parts that were most important to me, and carved out a way to do those while compromising on the parts that I was willing to let go. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough that I’m content with how things turned out.

    And part of that comes from knowing I had other options, and I chose what I’m doing now instead of those. One of the things I think more people need to keep in mind is that for most people who get into more than one college, they end up happy with the one they chose. Similar things are probably true about career paths. I can point to specific things I’ve been able to do on this path that I’ve really enjoyed. Conversely, the path I didn’t choose by its very nature is more nebulous; I *can’t* know what would have come from that. So I don’t try to compare my life to the what if; I judge my life as-is, and whether I’m happy more often than not.

  94. Morgan Proctor*

    I’m gonna be the (probably) outlying voice here and tell you to get the PhD. Choose the program carefully, go somewhere funded, make sure you click with the faculty, but those 6 years are going to pass by no matter what you’re doing, and at the end of it, wouldn’t it be great to have a PhD?

    You don’t have to accept this career shift if you don’t want to. You really don’t! You CAN continue to fight for what you want to do. Continue to stay in touch with people in the field, and it’s funny what opportunities life will bring you. I was at a similar crossroads as you: I actually did have my dream job, and lost it because of covid. I got a job in a completely different field that I tried to like, I tried to feel thankful for it, but I just couldn’t. But I kept in touch with people in my old field, and two years after I lost my job, I got another job in my dream field. Just keep trying.

  95. Mimmy*

    I’m on the cusp of coming to this reality myself. I had planned on doing a thread about this tomorrow for the Open Thread.

    In short, I had gotten a Masters degree last year with the hopes of working with postsecondary students with disabilities, but the field is fairly niche, so the options are limited for me because I’m not in a position to relocate to a different state and very few, if any, positions are fully remote.

    Maybe consider roles in adjacent fields to widen your options. You may have to do some digging to figure out what those roles may look like.

    I get it, much easier said than done when you’ve dreamed of a specific career and spent time and money getting to where you want.

  96. Local Garbage Committee*

    When I was temping in libraries (which have an oversupply of credentialed candidates) a librarian told me her advice to aspiring librarians was to “figure out what appeals to you about libraries and find somewhere else to do it” – sounds harsh, but there were better employment prospects AND you could be more competitive if you ever came back to libraries.

    Wondering if there is something similar for you there – think about what appeals to you about that field and whether it is already in your current job or whether there is something out there that scratches the same itch. “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans has some good exercises for identifying your values and conceptualizing how you could make them part of your work life.

    But also echoing many others: nothing wrong with doing something you like just fine in order to support yourself, and plenty of opportunities for fulfillment outside of the workplace.

  97. CanRelate*

    Its so heartwarming to read all these comments of people making it work for them.

    I am an artist who’s original “dream job” was in entertainment, but I went to an expensive private art school and was immediately put into a mountain of debt, so I left college with an immediate need to get control over my finances. I bounced around in retail/food service (Depressing!) and then landed a job doing remote customer service for snazzy small start up companies.

    That was 10 years ago. My partner, ironically, did land in my target industry and at first the contrasts of our work life made it harder for me to come to terms with my bland, cooperate work. Then after a few years, things began to shift.

    When we were both confronted with the realities that all jobs are jobs, it was easier to see the hardships in his career choice (not having as much creative control over his own work as he thought, not having anymore energy to do work for himself, irregular hours, good pay but crazy instability). It was also easier to way the pros and cons of my work (Boring but INSANE flexibility, energy to keep working on my own projects, WFH before it was cool, tons of transferrable skills with upwards momentum to match my motivation)

    Do I still wish I was doing the art-school thing full time? Sure! But I have made much more progress financially than I would if I had tossed my current career away to try and hack it, and in the end that has provided me with great benefits. I still do my things, and when I get depressed about it, I use my actual, stable, reasonable PTO to take a couple days to make some more room to do a creative pursuit. My current job is even implemented providing a sabbatical like PTO period after spending time with the ORG, meaning I could potentially pursue a big project if I planned it before hand.

    Save money, live well, and keep networking and chipping away at the other field if its important to you. You just never know where you may end up and what opportunities may fall in your lap.

  98. Goldenrod*

    OP, I can totally relate! This is something I’ve been grappling with myself lately. I stumbled on a very helpful article, and also on the concept of “goal fusion” (part of something called ACT therapy, which I also found helpful). Goal fusion is basically when your core identity gets fused with a dream that used to release vitality for you….but doesn’t anymore. Now your sense of identity is connected to something that no longer serves you.

    This is the article I found very helpful:

    It also discusses a concept of “dream bankruptcy” – which has to do with being willing to let go of some old ideas about yourself so that you can connect with what really excites you in the present moment.

    Sometimes I think we all need to let go of dreams that no longer serve us but it’s hard to know how to do that. These frameworks helped me sort of get my head around it. When you can let some things go, then there is room to let in new values that serve you better….Good luck!!

  99. Goldenrod*

    OP, I can totally relate! This is something I’ve been grappling with myself lately. I stumbled on a very helpful article, and also on the concept of “goal fusion” (part of something called ACT therapy, which I also found helpful). Goal fusion is basically when your core identity gets fused with a dream that used to release vitality for you…but doesn’t anymore. Now your sense of identity is connected to something that no longer serves you.

    This is the article I found very helpful:

    It discusses a concept of “dream bankruptcy” – which has to do with being willing to let go of some old ideas about yourself so that you can connect with what really excites you in the present moment.

    Sometimes I think we all need to let go of dreams that no longer serve us but it’s hard to know how to do that. These frameworks helped me sort of get my head around it. When you can let some things go, then there is room to let in new values that serve you better….Good luck!!

  100. North American Couch Wizard Society Member*

    I did the same–undergrad degree and started a PhD program in a field where the salaries are low and the jobs are few. I ended up leaving with a terminal master’s degree. Even those in my cohort who finished their PhDs are mostly doing something else–I can only think of one person who is a tenured professor doing research in that field. Plus, watching friends and family who are academics, it’s a tough life where writing books, hustling for grants, and jockeying for influence in departments and professional societies takes up a lot of the day-

    However, the skills and ways of approaching problems that I learned from work in that field have really served me well in my backup career as a physician, where the pay and the job market are markedly better. They inform my clinical work, and if I were really born to be a researcher (which I have sadly acknowledged that I am not). I also keep up with the field through books and journals.

    I was once watching a documentary on the History Channel (which I realize isn’t the most legit source anymore, but it was about the Civil War, not aliens) and they were interviewing someone whose chyron read “Avocational Archeologist.” So my spouse and I have run with that nomenclature in pretty much any setting: avocational plumber, avocational art historian, etc. I vote that you become a proud Avocational Archeologist and try to stay engaged with the fun parts while keeping body and soul together with some other, better paid career.

    1. NACWSM*

      that should read “if I were really born to be a researcher (which I have sadly acknowledged that I am not) I could still do relevant research.”

  101. Amanda*

    I understand the situation that you are in. I, too, had a dream job that realistically would have been challenging if not impossible to break into and I still would have likely needed to supplement that income. So, I got myself a day job where I make a decent living, has good flexibility, and work that I can tolerate. This has allowed me the freedom to moonlight in the field that I love. I teach in that field or participate on more of a hobby basis during the evening hours and/or weekends. It’s not easy, but I still have my dream and can keep the lights on. I wonder if something like this might work for you, OP?

  102. Trisha*

    I totally understand what you’re going through. It’s not exactly the same, but I was in my “dream” career for a few years, working my way up from the bottom in an industry that’s very hierarchal and difficult to break into. Eventually I realized I was really unhappy, not with the actual work so much as the other nonsense you had to put up with to do the work (like a volatile job market). It took me a long while to accept that moving on from that dream job was the right decision.

    I think when you put it so much time and effort to get into a career, one that SO many people would love to have, it feels like failure to then choose to leave that career behind. But it’s not worth being miserable just because you feel like that’s what you’re “supposed” to want. I’m definitely much happier now and I hope you can find that too.

  103. Freddie Mercurial*

    I work in libraries so a lot of us have backgrounds in other areas. I would not necessarily recommend getting your MLS, though, because the market is also not great. BUT there may be government or higher ed jobs that are field adjacent. My partner wanted to be a certain type of lawyer but burnt out quickly and now works for the US government. Good benefits, clear raise structure, and relatively stable as long as there’s a budget.

    One of the fields I studied before switching to libraries was museum studies. With libraries or museums, possibly jobs could be in grants, program manager, technical writer, any number of government agencies (not just the Library of Congress, Smithsonian, or NPS). Do you have a data or GIS background? What skills do you have related to your current field?

    Sometimes it helps to browse listings to get a sense of what’s out there. Your dream is “not-archaeology,” but you may be able to apply that in a number of jobs beyond the typical academic path.

    This is not the same as coming to terms with it, which may require a certain amount of mourning “what could have been” while also recognizing that for many of us a dream job is an idealized version of reality. I thought I’d be an editor in a NYC loft (like the apartment in Friends before I even saw Friends and for just me!).

  104. Salsa Your Face*

    I would recommend digging into the specifics of what it is you love about “archeology” and looking for ways to find it in your new industry.

