The Cult of the Dream Job

This is, in the words of Sam from Financial Samurai, a whale post. I usually try to break essays like this into two posts, but I think this one works best as a single piece. It was, appropriately enough, inspired by Sam’s own whale post- a guest post over at Untemplater called Quit Your Job and Die Alone, which is about looking honestly at revenue vs profits when making the decision to quit your day job to live the dream job.


My Background

When I started college, my plan was to become a high school math teacher. That ended after I got a D the second time I took Calculus II. And that’s fine. I don’t think I would have liked being a teacher. My major switched to History with a minor in English. I didn’t decide until my final (6th) year of college whether that would be English Lit or Writing. I chose writing.

I had two plans for when I graduated. The first was to go on and get a Masters in Museum Studies. (My college offered a minor in Museum Studies, but I would not have been able to meet it’s requirements and still kept my day job, and paying the bills won out over my perfect minor.) I researched which colleges offered the Masters program- there weren’t many, and narrowed down the options of where I wanted to go.

My plan, because I knew my overall GPA would not be stellar, was to move to the area I wanted to go to school, get a job, volunteer as a docent at a local museum, establish residency (in the cases where I was looking at state schools), and generally find ways to get the schools to consider me despite my less than stellar undergrad GPA.

Then, in my last semester of school, I considered joining the Peace Corps. I more than considered it. I completed the application and the interviews. I was basically waiting on them to give me an assignment, and I dropped out. I dropped out because I realized that I felt like my life was on hold until after I got back for the Peace Corps.

If I had felt like my life was on hold until I got my assignment, that would have been one thing. But instead I felt like I was on hold until after completing my two years. That wasn’t the right attitude to go in with, and I knew it. So, I withdrew myself from consideration.

At the time, C and I were having some relationship issues (that would have made leaving easier, actually), but we worked them out. We had a number of friends who were relocating to the Seattle area. The University of Washington was one of the less than 10 schools in the country to offer a Masters in Museum Studies.

We moved toSeattle. I got a job. I changed my driver’s license right away to help establish residency. I decided that it would be good to get myself back in the habit of taking classes again before applying for a masters program, and it would also then give me a teacher recommendation based on my current work ethic, not my tumultuous undergrad years. (Which were only two years prior.)

UW has an extension program that offers certificate courses to anyone who already has a Bachelor’s degree. But they don’t offer any in Museum Studies. Since I loved writing and had minored in it, I decided to take a writing course. I took two years worth of writing certificate courses from UW.

During those two years, C and I got engaged, bought a house (50 miles away), got a second dog, and got married. I left the program thinking I still wanted a Masters degree, but now I was thinking MFA.


Paying the Bills

While we lived in Reno, I spent three years as a medical receptionist. When we moved to Seattle, I decided I would never do that again. But while in my second year of certificate courses, I realized that I wasn’t being paid what I felt I was worth, and that there wasn’t really room for me to advance at the company I was with. I started looking. For months I would not even look at the jobs with healthcare companies. But while I was getting interviews, nothing was paying that much more than what I was making. I was not finding the jobs I was looking for.

I gave in and started looking at administrative jobs in healthcare. I decided it would be fine as long as I no longer had to do the intensive customer service I had had to do as a medical receptionist.

I got a job. I was now making enough money that C and I could afford to buy a house closer in (no more 50 mile each way commute). Less than a year after I started, we had a new house, and I got a promotion.

I was doing a combination of administrative and analytical work. I was in charge of the budget for everyone reporting up through an executive director. I liked my boss. I liked my company. I liked the work I was doing and the overall work my company did. And I was getting paid a decent amount of money.


Two years after completing the second of my certificate programs, I was back in school earning a Master’s degree. But it was not in Museum Studies or Fine Arts. I was getting an MBA.


My Dreams

Let me be honest. My dream job would still be as a museum curator who write best selling novels in her spare time. But that is the dream job. It is not my overall life dream.

I have regrets (not major ones, I am very happy with my life) about not going in to the Peace Corps. I dream of C and I being able to take 2 years at some point and go together (this is not uncommon).

C and I have a passion for animals. Our retirement goal is to buy a large piece of land and to run our own no kill animal rescue.

I want to write a novel, have it published (by a publisher, not self), but not have to worry about whether it is a best seller or not.

Those are the dreams.


My Decisions

When I decided to go back to school for my Master’s, I had to make a decision. I could get the degree that would put me on the path to my dream job of museum curator. I could get the degree that would lend me “cred” as a writer. Or I could get the degree that would help me in my current field- a field I liked and was good at –that would pay me enough that I could work toward the other dreams.

Let’s say that again. I could get the degree for the dream job, or I could get the degree that would help me live my dreams. And for me, there really was a difference.

I like my job. I am good at my job. I am well paid for doing my job. I intend to stay in healthcare for my entire working career, though perhaps not with my current company. (I would like to move to a major global health organization.) It is not my dream job. But that’s okay. Work does not have to be the dream.

We are working toward other dreams.

When we bought the house “in town”, I got back in touch with my writing critique group from my classes. We’ve been meeting every other week for almost 7 years now. Some people have completed novels, some have been published. I have been a little to wish-washy, but I am now sending my short stories to publishers and am over half way through writing a novella (the opening chapters of which will be critiqued at a major conference in April).

This coming weekend, C and I hope to welcome our first foster dog from one of the private rescues in our area.

C is back in school and will hopefully have his own Master’s degree in 3.5 years.

We live comfortably on my income, so when he starts working again, every penny he makes will be able to go toward retirement, being able to take 2 years and serve in the Peace Corps, buying land and building the necessary buildings for running our dog rescue.

Maybe some day we will even go volunteer at an archeological dig, or I may volunteer as a docent at a local museum.


Dream Job vs Dream Life

From the time we are young, we are told “find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I don’t believe that. No matter how much you love your job, there will always be duties and tasks you do not like. There will always be days you work.

I am tired of the cult of the dream job. We can not all work at our dream jobs- whether it is because it is an incredibly small field (like museum curator) or because it is no one’s dream job to be a grocery clerk, but someone still needs to be.

I am not saying people should not have dream jobs, that they should not work toward them. We need people with passion for what they do. We want to live in a world that has museums and writers and game designers.

What I am saying is that the dream job should not be our only dream. Not getting the dream job should not mean the end of our dreams. Our job, dream or not, is just one aspect of our lives. I’m at work 45 hours a week. I sleep 42 hours a week. That still leaves me with another 81 hours a week. Where is the dream more important to me? For 45 hours or 81?

My goal is to make my life into my dreams come true. My job is one aspect, one tool, to accomplish that.

So next time you are considering a job change for any reason, I want you to ask yourself one question, and it is not “Is this my dream job?”. Ask yourself instead “Will this job help me make my dreams come true?”