Seemingly from the day you’re born, you’re constantly peppered with the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” As a child, that question is easy to answer, because you can say pretty much whatever you want, however unrealistic it might be, and it won’t have any sort of lasting impact on your life. If you say you want to be president, then that’s great. If you say you want to be a chef, wonderful. A race car driver? Great! However, as you get older, and the realities of that question begin to weed their way into your very soul, it becomes an incredibly exasperating query to consider.
The problem with being asked virtually your entire life about what you want to do is that it becomes something that is rather romanticized beyond its actualities. With people always advising you to “do what you like to do” and “follow your dreams/passion,” you can quickly reach an impasse when you genuinely don’t know what it is you’d like to spend your life doing. Some people find their passion easily, maybe even knowing it from a young age. Those people can dedicate themselves to a single goal, and put every ounce of their being towards achieving it Therefore they can find success. Even if, in the end, they don’t accomplish it, they can’t be faulted for chasing their dreams.
But what if you don’t have a dream? Or what if you have a lot of dreams, all unrelated, and all equally interesting? What then? You could pursue the thing that you’re best at, since that would probably give you the best chance at success. Yet it’s often the case that the thing you may be best at isn’t really what you want to be building your life around. While it may be your best bet at success (here success is most easily defined as being better than the largest percentage of people), it might well not be your best bet at happiness.
The problem with the notion of a dream job is that so often that dream job is unrealistic, or seen as unreasonable to have as a dream job. Sure, the scientist who dreams of curing cancer or unifying the fundamental forces probably won’t, they will still likely contribute to the greater scientific community, and perhaps make important breakthroughs in other, related topics. Or the non-profit owner who strives to assist as many of the less fortunate as they can. They may not fix world hunger, but they will positively affect the lives of others, likely saving lives. These dreams can be commended, since they will still lead to something of benefit. But what if you don’t have that?
There are those, like myself, who have interests across the board, without any rising high enough above the rest to be considered a singular passion or focus. For these people, it can be difficult to decide what to do. In today’s society, you’re essentially forced into choosing an area of expertise, usually coming in the form of a college major. Yet that major may not be what you want to go into, because any major might not be what you want to go into. Physics can be as equally intriguing as government or history or geology, but you can’t do everything. You have to choose. And that choosing can leave you stuck.
For people who don’t have a clear dream job, as it’s often thought of, it can then be extremely disheartening when faced with the question of what to do with your life. For these people, they probably have something they might love doing, but it falls outside of an academic discipline or even a well-defined career. Therefore, it’s often considered unrealistic, or not shooting for the stars, or simply not lucrative enough. Here’s the huge contradiction: with everyone telling to work towards your dream job, you’re subsequently being forced to choose a major and keep specializing as time goes on. You can then quickly find yourself getting stuck going to down a path that you’re not genuinely passionate about. What then?
I don’t know. Clearly. It can be mind-numbingly frustrating to be in this situation. Maybe you have an idea of what your dream lifestyle would be like (because let’s be real, it’s not all about careers, it’s about the whole package – family, friends, location, etc. – that goes with it), but that isn’t considered what a dream job should be. Alan Watts argues in one of his famous quotes (often recognized from its opening line “What do you desire?”) that you should forget about money, and become a master in what you love, and that eventually you will be able to support yourself with it. If you don’t have one thing you love, however, or that thing might be considered unrealistic, what do you do then? It’s a monumentally difficult question to answer, and something that can’t be ascertained on a whim. But maybe Alan is on to something: maybe you should give that “dream” a chance.