    I made the move from theatre/acting to business services (let’s say customer insights for the sake of argument, though what I actually do is a little different.) Those two worlds feel like they should be a million miles apart, but both of them let me dig into the inner workings of people (characters vs. consumers) to understand why they tick. Client presentations provide a feeling of satisfaction similar to that of a curtain going up. Working on a variety of projects keeps things fresh just like picking up a new gig did. And the fact that I get to do this while paying my bills and saving money just makes it all that much sweeter.

    Do I miss theatre sometimes? Yes, definitely. Am I envious of the people I know who have managed to make it their career? Yes, of course. But I’m satisfied with my path in life and I wouldn’t choose to go back even if the opportunity presented itself.

  105. silly little public health worker*

    so, my dream job literally WAS archaeology! like, big, lifelong obsession. i LOVED bog bodies and was really interested in how archaeological records are used in modern political conflict (think territorial disputes and “who was there first”). I do not work in archaeology – i work in infectious disease prevention and emergency services. in my case, it wasn’t the lack of jobs that stopped me, it was the fact that i have familial financial obligations that archaeology could not support, and i needed at a pretty young age (mid-college) to choose a career that would support myself and, to some extent, my family.

    i do not regret not working in archaeology, and a lot of that was because i brought my interests into other fields. when i really thought about it, what I cared about was: scientific discovery and bias in interpretation, which is a BIG part of anything that has to do with infectious diseases; using history for social benefit – which, again, crucial for infectious disease prevention; and, making deeply boring concepts interesting and relevant for general audiences, which is literally what you have to do to prevent emergencies (i.e. hey here’s why you need to care about refrigeration).

    i still love going to museums and impressing friends at cocktail parties but i feel totally fine about My Trajectory in Life.

  106. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Games programmers? Nyet. It’s a dream of young adults, but there’s more money and security working in the “real world” of computing – banks, manufacturers, financial houses, commercial software developers, data security……it ain’t sexy but it pays the bills.

    I do, however, feel for the young man who might have accrued hundreds of thousands of student loan debts for that art history diploma, or the woman who majored in “women’s studies” and is selling dog food at Petco.

    I advised my daughter = I will pay for your education in full BUT it’s got to be something that’s marketable. I am not going to subsidize a 4-year playground college education that will leave you with a worthless diploma. She took marketing at a state university but ended up in the military – and then a career in medicine (master’s and doctor of science in a specialty)…she is very happy, and so am I.

    1. pieces_of_flair*

      Hey, plenty of people get liberal arts degrees that you would consider “unmarketable” and end up in all manner of good, stable, lucrative jobs. It’s simply not correct in many (most?) cases that your college major needs to relate to your future career. Your daughter’s path bears this out, in fact. A college degree is a necessary prerequisite to many professions (which I’m not saying is fair or equitable), but employers don’t generally care what you majored in. I majored in English and now have a fulfilling, stable career in research administration. My college friends majored in things like art, philosophy, dance, art history, etc. and they are all doing great now in unrelated fields. Our degrees were not worthless because we needed them to get hired for anything “white collar.” I will encourage my children to study whatever interests them – so they will be happy, engaged learners and make the most of their experience – knowing they may not end up pursuing careers in those areas.

  107. ADidgeridooForYou*

    I used to be in a similar boat to you, but I ended up going in a completely different direction. It was a tough decision to make, but I felt so much better when I adopted the mindset that my work isn’t my life – instead, it gives me the resources I need to fund/fuel my life and anything I’m interested in or passionate about. I’m not sure what discipline you’re in exactly, but oftentimes, there are so many ways to get involved and make a positive impact outside of having a career in it. For me, it’s art and languages. I now use my spare time to devote myself to those interests, and I was even able to set up a (very small) side business. Sure, it doesn’t generate much money, but it gives me pride and satisfaction without adding undue stress to my life (ie making art remains fun and purely voluntary since I don’t rely on it as my primary source of income).

    So often we’re told that if you have a passion, you should make it your career. That’s definitely not a bad thing to do, but I think we often forget that work isn’t you or your life, and we can just as easily define ourselves by the passions we pursue outside of our 9-5.

  108. Clementine Danger*

    I was in the position of actually having and loving my childhood dream job, then a cascading series of very unfortunate events happened and I lost it, with no chance of ever getting back to it. It’s tough! You genuinely have my sympathy. I know I was very much Not Okay With It for a very long time. But there were things that helped me.

    Break the dream job down into its parts. So in your example, what are the component pieces of archeology that attracted you to it in the first place? Maybe you always saw yourself as a field archeologist, so maybe the individual components of that field were travel, outdoor work, intellectual stimulation, a certain peer group… I know you’re settled in another job now, but it can help to really drill down on what individual aspects of the job you really like and then find ways to engage with those parts. So maybe you won’t be a full-time field archeologist, but you can still go to symposiums or volunteer for outdoorsy activities. For me, that started out feeling like a boobie prize; oh, I can’t live my dream anymore so here’s some pity scraps of the thing you want but can’t have… It’s not great. It hurts. But I did notice that after a while, once the hurt faded, those adjacent-but-not-quite-it activities became very valuable in their own right. It kept me connected with people who shared my passion for the field, and that alone is worth a lot. It’s something you need to be ready for, because there’s no point in hurting yourself by standing on the threshold of something you want and can’t have. Maybe you’re not there (yet) or that’s not a place you ever want to be in. But it definitely can help.

    Second, I worked with a therapist. Not for this issue specifically but I noticed it kept coming up. It was a loss, something I worked very hard for that felt like it was taken away from me. If it’s an option for you, know that this is a thing you can process with outside help. It’s not something that’s somehow not “important” enough for therapy. If it hurts, if it eats away at you, it’s entirely reasonable to find someone who can help you process this. In fact there are therapists who specialize in these sorts of life transitions. You may not want or need that or not have access, but know it’s on the table.

    And I’m really sorry. This sucks.

  109. Political consultant*

    I’ve been in a somewhat similar boat – I started off in politics, but after a few years, badly wanted to pivot into journalism. I ended up staying put in large part because the journalism job market is so abysmal and unstable. I have zero regrets. As I’ve continued to advance in the field, the promotions have made it well worth while — the work’s gotten more interesting and the money obviously helps too. Meanwhile, every mass media layoff confirms I made the right call.

  110. CoinPurse*

    I think dream job is a cruel concept. I worked to support myself. My “dream” career in the arts was a fast track to starvation. I worked in law enforcement for 10 years then retrained to be an RN. Had a 40 year career in nursing. Looking back, I am satisfied that I did good work, saved for retirement and am still healthy. But the “dream” career was more a fantasy than reality.

  111. Dr. of Laboratoria*

    This was me except I actually went and got a PhD. LOL.

    I wanted to research a very specific rare disease so of course I needed the PhD. Graduate school knocked me on my *bleep* and I barely made it out. I had two awful advisors before I found my place (luckily it was a small program); but my PhD work is not anywhere near what I wanted to study, totally different body parts!

    After the long slog of grad school, I made it into a post-doc doing research at least in the target organ that was impacted by the disease I wanted to study. I stayed 3 years and by the end I was so disillusioned by the assinine granting process, I didn’t like what I was researching any more, and the research politics was just awful. And of course the work life balance was not great either.

    I emailed my PhD advisor about how awful I was feeling and she responded “Call me”. Well it turns out that a clinical lab director she knew wanted to retire and was looking for someone with a PhD to replace him. I took the leap.

    It’s been 7 years and by the end of next year, I should be promoted to his position. I have great pay, decent PTO (it is healthcare after all), great work life balance. I’m really happy.

    I still think of that dream job researching (and of course finding the cure) to the rare disease that runs in my family. But if I was honest with myself, I wasn’t the anywhere the star researcher you have to be to get the grants, etc. to have a successful lab. I was good and steady, but definitely not the rock star. And I didn’t relish uprooting my entire family to move for a job.

    To finish, there is nothing wrong with keeping a job that you like, pays well, and gives you good work/life balance. Letting that dream go is bittersweet for sure, and you will grieve a little. But where you are can be just as good.

  112. statstatstats*

    I think it’s important to remember that life is full of a lot of uncertainties. I have a PhD in my dream field and until a year ago, I had the dreamiest of dream jobs. I loved my work, my coworkers, etc. But my organization reshuffled everyone, and I got moved into a management role overseeing a role in my dream field that I enjoy but don’t love as much. The job I saw myself doing for 30+ years and had thrown myself into whole-heartedly vanished overnight along with my career path.

    My job satisfaction has decreased a lot over the past year, even though I’m objectively still doing my dream job, because I’m grieving for my loss and my burnout is much higher now that I’m not as happy. It’s also hard to work beside and participate in the hiring of people who are doing work that is more like my dream job than my job. I put a lot of mental effort into suppressing my emotions to get on with my work, even though I do enjoy many aspects of my new job lot.

    I’ve been reflecting a lot on my identity and values: how do I define myself, how is my job part of my identity, what do I want from work, what my work/non work balance to be, etc. I’ve also been reflecting a lot on my organization, as I see it fundamentally differently now that I’m not head over heels in love with the job. It’s been a longer process than I expected, and family is often frustrated by my slow and inconsistent progress. I’ve also stopped investing so much effort in my job. I’m still doing well, but I’m only giving 85% instead of the 125% I used to give. It’s given me time to do other things and forget about work. I’m slowing getting better, but I still don’t have a clear answer yet either, because there probably isn’t one right answer. It sounds like you also are wrestling with a tricky situation. Good luck with what ever you choose, OP.

