Still on a high from the webinar I facilitated for my alma mater!!!! The topic: the elusive dream job. To prepare for the webinar, I interviewed several friends with whom I graduated about how they have been able to attain their dream jobs AND what lessons they learned along the way. From my preparations, I learned (fortified, really) that the dream job – or the very idea of it, anyway – is, indeed, elusive.
Before I get there, I had done some prior research into friends’ pursuit of the dream job, that, I think, will provide a framework here. Some years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who admitted he was in a rut. He was in his mid-twenties, he had a great career (a lawyer, for god sakes!), lived on his own, was single and ready to mingle, and was your typical bachelor. But, still, he felt stuck in a rut.
He wasn’t the only friend who professed this to me. Another friend lives in Boston (well, just outside of Boston, really, like most people who live in Boston) and is ready to party as soon as his phone starts to buzz. At the time, he was a manager at his job and by all means was successful. Yet, he also felt stuck.
Another one of my friends lives in Connecticut also felt their pain. She was unhappy but not miserable at work – which only means she didn’t really like her job, and it’s not what she wanted to do (although at the time, she did not really know what she actually wanted to do); but her job was not terrible enough to make her quit. Beyond work, she was out partying every Saturday, at Happy Hour every Friday, and had Girls Nights about once a month. She vacationed with her girlfriends and had heart-to-hearts anytime she needed them. Despite that, something was missing.
If that wasn’t enough, another friend from New Hampshire, who is married, has two children, and makes six figures (which makes my puny paycheck look like crap!), wishes he could go back. He loves his life now — his wife, his children, dog, white-picket fence, and all that nuclear family jazz – but every now and then, he talks about the way things used to be.
And then there was me. Stuck.
We were all afflicted by it.
But what if the issue was not with us as much as it was with how we were all taught to view the idea of a career? More specifically, the dream job.
Our brains are still forming until our mid-20s, most teenagers are still unsure of themselves in high school, yet we expect people to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives. First problem.
I liken this to the way we are socialized to view women in the media. Pick any magazine cover with featuring a woman and you will undoubtedly see flawless skin. Eyes that pop. Pouty lips. Long, flowy hair. Impeccable physiques.
This image is dated, I’ll admit that. But, I used it on the webinar because it was tame (relative to the others from Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition) AND features a notable celebrity.
See, we adore these images (and our female celebrities) because in our eyes, at least how we have been taught to view them, these women are perfect examples of beauty. But it is almost as if we pay no attention to the editing, enhancements, and Photoshoping that has taken place to deliver to us the image of (in this case) the perfect woman. For many of us, those adjustments to the image do not matter – all that does matter is what we see: flawless skin. Eyes that pop. Pouty lips. Long, flowy hair. Impeccable physiques. Because this image has been enhanced and adjusted, it becomes an illusion.
And this illusion begins to color how we respond to women in the media (they become sex objects, which is another lesson, for another day) and impacts how we treat women in our everyday lives.
The reality is we are given perfected images of what a beautiful woman looks like, and gone unchecked, the images become our standards for beauty. Standards based on illusions.
How we have come to see career is similar. Something that, for most of us, can feel both real yet unachievable at the same time. We learn that our careers should provide financial wealth, allow us to afford a home, go on vacation, and ultimately become a boss! Rarely do we hear about those things we may not attain through our career such as family or a sense of belonging, and how those values impact our professional selves.
So what I encourage students, and new graduates to do, is reframe that way in which they see career, the amount of value they place on a career, and how much influence they allow a career to have over them. Not easy, by any means. But this mindset can be adjusted by working on self-reflection, developing and working towards both a personal mission and goals, as well as working to achieve work-life balance.
Our problem is we have already frolicked through the fields of heaven (that was our college experience), so the circumstances we’re going through now simply feel like purgatory. We’re all wishing we could somehow fuse our lives now with our lives from back then. We all wish we could return to a life that was.