“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” – Confucius
Ah, the dream job. That elusive creature we’ve hunted for since childhood. That magical convergence of our purpose, passion, talents, and mission. The place where work and life are perfectly balanced. Where we love what we do so it never feels like work. The job that will make us forever happy.
The good news is, it is out there. You can find your dream job. I know this because I found mine almost 10 years ago. The truth is – and I have learned this over those 10 years – sometimes your dream job sucks.
Let’s talk about the reality of a dream job. The reality of life actually. Even the things you love with all your heart, the things that complete you in every way, suck sometimes. For example, look at relationships. You have found the perfect someone and he or she is everything you have ever hoped for. However, there are a few things that just drive you completely crazy. Behaviors or habits that make you nuts or cause conflict. This does not mean you are doomed. Overall, things are amazing. But sometimes… agh! Maybe 80% of the time everything is rainbows and butterflies. That other 20%?
Sometimes that 20% is so frustrating and sucky it overshadows the other amazing 80% and you find yourself questioning this dream relationship. Or in this case, your relationship with your dream job.
The 80/20 Rule In Your Dream Job
This 80/20 phenomenon is true for a lot of life situations, even your dream job. This is referred to as the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule. The Pareto Principle states that (roughly) 80% of the effect is caused by (roughly) 20% of the causes. This principle explains many of life’s system. In business, many times the largest portion of your sales comes from a small percentage of your customers. When I was a manufacturing engineer I found that about 90% of our production downtime was caused by 10% of the issues. When those couple issues were taken care of, production improved.
What does this have to do with your dream job, you ask. Well, if you find that the job you have been dreaming of since you were a little tyke is becoming more of a nightmare, there is hope. There might only be a couple small things that are making big problems. One or two things might be causing you misery. The good news is that those one or two things are probably fixable. Fix them and you might fall in love with your job all over again.
The Wrong Dream?
Before you start examining the small parts of your job that might be making you miserable, you need do a reality check. Look at the big picture. Things might not feel right because where you are is not right for you. It really isn’t your dream job. That’s OK. Sometimes we build these ideas in our heads and we miss the reality. We WANT it to be our dream job so we pretend it is. Don’t let your dream get in the way of seeing the reality of a situation. What we thought we wanted to do with our lives might not be what we really want to be doing. Your dream job might suck right now because it is not really your dream job.
Dream Job Test
My simple test for Dream Jobness is how I talk about my job to strangers. OK – you are at a party. A new person approaches you and asks, “What do you do?” Listen to your answer. Really feel your answer. Does that questions launch you into a long, animated narrative that leaves you feeling excited about or proud of what you do? Or, do you shrug make an unfeeling mouth noise and go find another drink? Hmmm…which response comes from the person living their dream?
If your response was the latter, never fear. That is actually exciting news. Now that you know what you don’t want, you can go after what you really want. Maybe this started out as your dream job but things changed. You changed. You’ve grown and evolved as a professional. You might have outgrown your dream. Maybe the truth of this dream doesn’t fit what you imagined.You still had a valuable experience. Use this situation as a learning opportunity. Identify the things that you did enjoy and the things you did not. Start to construct a new dream and then go find it.
Okay – so you’re in the right dream job. But it still sucks.
If you are still reading then you made it through the reality check. The good news is, you have found your dream job. The bad news is it feels like a nightmare right now. Don’t worry. Remember what our pal Pareto said – 80% of suck is probably caused by 20% of the problems. If you address those few things you should be living the dream again in no time.
3 Things that Might be Causing the Suck
From my own experience in my dream job, I have found that my 80% is caused by three main things: unrealistic expectations, environment, and burnout. All three are fixable with the right strategies and the right mindset.
1 Unrealistic Expectations
This one’s on you. As you examine your current situation, start with your own expectations. A dream is just that. A dream. A fantasy. Make sure you have a healthy dose of reality. Even dream jobs are not amazing all the time. Sometimes there are boring bits or tedious parts. There might be paperwork to complete or reports to write. Things that you forgot to include when you imagined the perfect job. You start to feel overwhelmed by the mundane and you lose sight of the amazing. This is an easy fix. Accept and conquer.