  113. sara*

    I didn’t get as far in my education as you did but I had dreams for my whole life of being a marine biologist. I realized in undergrad that academic research really wasn’t for me, plus I couldn’t have afforded to go to grad school anyways. So I started working in informal education and animal care in the zoo/aquarium field. I really loved it but there was no career path that wasn’t just becoming a manager (and not getting to do any of the things I loved) or being one of like 6 people waiting for our boss/curator to retire. Plus with the high burnout, really low pay, hugely dramatic workplace, etc, I knew after a few years that I wanted to do something else entirely. It took a couple of years to figure out what that is, but it’s been 7 years since I left my old field (I spent about 10 years in it) and I have absolutely zero regrets.

    No regrets about the time in my old field – I had some amazing experiences and met some of my dearest friends. And no regrets about leaving – I have a super fulfilling career that is a really great fit for me. It wasn’t at all a natural step from one to the other for most people, but for me it really makes a lot of sense. I’d started coding/making websites on the side just for something fun to learn, and now I’m software engineer in a great niche industry (that’s science/biology adjacent).

  114. Temperance*

    My lifelong dream was to become a librarian. I love books, and organization, and order. But, frankly, library dreams are just so hard to come by and the pay is awful and the work isn’t what I dreamed about when going to my tiny, quiet, rural library as a kid.

    So, I’m a lawyer now who spends a lot of time at my favorite neighborhood library that is very close to the quiet space of my childhood, and I fantasize about working in such a quiet, clean, organized place up until I watch someone come in to hassle the librarians with weird tech questions about their Kindle and VCR.

  115. Wilbur*

    I felt frustrated for a long time with my career, until I reframed the question. Instead of a dream job or career, I started asking myself what my dream life would look like. Vacation, time for my hobbies, travel, and family all came up as priorities. My work can make that happen for me. The annoying parts of my job were still there, but didn’t matter as much anymore.

  116. TrueTalesFromHR*

    Make “archeology” your hobby- volunteer on weekends, go to exhibits, etc. But have a career that allows you to live comfortably and doesn’t make you feel like you’re always chasing a dream.

    Our jobs don’t define us and it’s ok to want the comforts a stable, well paying job provide.

    1. JelloStapler*

      YES! I tell students all the time that every facet of who they are does not have to be reflected in their “9 to 5”.

  117. JelloStapler*

    I would re-frame it as a new adventure, and that you’re not giving up, you are just choosing to pivot. Perhaps you can even see it as this is where you are supposed to be right now, even if you didn’t see this years ago. Sometimes there are some hidden gifts in that.

  118. MuseumChick*

    Very late to the party today but as my user name suggests, I work in the museum field. This is a dream field for a lot of people but just like what you experienced it is VERY difficult to find a job in. It is not at all unusual for people to apply to 100 jobs they are qualified for and not get even one interview. Here is my advice having seen so many people have to give up their dream field 1) Allow yourself to grieve it! That is totally normal. 2) Make it a passion, volunteer in that dream field to scratch the itch. 3) Consider the benefits of NOT having made it into the your dream field. As much as I love museums….this industry has a lot of problem I would not have faced if I had picked something else and their are times I’ve felt jealous of those who gave up the dream and are working a 9 – 5 office gig.

  119. ArchaeologyActuallyInThisCase*

    Coincidentally, I did do all my degrees in archaeology based on a foundation of childhood dream. I know you say not-archaeology but everything you say is so very true for archaeology. So very true. Anyhow, I went all the way to the end, PhD route, and was spit out into the post financial collapse academic job market in a field (…archaeology) where jobs were already rare and underpaid. Oh…archaeology.

    Over a decade later I am still an academic, I am quite successful, but I am not an archaeologist. I discovered that I could do archaeology in a different way, through something else, through a different discipline with different frames and, importantly, a much more healthy job market. Ultimately this change was creative and, as it turned out, prescient. It meant a shift in the framing of my work, but not its goals and not my love of archaeology. The archaeology community still accepts me as one of their own, but I just do it another way. I love it when I say “No, my PhD is actually in archaeology.” When people look confused I say “I swear it makes sense, let me tell you how!”

    I know I’m being vague here, but can you do your love another way? Can you come at it via a more profitable angle or from a field/direction that has better job prospects? Can you make a hybrid that no one else has considered? Is there a private aspect to your love that you can be part of? Can you think of a way to build something multidisciplinary, different, and special? In other words, are you able to experiment off what seems like the only pathway and make something new?

    A good way to start in this is to talk to people in your field who don’t work in academia. In archaeology, I would send you to cultural heritage officers within your national government, to people working in heritage protection NGOs, to people who focus on cultural questions within economic research firms, to lawyers who work in cultural heritage law, and the likes. Does your field have this? I think so. Most do…even say, Classics ;-).

  120. yala*

    I have a degree in comic books. I wanted to be a comicbook artist since I was a kid, I drew constantly in high school. I LOVED college–the courses, the community, my professors. I was very very certain that one day I would be drawing my favorite superheroes.

    I’m a cataloger at an academic library now. For years I figured “eventually.” At this point, I’ve mostly acknowledged that while I still want to make comics and draw, and maybe even do the occasional artistic side-hustle…I’m really not cut out of the it as an actual career.

    And, it stings sometimes. It really does. But also, I like the job I have now. It suits me a lot better than sleepless nights and tight deadlines. I enjoy what I do, and I mostly enjoy where I do it, and I can draw whatever I feel like drawing whenever I feel like drawing it.

    If there’s something archaeology-adjacent that you could do as a hobby, definitely try that. You may find you like it better as a hobby than a career anyway. I wish I had more advice, but really the best I’ve got is that, and time eventually makes it hurt a little less. Thinking about the aspects of your life as it is that you love that you might not have if you did have your “dream job.”

    But also, I hesitate to say “put it on the shelf” completely. My thing was, I just couldn’t hack it, and eventually had to admit that. If you think the uncertainty might be worth the trade off (is there any way you could pursue your PhD while working?), then that’s your call to make.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Can you put your finger on why you don’t feel you were cut out for it or why you “couldn’t hack it”? I realize OP is probably not coming from an arts perspective, but I can only say that for myself, I realized that the talent I had and was passionate about was actually only a small part of the field, and the rest of it (marketing/PR/networking) was stuff I really wasn’t well suited to.

      1. yala*

        Oh yeah, no, it’s specific things. I’m kind of a flake, art-wise. Granted, the whole untreated ADHD for decades probably played into that, but even when I took commissions, I would always be down to the wire, or needing extensions, even when it was for someone I really really did not want to disappointed.

        I’m just not a very fast artist, and even medicated, I don’t think I’d be able to consistently turn out work at the rate and quality needed to make it as a professional artist/freelancer. The consistency of a M-F 9-5 suits me a lot better. When you’re an independent artist, as you said, there’s really a lot of “the rest of it” as well as the art, and it gets overwhelming very quickly.

        I think it took me a while to admit because it is a personal failing, and I kept thinking I’d outgrow it or something, but I had to just accept that that’s who I am, and I have my strengths, but quick and consistent turn-around isn’t one of them.

        1. Goldenrod*

          I don’t think it’s a personal failing. Making a living as a comic book artist is extremely hard! Actually, my favorite cartoonist (I won’t name him because that wouldn’t be nice) is someone I follow on Twitter, and he’s constantly posting about all his money problems and sense of failure. And this is literally, in my opinion, the most talented comic book artist/writer I can think of (again, just my opinion, but his work is well-known and popular).

          So – it’s not a personal failing at all, in my opinion. Art doesn’t mesh that well with capitalism, most of the time. Good for you for figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t!

  121. NCA*

    I had to make the same pivot about 5 years ago, and while part of me still mourns what could have been (studying, teaching, researching, writing), the other part of me reminds myself that a neurodivergent person such as myself would have a /much/ more stressful time in academia than in the corporate world, and I likely would not have the same job security, pay, and lifestyle that I enjoy now. I volunteer adjacent to my old field now, which has the added benefit of not draining the joy out of something I love. Good luck!!

  122. Immortal for a limited time*

    You just take a deep breath, gulp real hard and do it. My spouse obtained the doctorate degree required for a specific healthcare field and actually practiced for several years before realizing the supposed money and prestige weren’t worth the stress. He literally started over in a whole new field in his 40s at a training wage that was not much above minimum wage, worked his way up into management and is now happily retired with a comfortable sum to live on, despite giving up his license and walking away from what was supposed to be a lucrative career. The decision took a couple years to make, but he never regretted it.

  123. MPR*

    I can relate! I did get the PhD but still left the academic track and sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had stayed in it. For me as I get further in my more practical career I feel more confident in my choice. It’s allowed me to have a fulfilling personal life, providing support and stability for my family that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. And I really appreciate the change from the pressure to build a big reputation with publications and grants to just doing great in my organization and not worrying about comparing myself to and competing with my colleagues. I have a great network and tons of transferable skills. I spend some free time reading and listening to podcasts in my former field and can enjoy the excellent science others are doing without all the downsides.

