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The ugly truth behind the notion of the ‘dream job’

GettyThe slipper doesn’t fit.
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Americans have some odd notions.
Take, for instance, the dream job.
“We all want a dream job,” performance strategist Laura Garnett writes at Inc.
“Just like finding that one great love,” she says, “it’s a goal that virtually everyone has.”
As you can tell from Garnett’s comparison, the dream job is a romantic idea.
Like the pursuit of “that one great love,” it’s misguided, unrealistic, and self-defeating.
Let’s dig into it.
The “one great love” sentiment is another way of talking about a “soul mate” or “better half.”
It goes back to Ancient Greece, some 2,300 years ago.
In Plato’s “Symposium,” the playwright Aristophanes says:
Each of us when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but the tally-half of a man, and he is always looking for his other half.
When one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself … the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole lives together.
Sounds familiar, right?
It was handed down through fairy tales like Cinderella, where the glass slipper fits only the prince’s one true love.
Yet couples psychologists John Gottman and Peter Pearson agree that this fairy tale has been a disastrous model for relationships.
“There’s a cultural attitude where if you find the right person, you shouldn’t have to work” on the relationship, says Pearson, a cofounder of the Couples Institute in Menlo Park, California.
“Because at the beginning you didn’t have to work; it was easy and effortless,” he says. “If you find the right person, [you

think] it should stay that way. It’s the happily-ever-after imprint. If you’re with the right person, it will take care of itself.”
That same hope animates the quest for the dream job.
The script goes something like this: If you find the right gig, it will satisfy all of your needs and you won’t have to work a day in your life. You’ll feel so fulfilled, content, and creative that you’ll have no choice but to give a TED Talk about how you arranged your life in the perfect way.
But looking for everything you need in a single person or job creates a ton of pressure, and according to “How to Find Fulfilling Work” author Roman Krznaric, it’s unsustainable.
“The mythology of the soul mate ratchets up our expectations of what that relationship should be,” Krznaric says, “that you should try and find all your loving needs in one person — the romantic partner and the best friend and the person you can have children with and a playful relationship with and so on.”
It “inevitably fails,” he says, “because we can’t meet those expectations.”
Similarly, Krznaric notes, if you look at the surveys asking what people want from their careers, certain themes come up again and again, like quality relationships, autonomy, creativity, status, recognition, and money.
It’s hard to find all of those criteria in a single job.
Recognizing that, you could opt for a “portfolio career,” where you do several jobs at the same time. For instance, you might freelance articles to magazines and run digital strategy for a brand during the week and then teach yoga and cooking classes on the weekend.
Or you could satisfy those different parts of yourself by combining career and leisure pursuits. Krznaric uses the American poet Wallace Stephens, who wrote “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” as an example.
“He was an insurance company executive by day and an avant garde poet by night,” Krznaric says. “When he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955, and he basically could have gotten a full position at Harvard to write poetry for the rest of his life, he turned it down and kept up his insurance company job because he didn’t want to depurify his creative act as a poet.”
Like Stephens, you could find your desire for financial security and status in your career, and then find your need for freedom and expression outside the formal workplace.
The approach works for Krznaric. “I do a lot of public talks, and I’m not one for seeking status and recognition, but being in a public light to some extent is reaffirming of what I do,” he says. “But as a writer, I’m sitting quietly in my study as I am now, in an attic in suburban Oxford, and no one sees what I’m doing and it’s a very internal process, struggling with words. These various parts of my life satisfy the different selves that I have.”


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