“The grass is always greener where you water it.”
“Success is liking what you do and liking how you do it.”
One of the first questions I ask my clients is, “If you could have any job, what would be your dream job, your perfect career?” Hearing their answers is always one of the best parts of my day. Let me share a few of their responses:
Client: I would travel Europe for a year.
Me: That’s not a job, that’s a vacation. Try again.
Client: I would own a business that I could live anywhere and only have to work three hours a day from a beach.
Me: Very few people I know can make a living working three hours a day from the beach to support their spouse and three kids with the same lifestyle they currently have. Plus you would get skin cancer.
Client: I want any job that pays me double the salary I make right now.
Me: Brilliant! Except according to employee market values, you already make 15 percent more than you should right now.
Client: I’m going to win the lottery so I don’t have to answer your dumb questions.
Me: How long have you been playing the lottery?
Client: Twenty years.
Me: How much have you won?
Client: Fifty dollars.
Me: Excellent! You’re on track to quit your job and start your perfect career when you are 2,500 years old. Why don’t we start over and let’s get you that dream job in the next year without the lottery. (This is where I restate my original question.)
Client: Any job but the one I have now. It’s bad, Dr. Bray.
Me: (Silence) and an “uh, oh” (This comment usually means an emotional breakdown is on its way in the next 30 seconds).
Talking about your perfect career is difficult because it focuses on what you don’t have now and everything that is going wrong with your current career. So let’s take this in two steps. The first step is to debunk the myth of a perfect career. The second step is to discuss career happiness and fulfillment.
You may have an idea of what your perfect career looks like, but until you have worked that job for at least six months, you may be surprised that your perfect career is anything but perfect! More clients than I would care to count have come to me wanting to discuss their “perfect” careers.
“It wasn’t what I thought it would be.”
“It didn’t give me the feeling I thought it would give me.”
“I didn’t make as much money as I had hoped I would make.”
“I got bored of it so quickly, it didn’t provide the challenge I thought it would.”
“It turned out to be just as mundane as my previous job.”
Do you notice some keywords in their comments? It didn’t give me the thought, feeling, money, challenge, or friendships I thought it would. Keyword being thought! It is hard to define a perfect dream job when you haven’t worked at it for a significant period of time. Running a bed and breakfast along the beaches of Costa Rica may sound like a perfect job until you realize that you have to change sheets, clean toilets, and deal with grumpy sunburned tourists every day. Not to mention you don’t get to surf and paddleboard four hours a day like you dreamed you would. Doesn’t sound like a dream career to me.
Another aspect of your perfect dream career is to realize that in most instances there isn’t such a thing. The road to a perfect, fulfilling, and meaningful career is exactly that: a journey. I have learned from years of experience, education, and working with clients that your dream career isn’t a final destination; it is a continuous road that you take throughout your life. As much as you and I would love to arrive at your dream career destination (as early in life as possible, please!) and set up shop for the next 20 to 30 years and enjoy job bliss, life doesn’t work that way. Why not? Because your brain wants to continue to develop, progress, and take on new challenges, even if the rest of you wants to remain in a steady state of no change. Once you have reached a goal, it quickly begins to lose its luster and you wonder what other things you might accomplish. Just ask Natalie, who landed her dream job three years ago.
It had been awhile since I had worked with Natalie, so I was surprised when I received an email asking me for some time to discuss issues with her current position. I had worked with Natalie a few years earlier helping her find her “perfect” career, and in just under four months, she had done it! Natalie was promoted to her desired position and was headed to the West Coast. She was happy with her job promotion as she enjoyed the organization she worked in, she made a good salary, and worked with dependable and competent people who liked their jobs. She found her job to be challenging and very rewarding. Sounds perfect right? It was, except she was beginning to feel restless and ready for her next promotion, project, or “something different,” as she put it.
After catching up with Natalie, she jumped right into what was bothering her. “I thought I had found my dream job. Now why can’t I relax instead of looking for what is next?”
Natalie explained that when she got promoted to management and moved to her dream city on the West Coast, she thought this would be the last stop on her career journey. She had made it! This was the position she had always wanted, in a city that she loved, and now all she had to do was work hard, enjoy her great job, the warm weather, friends, and the beach. Except it didn’t happen that way. (“Why can’t life be more like the movies?”)
The first two years on the job Natalie and her team won the top sales award and in year three she far surpassed her sales quota. During her management tenure, Natalie had promoted one of her team members, and because of restructuring, had hired and trained two other new employees. It was year four and Natalie’s dream job was becoming not so dreamy anymore.
“I can’t believe I am saying this, but I am not as excited about this position as I used to be. I feel like I can do more, and take on more responsibility. I have accomplished my goals. My team and I have won the top sales award, we have added some big accounts, and I find myself looking for what is next.” She continued, “This isn’t my dream job anymore. I can’t imagine myself doing this for another 20 years. I would have to find another job. I need to find my next dream job!”
She couldn’t have said it more perfectly! Many of my clients have experienced the feeling of attaining their dream job only to find that in a few years they were ready for something newer, more exciting, and more challenging. When you reach your dream job, you are going to discover that it is exactly that: a dream job—but only for a while! After you have experienced all that your current job has to offer, you may be surprised by what comes next. You are going to find yourself thinking of the next job and what the remaining years of your career have in store for you.
Other clients say similar things. “I am happy where I am and I have a great future ahead of me. I have no desire to change. I am lucky to be where I am and things are great, but. . . .” It’s the but that is the sure indication for me that everything is not okay. Their words may tell me they are content and happy short term, while their actions, feelings, and behaviors speak a much different version of their long term career story. If you feel like I have just described you, hang on! I’m going to help you find your Best Job Ever through specific steps in the upcoming chapters. Get ready to begin your journey in creating your own every-evolving dream career.