  124. higheredadmin*

    I never had a “dream job” in mind, so I’ve worked in may different professional environments. As everyone has noted above, even the dream jobs have big downsides and in dream fields (e.g. academia, acting etc) it means they can treat you like garbage because there are 20 people literally at the door ready to take your job. Here’s a great story from when I worked in Higher Ed fundraising. I hired someone in an entry-level communications type position. She had a PhD in a field similar to archaeology, had done all the things/internships, and had applied (unsuccessfully) for the few non-academic jobs in her field (think museum curator type roles). Well, she seemed bright and hard-working, so we hired her. She excelled, and after a few years moved into a fundraising position. She is now a program manager at a very significant foundation where she uses her academic knowledge to decide awards for heritage restoration projects – so she’s literally making an impact in saving things that she loves. There are many ways to get to to where you think you want to go. And remember – EVERY job has parts that you won’t like to do – you just need to weigh up what they are.

  125. Baska*

    I was in your exact situation about 15 years ago. I had a “dream job” that required a Master’s Degree (which I got), but once I was out in the job market, the jobs just weren’t there. I tried for a solid three years to land a position in my chosen field before finally giving up. I wish I could say it was easy — it wasn’t. I still have “what-if” reminiscences about what would have happened if I were successful.

    I wound up pivoting to a completely new field, one where people appreciated my training but it was by no means required for my positions. I came to appreciate the benefits of my new positions and lean into my mother’s motto of “education is never wasted,” even if I’m not using it the way I intended. As best I can, I try to fulfill some parts of my dream job with volunteer work or hobbies. And I try to remember that I *am* happy at my current job, even if it’s not what I thought I’d be doing 15 years ago.

  126. marvin*

    I feel this, as someone who gave up a full time staff position in publishing, a rare thing to have. One thing about these dream jobs is that sometimes they end up taking more than they give back. Since I left, I found that I have so much more time and energy to pour into my personal life, which has created a lot of opportunities I couldn’t have imagined.

    I think it’s worth reflecting on how much the job itself is truly fulfilling to you, and how much is more of a sunk cost or scarcity mindset. It can feel good to have a dream to work toward, but sometimes the structure of pursuing the dream takes on a life of its own.

  127. Keiteag the bookseller*

    I was going to be an English professor, got my Masters, and found there were no jobs anywhere. Like several hundred PhDs applying for Associate positions at community colleges no jobs anywhere. In a funk, I wandered into my local indie bookstore, saw a job open, applied, got the job and loved it. 28 years later I own my own indie bookstore in my small hometown and am so fulfilled. Yes, every once and a while I miss in depth discussions about Emily Dickinson’s handwriting. Honestly, I can’t imagine not being a bookseller at this point. Dreams can be adjusted.

  128. Dubious*

    How do you mentally pivot from seeing your future career in one specific way to an entirely different career/field/goal?

    My backstory of my own pivot includes a similar level of involvement in academia. I moved away from phd track after being very close to it, and haven’t regretted it at all.

    So how did I handle the mental process of it?

    My current field is very different from the field I’d studied for. At first glance there’s no overlap between Current Job and what I had studied to do. But:

    1. In Current Job, I get a similar level of meaning that I got from Old Field. Some of the things that motivated me to pursue Old Field are still active and alive in Current Job, just in a different way.

    2. Current Job taps onto Skills, interests, motivations, and strengths that I wouldn’t have been able to use in Old Field, and I really love being able to use them!

    3. This job pays better. So much better (and I’m not even talking a six-figure salary). I spent years paying my dues, putting up with low pay in hopes of getting higher pay later. And meanwhile everything I read and heard about academia, including while I was in it as a grad student, indicated that going for a PhD would mean many more years of that. There’s only so much of my adulthood I want to spend with housemates who are not my immediate family, and only so many years I can skip paying into retirement before I’m truly and thoroughly Screwed. I no longer have interest in a field/job that won’t allow me to live a life where I can flourish. At least if I suffer sometimes in Current Job, I get enough money to make life easier in other ways.

    3a. If the end goal of a PhD program is to become a non-adjunct professor, you (general “you”) have much less control and freedom than in many other fields. For example, your chance of getting a permanent job with benefits is about the same % chance of that as you do if going to Hollywood and becoming the next blockbuster star, while having to put up with practically the same level of political and popularity BS. Also, you can’t really choose where to live—applicants follow the handful of job openings each year, and if you turn down the offer in a place you would never want to live, you may never get another offer.

    I am—you are, we all are—complex beings. There is more than one thing that can make us feel fulfilled, or that our contributions are meaningful by whatever metric is important to us. Life has multiple paths, and there’s more than one that’s right for us.

  129. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I don’t have a “dream job” because I don’t dream about working!

    The truth is, I don’t have a thing I really want to do. I like a lot of stuff, am usually pretty successful at most things I try or want to do, but I also find that anything can be boring if you HAVE to do it. I was fairly jealous of those who had a clear direction while I just sort of floated along.

    Reading AAM taught me that 1. I don’t actually dream of working and 2. that my preferred working conditions matter a lot more than what the job is or the prestige it appears to have. I now have a job that is full time pay and benefits but more like 35 hours a week, it is flexible, and allows me a ton of autonomy. It is in a field that makes sense in retrospect (why didn’t anyone suggest this as a career to me!?) that I just sort of landed in, and I’m happy.

    I wish you the best OP!

  130. Jellyfish Catcher*

    You need to look at your entire life to find the best answer.
    1. Is a profession in archeology more important than money or family?
    2. Is your vision of archeology realistic, or seen through a wistful
    or romantic lens?
    It almost like carrying a torch for “the one” who seemed perfect –
    because you never lived with them day by day, seeing their
    flaws and annoyances. All jobs have drudgery and boring times.

    3. What are your other non career goals and interests? Can you find
    satisfaction with those or spend vacations as a volunteer in digs?

    4. THE most important question my Dad ever asked me, early in my
    college days, while considering a very demanding profession:
    Omg: it clarified all that I wanted in life: time off, flexibility,
    friends, remote hiking, a child someday.
    I chose a less demanding profession, that gave me that life.
    It took some time to grow into it; worked for myself, did well and never,
    ever looked back.
    5. Ask yourself the deepest and hardest questions.

  131. Random Dice*

    Work on forgiving your younger self for not knowing what you didn’t know at the time you put in all this time and money (if needed), then walk away from your sunk cost fallacy.

  132. ZinniaOhZinnia*

    Hello friend! I was in a similar boat: for a long time, I worked as an outdoor environmental educator and farmer, and while I loved it so very much, and would have loved to be a farmer year-round, the work was often seasonal and the pay was consistently limited.

    I have since traveled through the adjacent field of nonprofit education and am currently at a lovely school that supports faculty following their passion– although I work in communications and fundraising, I have the opportunity daily to connect with students, to lead exciting projects, and have even been told there’s a chance for me to keep my bees on the roof!

    There seems to be jobs that could easily fit in with your passion and also be livable- I saw previous posters mention working in communications or social media, maybe for a museum, or a nonprofit that champions the field you are interested in.

    In terms of finding a job in that adjacent field, many people interviewing you will be excited you have a firm background in that field, even if you’re doing marketing or fundraising, because that solid background allows you to more easily do your job. From my above example, having that outdoor educator background gave me the skillset of connecting with students and parents, and a similar pedagogy to the school I work at. I was even told after being hired that this was one of the reasons they selected me! They wanted someone with that background who could more easily communicate about/participate in the cool things going on at our organization.

    I’m wishing you the very best of luck, there’s a lot out there and you shouldn’t feel like you have to give up on participating in your dream field for financial reasons!

  133. Hey Ms!*

    As someone in the entertainment industry, once I made the switch to “work to live” not “live to work”, that made a difference. I now am in education. I still do my passion on the side. I do get paid to do it on the side, but I wouldn’t be able to make a living doing only that. I am able to go on international vacations, be home most nights, hang out with friends when I want to, and again, still do my passion on the side.

    Having worked in the dream, I found out that it wasn’t that dream-like at all. Having some distance from it and doing it on your own accord keeps it fun.

    Another plus: having worked and lived on a non-livable wage doing my dream jobs, now that I am on the other side of it make a decent-ish amount, I know how to live frugally yet fully. I am saving money and plan to be a millionaire by the time I retire. You can do that too!

  134. Firecat*

    Similar situation as you. I wanted to be a marine biologist since I was 10. Got an undergraduate degree, published a paper, went to many conferences, worked in a variety of labs, then worked for 2 years outside of academia before deciding to switch gears because of lack of jobs and atrocious pay and benefits. I’ve been out of the field for 14 years or so now.

    First, I think the most important thing is to be nice to be yourself. I think the pressure of being a “quitter of your dreams” can really add to the already crappy situation. It helped me to remind myself that I didn’t actually like the job, since I didn’t like the pay, benefits, or timeline for when I would be able to grow my family.

    Second, when people say things like “How could you quit archeology you loved it!” or “Why would you want to work here when you were an archeologist!” It can help to have practiced responses like:

    “Yeah Marine Biology is amazing and fascinating, working in Marine Biology? Not so much.”