For me, I hate doing paperwork. I’d much rather be out working with amazing people and doing amazing things. But, I can’t do the amazing if I don’t do the paperwork. It is just the reality of my job. I’ve accepted that. So, I try to not let these things pile up. I have a tendency to ignore the boring parts and focus on the shiny bits. Leaving a pile of sucky tasks that I’ll have to do eventually and that will stress me out and get in the way of the cool stuff. Tackle these tasks as they come or schedule time each week or day to address the small irritating elements of the job. Instead of focusing on how terrible the little annoyances are, get them done and focus on the great aspects of your job.
Your work environment has a lot to do with your happiness. You might be doing what you love but there might be things, or people, in your environment cause you stress. Maybe you love what you do right now but don’t see a path for professional growth. Maybe you are working your ass off but no one seems to acknowledge your efforts. Or maybe you are in an environment that does not allow you any creative freedom. These are all things that could leave you feeling frustrated, unfulfilled or even get in the way of you doing your best. It’s your career. Manage it. If there are work environment issues, talk to your boss. Be sure to communicate what you want. There might not be space for you to grow creatively because you have not asked for it. No one has noticed that you are kicking butt because you have not let them know. Don’t sulk about these things and let them fester. That is what breeds suckiness. Have an honest conversation with your boss. You might be surprised what happens when you manage up.
Maybe it’s not the environment but the people in that environment. There are very few careers out there that do not involve working with other people. As much as I love working with people, the honest to goodness truth is that sometimes people suck. Unfortunately, there might be people you work with or work for who are just frustrating. Believe me, one person can wreak havoc on your professional happiness. If this is the true source of your misery, there are several ways you can address the problem. You could avoid them. If you can’t work with them and you don’t have to, then just don’t. Or at least minimize the interactions. You’d be surprised how much better you’ll feel when you give yourself permission to not interact with people who cause you anxiety. If that is not an option, many workplaces have folks who can help you deal with conflict. They might have some tips for how to minimize the interpersonal issues or may even work with both of you to ease the tension.
One word of caution – before you start blaming others, look at yourself first. Sometimes people are jerks because we were jerks first. Don’t be a toxic achiever. (Read more about Toxic Achievers and how to deal with them here.) One of the easiest ways to solve people problems is to be a nice person. So, be nice.
As you analyse your current situation to see what is bringing you down, you also have to ask yourself – are these things fixable or are they deal breakers? It is possible to be in the right job at the wrong place. You might love what you do but the company you work for is unethical or does not treat employees well. Or you are in an environment that is disrespectful or even hostile. If things are really bad – harassment, bullying, professional roadblocks – you might need to consider taking your dream elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to move on. Some issues are not fixable or not worth the fight. It is easier to leave. Your dream is transferable. Pack it up and go find your dream elsewhere.
One of the problems when your are driven by passion and living your dream is that you care so much about what you do you sometimes forget to care for yourself. Long hours, skipped meals, constantly being connected to the job – these things can burn you out. If a job that you used to love is starting to feel overwhelming or horrible, it might not be the job, it might just be that you need to take a break and recharge. Burnout leaves you cranky, frustrated, and feeling like everything is terrible. Even those things that used to bring you joy. It all just starts to suck. That is the universe telling you to take a break. Take some me time to refocus and balance out your energy. There are lots of great strategies out there for avoiding burnout. I’ve made some simple changes that help me disconnect and recharge.
Set aside some “no work emails” time. I rarely check my work email on the weekends. That is my time. If there is something huge huge happening the next week or my students have an assignment due. I’ll allow a peek but only once or twice a day. For the most part, the weekend is my time to spend with me and my family.
Work stays at work. The quickest way to burn yourself out is to spend all day in the office and then go home to spend all night working some more. Once I leave work, I try not to work at home. Yes, there are times I have to in order to get things done. But more often than not, my house is a no work zone.
Take brain breaks. There are some days you can feel the suck creeping in. Stop it in its tracks. Take a break. Take a walk. Actually go to lunch instead of eating at your desk. Do some stretches. Anything that gives you brain a chance to refocus. A 20 minute walk does wonders to help the mood.
Use your vacation days and actually unplug. They are there for a reason. Use them.
Live your Dream
If you know that you are living a dream but that dream kinda sucks right now, I’m sorry. That sucks. I hope this gave you some perspective and tips for minimizing the suckiness so you can get back the good dream. Just remember that sometimes small things cause big pains. Deal with those and you will be back in your happy place again in no time! Sweet Dreams!
Dr Kristin Brynteson – living the dream, even when it sucks
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