    “The work was great, but not great enough to make up for fast food salaries and no benefits.”

    “I actually love (current industry) sure I miss working with animals but nothing beats job security and a steady paycheck in my book”

    You should also prepare to have hiring managers ask you why you left the industry and have reasons for why the industry you are in or applying to is a good fit and what you like about it. I was surprised but I had managers drilling me about this in interviews for about 7 years. I remember after about 5 years I would jokingly say “Well I’ve worked in (Industry) now for about twice as long as I ever worked in Marine Biology, but things I enjoy about (industry) are ….”

  135. Meep*

    I knew I wanted to be an astronomer when I was 8 years old. I loved telescopes and how they worked. I had no idea about optical engineering (necessary for building telescopes). It wasn’t until I went to an observatory when I was 15 years old I learned astronomers don’t even get to use the telescopes. They have techs for that. So I changed career paths to optical engineering so I could build telescopes.

    I am actually working for a software company not working on building or designing telescopes. Why? Because when I was taking my dual optics-astronomy classes I learned about a limiting factor for astronomical instrumentation. The company I work for? Is the leading expert in analyzing that factor. I am not doing what I thought would be my “dream job” (I am in management rn), but I am learning lots to be effective at it later. And I learned other things I am also interested in along the way.

    Rather than look at it as missing out on your dream job, look at is as a stepping stone for a job you may not even know was out there and can be your new dream while you wait. You might like it better.

  136. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    what I see is that our learned that the dream job really isn’t a dream job for you. please give yourself permission to be ok with your own preferences, because that’s what they are. you prefer this combination of salary less/education/opportunities to those of your former dream job. that is ok.

    you can still love archaeology, read about it, volunteer, etc. if you want, but it’s ok to not do it for a living.

  137. Csweb*

    Hah. as someone who did 2 years in dream-job industry (museums and curation), 3 years in a dream-job adjacent industry (company that designs and builds museums), and now is 2 years away from it all – this was how I broke it down when I sat down and had a long conversation with myself during the pandemic:

    1. Have a long hard look at your dream job industry and face the realities of it.
    Museums and academia (dream jobs for me in different ways, although I never pursued the latter) needed a high level of education, potentially years of unstable/contract jobs, had few job prospects, little movement as everyone clung to their dream posts, and terrible salaries unless you lucked out. It’s a lifestyle some people are ok with, but I.. was not

    2. Decide on your career priorities. Do you want pay? Work-life balance? Passion? Prestige?
    Personally I decided I wanted the first two. My go-to phrase is you can’t eat your passion.

    3. Find out what keeps you energised. Company mission? Helping people? Making use of certain skills from your “archaeology”? Whatever it is, search for jobs that lets you do that.
    For me, I adored research work, but I realised that other jobs actually use research skills too. It took me a bit of trial and error before I found my current job (brand and content strategy – which needs light research work, but without the paralysing feeling of being the expert in an exrtremely specialised subject), but I love it as I get the same rush of adrenaline from it.

    Those 3 parameters really clarified for me what I wanted out of a job and career. So I walked away from museums without looking back. Now I’m in an industry where I can choose the type of work-life balance I want, pays me about 45% more than my previous company (I got promoted last year), using skills that keep me energised – and if it does for some reason get toxic, there’s enough companies in the field that I have the autonomy to find a new job (and not be beholden to a paltry number of job openings).

    I still feel like a sell-out sometimes, but clarifying my priorities and tradeoffs really helped me make peace with my decisions.

  138. Bean*

    Start throwing your attention, efforts, and focus into non-work-related hobbies. Become a person passionate about things you don’t get paid for and don’t have bearing on your work. You’ll always have those.

  139. I have RBF*

    I bombed out of my chosen major because I couldn’t work and take day classes, and never finished college. I then backed into a career in environmental chemistry. It was going great, until two things happened: The bottom fell out of the industry I was in, and I became disabled and could no longer do wet chemistry or field work.

    It took me four years to recover as much as I could from a stroke and pivot to a different field. It was hard, demoralizing (I had to take jobs made for the severely handicapped at a very low pay rate, much lower than my professional pay), and soul crushing. I cried a lot.

    I had to start at the very bottom in my new field. My titles were “Junior”, or “Help Desk”. It took years, but I worked my way back up to senior. I am now 25 years into my new career. It helped that I took what had been a hobby and made it a paying career.

    Changing careers to significantly different fields is never easy. At least if you have a degree a lot of places assume it is good enough. If I had a BA in Underwater Basketweaving my life would have been simpler. At least you have the expensive paper that all these companies want, just not in their primary field.

    Sometimes the things we plan as college students don’t work out in the real world. It’s okay to pivot to your second or even third choice, or even just pivot to what makes you enough money to enjoy your life, and let your “career” be just the thing that supports your life, instead of the other way around.

  140. Anita Brake*

    This may have already been suggested, or may be a lame idea, but have you thought about volunteering in “geology” somehow?

  141. commentor35*

    Could you potentially be an adjunct professor in your “dream” field (given you have a masters degree)? Or somehow engage with this field in a volunteer/temporary capacity?

  142. Knope Knope Knope*

    I’m a little jaded, but try living on the salary the dream job pays then see how much better your life is with the real life salary. I work in my dream job. Sure I enjoy it, but any job is work and comes with frustrations, office politics, paper work etc. a job that lets you enjoy your life is worth a lot.

  143. Sparrow*

    Like many other folks here, I pivoted into another part of a related industry. Five years into a PhD program, I decided to quit and move into the administrative side of higher ed, and I’ve been working full-time in higher ed for about 12 years now.

    I’ll be honest, it took some time to mentally make the adjustment, even though I knew it was the right choice for me. There was very much a feeling of loss, as well as feelings of guilt and disappointment with myself for “not living up to my potential.” Therapy helped a lot in allowing myself to somewhat mourn that ending and move forward. Experiencing job stability and work-life balance while seeing my former classmates continue to bounce between teaching jobs and work around the clock to handle their varied responsibilities helped, too!

    I still love the subject matter I studied and sometimes I really miss it, so I do still find the occasional time to nerd out about it. I think I am actually able to enjoy it more since it’s not also my job!

  144. Marionberry*

    I gave up a career that I considered a calling and became a software engineer. It required two things:
    1) accepting that the career I’d chosen was never going to give me the basic stability/financial security I needed, and as a result was always going to make me miserable, and
    2) recognizing the most important things I needed, to not be miserable.

    I was never going to have a healthy working environment because a) the job market was a nightmare, b) there were a lot of toxic, underpaying workplaces c) which were chronically underfunded, and d) moving forward in my career meant either becoming a manager or relocating, probably to a different state each time. The joys of public service.

    Once I realized that my dream career meant a life of instability and misery, I reassessed what I needed out of life – choosing where I lived (not relocating out of employment-based desperation), being close to family, having career options.

    I hope the LW can find the same acceptance of the reality that the “dream” job isn’t really the dream if it can’t feed/house/clothe you, and that it can feel good and empowering to prioritize your own well-being.

  145. KH*

    While I’m not exactly in the same boat, I would argue that I don’t really use the specific majors I have degrees in (both undergrad and Master’s). I also graduated college thinking I would be more of a “save the world” type of person. I felt guilty for a long time that a. I maybe “wasted” my degrees and b. that I was a sell out for not pursuing my “passions.” Over time, a couple things helped me come to terms with this. First, I realized that my academic work did indeed give me skills I was actively leveraging at work, even if they weren’t traditionally related to my major. I learned time management skills, got lots of experience writing, and can still speak a language that makes vacationing in much of the world a hell of lot easier LOL. I also found ways to look for the “good” I was doing in my role, even if I wasn’t feeding starving orphans in some remote location. I was indirectly helping clients with missions I supported, contributing to my company and mentoring others, and working my way up to a level that I could have disposable income to donate to causes that are important to me. The latter is a little different from your scenario, but perhaps you can find parallels between the fields and find gratitude for the ways your experience in your dream job helps you be the best you can be in your new job.

  146. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

    I think a far more useful lens to think about work is ‘what is important to me about my job and the work that I do?’ My answers are: I’m learning, I’m growing, I get to puzzle through complex situations, I have flexibility and free time to do my hobbies and good vacation, my job is creating social good, I do not need to sell things that aren’t needed or don’t work (*ahem looking at you, 3 years in vitamin industry*), I work with smart, engaged & kind people, my physical needs are accomodated, I make enough money to feel secure.

    Would I rather be a whale scientist who makes whale-themed pottery when I’m not on a boat looking at or listening to whales with 51 weeks off each year and making a zillion dollars and taking random degrees for funsies? Of course that’s the (my) dream! But I figured out what was important about that dream to me, and found a way to make almost all of those things happen in a job that allows me to do the rest of them in my generous free time.

    Also: the skills I learned in my Masters degrees are applicable in many ways (I was hanging out on pubmed last night!), even though my job is very much not research. I think a lot of us who have advanced degrees struggle with the idea of “using” them, and I think it’s so unhelpful.

    Lastly, OP said “It’s just not what I imagined myself doing”, and I so know that feeling. While it’s hard to let go of it, it’s so freeing to realize that a huge number of people aren’t, and often because so many of our jobs aren’t ones we ever knew could exist! At no point in my education or career did someone tell me I could work at the nexus of two huge, complex, publically funded systems creating transformational change (or trying, at least) , but wow what a job.

  147. Lurking Tom*

    It’s possible I missed it in the comments, but I’m a little surprised I haven’t seen anyone say what I’m about to: I haven’t come to terms with it and I don’t know when/if I will.

    I went from “dream job” (owning my own retail/wholesale food company) to working an office job when I ran out of things to borrow against to keep the company going. It’ll be 4 years on June 30th and every one of those days I’ve thought at least once about how I failed myself and blew my one shot at doing something for a living that I truly love. It’s not great! The only thing you can do really is keep going no matter how much having to do something else sits wrong, so that’s what I do. Wish I had something better to offer you!

  148. Foggy*

    You should base your decision on how committed (obsessed?) you are to the dream. If you value a higher salary, more flexibility on job location, or other work/life balance issues, then perhaps you should come to terms with the fact that dreams often are not consistent with reality. I have a sibling who has a “dream job” that is often portrayed very glamorously in movies and popular media. She loves her job and is one of the world’s experts in her field. She also travels constantly. It pays ok but not great. Before the pandemic I don’t think she had spent more the 4 months on the same continent since she was in her 20s. Her permanent residence is in another country so she rarely sees family. She owns neither real estate nor a car. She has never been able to sustain a long term relationship because of all the travel. Now, in her late 50s, she sometimes has regrets about her life choices. But most of the time she loves it. It is a very personal choice.

  149. Momma Bear*

    +1ing all the comments to look for something related but adjacent. I think sometimes we get so caught up in THE DREAM (whatever that is – house, car, job, relationship) that we forget that there’s a lot of middle-ground that’s still good and has perks that we might enjoy. OP said that the job is often underpaid, so if OP has a job with a better pay, is that a good compromise? I enjoy a job where I come and go during specific hours and am rarely on call and rarely (though sometimes) work OT. Is it my dream? No. Is it good in a lot of ways? Yes. As I get older I also find that work-life balance is more and more important.

    OP, aside from the “dream role” what are your other dreams? What other steps or paths can you take to make any of them a reality? Maybe one day you’ll have that role…or maybe one day you’ll change the dream. Maybe this is not a dream gone but a dream deferred. Success is rarely linear.

  150. Bookworm*

    I am not *quite* where you are but I was fired not long ago and have decided that this was a sign that I needed to leave this field. I had been doing this work for almost 5 years after struggling for more than a decade to figure out what I wanted and to break into the field specifically. It was work that I liked but also incredibly demanding at certain times of our work cycle–think people stop sleeping, eating at the very worst levels, etc.

    I was extremely unhappy in my last position with an unsupportive boss, several colleagues who I liked but were not in a position to do anything or were fine with the situation, and no HR or other structure because it is a very small firm and the owner (unsupportive boss) ran it all and did not run it well. And I was let go for reasons not related to my work, but because the work/life balance could sometimes be atrocious with the owner/unsupportive boss and I could not accept it any longer. I have come to acknowledge that it is no longer for me and it is time to move on. It makes me sad because I’d still do this work but I am burned out both from the work itself and dealing with too many organizations which unfortunately operate very similarly to my last job. It can be a toxic field as a whole so my journey isn’t necessarily an unusual one, sadly.

    It is no longer worth it but I do believe that I can find related work that may pay similarly or even more and will not be so demanding. “For everything there is a season…” so to speak, that everything changes, nothing lasts forever, etc. It has admittedly taken me awhile to get here but it’s been so nice to wake up in the mornings knowing I don’t have to return that garbage and actually enjoying weekends and holidays (as in, my time off is actually time off and I don’t have to have a constant sense of dread).

    I hope there was something useful in the ramble (it’s also something I needed to get out so thanks for reading, haha), and hope you find some peace/acceptance/better work/etc. Good luck!

  151. Daisy-dog*

    I have seen a lot of great suggestions about how to get your “fill” of your dream outside of work through hobbies or volunteering. But if you still feel really raw about this decision, then I suggest removing it from your life just for now. Using your archeology example, don’t even watch Indiana Jones if your family picks it for movie night. Skip visiting a natural history/science museum on trips. Because those things that may have made you so excited about pursuing this career may just make you long for it more. Get more established in your non-dream career first and establish an unrelated hobby or volunteering gig.

    1. SB*

      Or, watch that Crystal Skull IJ movie…that should get archeology out of your system for good!!!!!

  152. SB*

    If you do not think your dream job will ever be attainable or ever pay a wage that allows you to pay rent & eat in the same week is there a way you can somehow “dabble” as a hobby…for example, my dream job was nursing but I burnt out during covid & moved into the mining industry but to keep my hand in, I joined the St John’s volunteer brigade. We have a meeting on Tuesday evenings where we do regular training & about one weekend a month I will be stationed at a show (similar to a state fair for you Americans), a festival, a rodeo, etc to assist anyone who needs first aid care. We provide a free service that sits somewhere between “ouch, I have a small boo boo that needs a sticky plaster” & “better call an ambulance & get this person to hospital”.

    This volunteer work fulfils my nursing dreams without me needing to go back to a job that almost killed me mentally & physically during covid.

    Not sure what your actual dream job is, but maybe there is a way to fulfil that dream without working in the field?

  153. Lyra*

    I left my own “archaeology” several years post-PhD. I struggled for a while, since my identity was wrapped up in my topic and my dream job. I did a values workshop to try and figure out other things I wanted in life, and really felt adrift as I worked in a more tech-focused position for 1.5 years.

    But now I’ve found a position that combines some of my favorite “archaeological” skills with the tech things I picked up after I left the field. And it was a surprise to me, because it’s not a field that has many positions in industry. Which is to say, unexpected opportunities come up later, and it gets easier to longer you stay away (and if it doesn’t get easier, go back)!

  154. cosmicbrownies*

    I’m in a job that is a dream job for many – like, the kind of job that knocks people out when you tell them what it is! And I’m exhausted, barely making it paycheck to paycheck, and unable to buy a house. I’m starting to realize the things I’ve had to sacrifice along the way, but at this point the only skills I have are applicable to dream job, so I’m sort of stuck. Quality of life is important, and a job will never “love you back,” as my dad used to say. He was right!

  155. GreenDooor*

    I would say get yourself to stop thinking in terms of “the type of degree must equal the field I’m in” and instead focus on “how can I apply my skillset in a field of work?” I have an accounting degree. But I quickly realized, straight-up accounting is boring (to me)! However accountants are trained to work methodically, to be analytical, to be well versed in legal and regulatory research methodology…all of which have helped me to do well in jobs as an analyst and technical writer. Switch your brain to your skill set, how your brain was trained to think, and look for jobs where those match the work.

  156. Not Samuel Huntington*

    Get your PhD.

    OK, a few caveats: go if you get a fully funded fellowship in a top program. And make sure you’re passionate enough about your field to fuel you through those five or so years. Hopefully you’ll have a dissertation topic in mind already. (Pro tip; you might look into doing it in the UK, where it takes less time. Talk to your professors here before doing that.)

    I went into investment banking rather than get a PhD in political science. I regret that decision pretty much every day — not because I dislike deal making or the great salary (quite the contrary) but because I believe I could have been one of our country’s top political scientists. Even if I make MD next year I will always be relatively anonymous in banking.

    1. Not Samuel Huntington*

      I guess I should add one more caveat. The academy has become so politicized over the past four years or so that – for the first time – I’ve second guessed my second guessing. I’m a moderate, so this may or may not apply to you.

    2. len*

      I don’t think this is a realistic view of the outcome of a PhD and it’s not the advice I would give as a PhD holder. If you already know the field/job won’t work for you, I think the process would probably warp your perspective and make leaving harder (without making it much easier to stay in the field, in most cases).

  157. Kate*

    I had a similar experience in publishing. I realised that as a single woman I could have that “dream job” or my own home, but not both. I chose the home and am generally pretty happy with my choice. :-)

    I think what helped was the shine coming off that dream, realising what I’d have to sacrifice and weighing if that was worth it to me. And also reframing things like I don’t need my job to be my passion, I just need a job that is interesting with nice colleagues that pays all my bills, which I now have and find passion and enjoyment in other areas of my life. I like to think of this quote whose author I can’t remember, “I have no dream job darling, I do not dream of labour”.

  158. Raida*

    I think focus on what you enjoy about the work that’s providing you income, plus look for clubs/volunteer positions/events/part time seasonal jobs you could do in your dream industry.

    Firstly, maybe you don’t enjoy it.
    Secondly, you’ll get exposure and connections – and actual experts in the actual field to talk to about the roadblocks in your way to working full time in the industry.
    Thirdly, maybe you find that you get satisfaction from this smaller proportion of your time being dedicated to it, with less pressure on yourself to LOVE it.
    Fourthly, you still have your full time income.

  159. Elissa*

    I think identifying the parts that make it your dream job & then finding a position that ticks those boxes is the key.
    For example, my degrees (BSc & MSc) are in a specific science field, & I planned to get a job in research. That didn’t happen but my previous jobs after university helped me figure out that the key things I enjoy are problem solving, investigating issues, and gaining & using knowledge, regardless of if area related to what my degrees are in specifically. Yes, those would have been met by a job in research, but equally are in my current job & this role has additional aspects I also enjoy as well it’s own challenges.

  160. Lew*

    I worked in theatre for 16 years and now work in a museum. Every job I’ve had has been someone’s “dream job”. And at this point, I wouldn’t tell anyone to get a job doing the thing they love. I’m not saying I hate my job, but burnout is so real, even when it’s a good job. Having what you love also be tangled in what you need to survive is very often awful, it very often sucks the fun and love out of things. And it makes what you love WORK. It makes it full of deadlines, bad bosses, paper work, interviews and negotiations and funding and pay. It takes the magic and joy out of things and makes it a very mundane, every day thing. It makes it hard to enjoy that thing again outside of work without shutting off your work brain.
    That being said, I would also say allow yourself to grieve. I know that sounds dramatic but when quit theatre even though it was what I wanted to do, it felt like it was giving up a piece of who I was. I defined myself a lot by that. And while I don’t want to define myself by my job anymore, it took therapy to allow myself to be a little sad at what wasn’t going to be to be able to get to the other side and be ok with it and who I am now. And everyone else is right- you don’t have to give it up completely just because it’s not your livelihood.

  161. Somewhere in Texas*

    I went to college for a very specific career and the whole thing was my personality. I had a nickname and a history with this career choice.

    Life changed and I needed a change something bad. There are days I miss it, but I always remind myself why I made the choice to change. The benefits of the job I have now (and the stops along the way), while also keeping an eye to see if I can help in my former field. It’s taken me almost a decade to fully be at peace with the decision, so it really just took time.

    One thing is that I try to reflect on my previous jobs on the skills that made me a stronger professional now. It reinforces that everything works out how it should.

  162. Dubious*

    One more comment—as I was coming to grips with what it would mean psychologically to give up on my “dream” job/field, at a friend’s recommendation I read What Color Is Your Parachute? It did a really good job (:badumtsss) helping me break down the factors and ideals that I’d wrapped up into Dream Job, and showing how to find the heart of what I love or want to do, or the skills I enjoy using and am good at, and then figuring out how to make them apply in more scenarios than just the one type of job I’d been imagining. It helped give me confidence that I wasn’t “giving up” on something, and instead moving into a new direction that also could fit me.

  163. Ginny*

    I was an English major who always wanted to be an editor or book agent. I did an internship with a University Press and learned how much rejection there is (as well as how little anyone can expect to get paid). So I put that dream aside and completely fangirl authors, read constantly, etc.

  164. Zee*

    Let yourself grieve! I had a field I wanted to work in my entire life, and ended up having to leave for medical reasons. It was hard. Grieve it like any other loss you would have in life.

  165. Boof*

    Ooooo LW, I feel for you, but am also cheering you on! I feel like the narratives of folks who Persisted And Eventually Succeeded Against All Odds At Dream Thing get disproportionate airtime and hype, while the narratives of those who Noped Out Of A Bad Situation aren’t celebrated nearly enough and those who Persisted Against All Odds And Reason And Still Failed are quietly swept under the rug and/or easily twisted into a “didn’t try hard enough /smart enough” narrative. But if you have 100 dreamers and only 1 dream job, it’s just not gonna work eh? (I am looking at you SO HARD arts and academia)
    My parents were always very pragmatic and while I can’t say they were always right, I remember I started thinking being a marine biologist would be really cool after I took a class at a summer camp and my dad basically said “there is no work unless you want to go to the artic and [various risky / undesirable things I can’t recall now]”. I thought he was being such a stick in the mud at the time but me now looks at the lay of the land and says yup, trying to make a living as a marine biologist is WAY different than learning about the cool sea critters at a summer camp.
    Which is to say, there’s no one way to handle this. Maybe you can rewrite the narrative in some way – maybe it’s deciding the dream job actually sucked all along and you never wanted it anyway now that you know what it really is, maybe it’s appreciating that you got to enjoy all the learning you did about it and it’s made you who you are today, and you are awesome, just now your needs have changed, maybe you can make up a mary sue /gary stu / alt universe where dream job is real and you are totally doing it, maybe you just take a look at what you value now and enjoy the heck out of them and take pleasure in that. Maybe it’s throwing yourself into something new and different and exciting that you discover now that you’re no longer staring fixedly at dreamjob.

    Congrats LW, leaving dream that isn’t working can be like leaving any other toxic relationship; there’s a reason! It’s ok! You will find new good things!

    1. Boof*

      — and if it’s not abundantly clear, I am VERY GLAD I did not attempt to become a marine biologist. I am pretty sure it would be about 1% Cool New Critter Discovery and Exciting Adventure, 20% No Room For Any Other Dream (a family, financial stability, whatever) for Any Chance of Success and 99% Grant Writing And Scrounging For Funding which I utterly loath. Yes those exceed 100%. Yes I think the downsides outweigh the upsides for me (maybe not for someone who is down with that lifestyle / skills!). Yes I can still google cool marine things, watch nature documentaries, and if I ever really want to, learn to scuba / get more into it on a hobbiest level (NGL other dreams and jobs have kind of crushed free time for me for now but y’know, if that was a top passion for me I could still be into it just not try to make a living out of it)

  166. Office Gumby*

    I have advice!!
    I feel you. Been there, done that. While I would love to have a career in my Dream Job, it’s just not feasible for exactly the same reasons you give. I understand. Here is what I’ve done:

    Instead, I found myself in a different field, doing work that I was okay doing, but I didn’t L O V E. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t have to love the job I’m doing as long as it fiscally loves me more. I save the Archaeology for the evenings and weekends. Essentially, I maintain my Dream Career as a hobby while I use the Day Job as my Sugardaddy.

    I have an exit strategy: the purpose of the Day Job I Have is to become financially stable, and eventually financially independent. Once I am financially independent, then I shall ditch the Day Job and spend my days on Archaeology without needing to worry whether or not it’s able to pay the bills. I subscribe to FIRE principles with the goal of not needing a career to keep food on the table, and free up sufficient time to do my archaeology without needing to find a paying job in archaeology.

    This is a long-term plan that has taken up a few decades of my life, and I’ve missed out on some opportunistic digs in Florence, but it’s an all-or-nothing thing, it’s not forever, and if I’m lucky (barring any major financial disasters), I should be able to make the switch in a handful of years and go sort sherds to my heart’s content for the next forty years.

    1. Boof*

      This is beautiful, congrats! And… as someone who loves comics, made comics, thought hard about maybe trying to make a full time job out of making comics… sometimes keeping it at the hobby level actually enhances the enjoyment of it. In the end, you will be free to enjoy it without having to be beholden to so many external forces!

  167. Chris*

    Not directly what you asked, but something that might help is that you’re not necessarily choosing just one career for the rest of your life. You’re choosing your next step, which may well lead you down a path that’s entirely unexpected at this point. I’ve worked as a college professor, done marketing for a small business, been a metropolitan transportation planner, and now I’m a whitewater rafting guide. None of these has ended up being “rest of my life” decisions, just one step along a path that I have no idea where it will lead.

  168. Erin*

    I’ve had a 20+ year career in the fashion industry. Everything from product development in couture houses for Fashion Week to developing mass produced, off the rack, bargain apparel you can buy along with groceries at your local variety store.

    Anyway, from what I can say about “Dream Jobs” beyond my dream job being to be independently wealthy, is that the idealized and romanticized version of a dream job that starts early in life is rarely what pans out. The number of interns who have made comments about “why isn’t this like The Devil Wears Prada” is quite high. They idealize the fashion industry so much, and even though the movie is centered on a magazine editor & assistants, it gets brought up at least twice in each intern cycle, or with people early in their careers in the industry.

    So, pivot. Your dream job can always be a hobby or passion project or YouTube channel while you pursue a paycheck doing something else, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

  169. Anna3*

    I lived in my dream city while completing my PhD in ×××××ology. Jobs in in ×××××ology are scarce and not overpayed. I could have continued living in my dream city if I had decided to take a job in an entirely unrelated field. But I wanted to use my PhD and changed continents to find a job in ×××××ology, moved to a city I knew noone for the job. Ten years later I am doing well in ×××××ology, I have made new friends and I enjoy my life. But I still painfully miss my dream city and my old friends, I often wonder if I should have taken a job in an entirely unrelated field and stayed in my dream city.

  170. Anne Boleyn's Necklace*

    This was my BIL a few years ago, who got his Ph.D. in nuclear physics. There are apparently a lot more of those running around than you realize, and very few jobs. He is so smart and talented, and he searched NATIONALLY, for 3 years, while languishing in a post-doc that kept getting extended each year. The university was getting an incredibly educated/trained professional for a pittance, but he had always seen himself as a tenure faculty track/professor.

    Letting go of that dream was very hard. However, my sister was finally like “listen, we want a house, and children, and you gave it your best shot for THREE YEARS but you’ve got to pivot.” I think what really helped was stepping back to look at his whole life, his impact on his wife, and that whole process. They have a house and amazing 3 yo son now, and my BIL seems content, delighted to be a dad, and having a great career at a top university with a good boss and team. As far as a Plan B goes, pretty wonderful!

    Best of luck to you letter writer!

  171. Sleeve McQueen*

    I wanted to be a journalist my whole life and had a pretty successful career including what was more or less my dream role. Then I saw the writing on the wall: jobs were disappearing and the demands were getting harder each year. I reasoned that the best course of action was to take redundancy and get into a new field now not in 10 years when I would be older and potentially less employable. I did that easily enough but it was extremely difficult to let go of my old identity as “a journalist” and what was really helpful to me was developing who I was outside work. Of course, I still miss it at times, being THIS THING doesn’t define me any more. And you never know, you may find a path there in an unexpected way

  172. CareerWhiplash*

    OP, you are so not alone.

    TL;DR: I dug into what parts of specific tasks in Old Career I loved and which I hated, to find a good new fit. It is not even Old Career Adjacent, but because it is so separate, I get to enjoy Old Career from the other side without ever having to worry how my livelihood is affected by it.

    When I was a teen, I settled in on a theatre career (started as an actor and weaved my way into fundraising and events). It was something I was incredibly passionate about, devoting every last second I had free (and many I was supposed to be studying for math tests) to it. I even got scholarships for college and was very good at what I did. But, like you, I began to grow a bit disenchanted with it all – the low pay, the subjective work evaluation, the personalities you had to front, and the people who you needed to please to get money. It came down, a lot, to how I spent my day, what part of my job was exhausting me most, and what parts of my day I loved. When I looked at it more like that, it became quite clear that I needed to do a 180.

    I am, very happily, now a mechanical engineer.

    I still get to enjoy theater as much as I want. I can volunteer, I can attend, I could even participate if I tried hard enough. But I get to do this on my own time, with people I care about, and with an income that actually supports tickets.

    As I was finishing my first degree in the arts, I had a very wise professor give me advice I even use in interviews now:
    Throughout your life, you need to have four lists. Things You Want, Things You Need, Things You Don’t Want, and Things You Don’t Need. You will constantly reevaluate this, as they will always change. For example, at 20, Things I Want included a cat, Things I Need included a career on stage, Things I Don’t Need included long term plans, and Things I Don’t Want included a 9-5. Now, Things I Need include a sense of purpose, a steady paycheck, and a boss that knows how to communicate.

  173. JHS*

    In the last year of my PhD I decided not to stay on in academia, partly due to the job market and low wages, and partly due to realising I wanted a better work/life balance. There was a sense of relief in this, but also a sense of mourning. I wasn’t just leaving a career, but the community I had there. My advice is to let yourself have that period of mourning, and to remember the reasons you’ve made the change. Find the things you value in your new work, especially if, like me, it gives you more free time (not to mention guaranteed, consistent income, clear opportunities and healthy workplace practices).

  174. Blueberries*

    You is me, me is you!

    I’m in pretty much the exact same boat, and had a big fret about it last month; I’m still nervous, and a bit uncertain, but I’ve found having a vague goal has helped settle my nerves.

    I’m in a job I like (that I am happy to be in for a few years, but do not plan on being in forever), and have now looked into how my specialty works in other countries and how the market is there (if you’re not keen to move to another country, then certainly look into PhDs in your field casually, no expectation to do anything soon).

    I know this is what I want to do, even if it is very niche and there aren’t many positions going for it – therefore, I will persue it casually, from a position of stability and security, happy where I am but happy to move to my passion if the opportunity arises.

    In the meantime as I wait to see if and when I do want to do a PhD, I am keeping tabs on jobs in adjacent fields to my passion as perhaps a stepping stone if the stars align :)

    Good luck, it’s tough, but taking it more gently with less pressure on yourself might help x

  175. Ollie*

    I’m in the exact same position. I went to school for library science but am NOT working in a library. The librarian job market is hard to break into, the workplaces can be very toxic, and the pay is horrendous. There were a lot of other factors both inside and outside of my control, too, that left me on less sure footing than I thought I would be getting out of school (pandemic, anyone?). :( I do still want to work in one eventually, but it feels like every year I get farther away it might be harder to do so…I don’t have any advice, but want to say I commiserate!! In the end, I definitely can comfort myself by saying I am where I am today b/c I got that degree, but it’s not what I pictured myself doing.

  176. lynxhence*

    Two things came to mind in my experience with this about a decade ago.

    One, a roundabout career path is cool to a lot of coworkers and even friends. They’ll be fascinated by your old career and they’ll consider you the expert on that topic because you know way more than most of them! I’m not super socially capable but I’ve found this fun.

    Two, in general I think I see myself as “capable person who works in problems” as my identity and job. It means I can switch problems and solutions without disrupting that identity.

  177. Parse*

    I’ll bet you have other dreams, too, and remind yourself that it’s okay to prioritize those. Do you have a dream of the kind of family you want to have, the environment you want to live in, the people you want to have in your life? Is continuing to pursue the dream job inconsistent with those other dreams? It’s okay to want the other things more. Our culture puts so much emphasis on career and fulfillment through your career, and maybe you don’t have to put that that the top of your list right now, if this job you have is getting you closer to your other goals. And like others have said, there are other ways to find satisfaction in this second-best/right-for-right-now job and other ways to engage with your not-archaeological passion. You’re not “giving up” and your not resigning yourself to being a less interesting, vibrant person.

  178. sometimeswhy*

    I also have a niche/dream advanced degree and work in a different field.

    I kept actively looking in my intended field for about ten years, keeping up to date on the literature and the training. At some point during those ten years, my day job became my career. It pays well, aligns with my values, and is fine.

    I volunteer in the dreamfield. I give it a few days a month. I’m sought after for more complex projects because I have the specialty training. And I keep loving it probably at least in part because I don’t have to deal with the unpleasant parts of it. I’m just there for the hands on parts that I enjoy.

  179. Bookmark*

    Lots of good advice here. I would just add to let yourself feel the ambivalence/melancholy every so often. If you are looking for a cathartic listen, I recommend checking out the musical If/Then, which is about how every choice you make comes with trade-offs, regrets, joys, and future choices/opportunities that aren’t always predictable in the moment.

  180. Post Script*

    My dream job was similar (rare, not paid well, wanted experience even for entry level positions). I drifted into a different line of work and have done well there. I have remained involved in my dream activities on my own time, as I have energy to devote to them, and have had some modest success and a lot of enjoyment there.
    I guess what I am saying is, your job doesn’t have to be the same as your dream. For me the job needed to be interesting, treat me decently respectfully, and pay enough to live on. Sure, I would love to be working in my dream-realm but the jobs available don’t meet my criteria.
    You may not be able to stop yourself from keeping your hand in your dream-realm – as a part timer, hobby, volunteer, or citizen-scientist, joining online groups, etc. That’s where I am and I’m OK with it.

  181. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    A bit late but…
    Staying in a good job that you enjoy and that pays well isn’t giving up on your dream job. It is allowing life to unfold and doing what is best for you at this moment.

    You may find at some point an opportunity to change will happen, or you may find that your dream has changed. You may come back to this question in 5 years and decide that your dream is still your dream and it is time to pursue it despite the risk. Either way having a solid financial footing when you are younger is a big boost to pursuing your dreams.

  182. TheLibraLibrarian*

    I did this. I really wanted to be a TV screenwriter. But when the time came, I just couldn’t make the move to LA. In the end, I decided being near my family was more important. We are told growing up that we should do something we’re passionate about, and you should. It just doesn’t need to be the same way you make a living. If the work you do is interesting and beneficial, lean into it. If you’re making good money, consider donating it to people or orgs that you’re interested in. Find hobbies and make friends. Your life is more than your career.

  183. invisible dragonfly*

    I am “lucky” enough to have a dream job. I was also lucky enough that my college was pretty smack you in the face with the realities of my field – you’ll probably have to move, not be paid well, deal with traumatic issues, live the life of a saint, be pretty perfectionistic, etc etc etc. If I did the math, doing the actual dream job part of dream job is 25%. The rest is so. much. paperwork.

    If you think about it, dreams aren’t usually great. Few are great, some are scary, and most are just plain weird and involve all your teeth falling out. Every time you start to think of dream job as a wonderland, purposefully bring in the realities too which will actually help your brain let go.

    As many have advised, you can look for something dream job adjacent if you can. But honestly dream jobs are usually more enjoyable from a distance.

  184. Mobius 1*

    I wanted to be an astronomer for freaking ever, but I just did not have the math chops for it. Took a post undergrad fellowship and multiple night physics classes after that to try to bone up my application, but I just didn’t have it. I floated around kind of directionless for a good few years before I let myself realize that I should not be letting a choice of job take up space in my dreams! Now I just do whatever keeps the lights on, and the space that being an astronomer used to take up is now held by desire and efforts to make sure I and those I care about are happy and healthy. I cannot tell you what an absolute sea change this has been for my outlook and mood.

  185. Santiago*

    I’m doing a PhD part time in a humanities field while working in a university type role I find interesting. I know that humanities PhD don’t normally allow this…but you would be surprised in some fields what’s possible (regardless of what the webpage says…) I simply won’t give up my career for the dream job, but this way I keep a pan in the fire for personal reasons. Food for thought :-)

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