Finding Your Dream Job

Last Updated May 2, 2007 7:16 PM EDT

Are you finding it increasingly difficult to get up and go to work every day? If you feel that your job is sapping all your energy and enthusiasm, it may be time to reassess your life and your work. Perhaps an old dream is stirring and it just won't go away. If so, you may want to think more about pursuing a new path. The following questions provide thoughts for reflection as you take the first steps in responding to your calling:

  • What keeps you in your current job, even though it no longer holds your interest?
  • What ideas have you buried because you didn't think they were practical?
  • Which of your talents and abilities are going unused?
  • What would a "dream job" look like to you?
  • What are you willing to sacrifice in order to realize your dream job?
What You Need to KnowSurely work is never really "fun?"

If you believe that, then you are buying into a myth that will allow you to settle for less than what you want, and you will never be completely satisfied. Yes, earning a living can be painful, but it doesn't have to be. Work is as natural to human beings as breathing. If we are not contributing to the world in some meaningful way, we tend to feel bored, dissatisfied, and empty. Freud said that there are two important things in life: work and love.

I have only just started out in my career. Surely I have to "pay my dues" before I find work I truly love?

Chances are that you're not going to jump into the job of your dreams straight out of school. Unless, of course, you're a born entrepreneur and start your own business! Many technology companies have in fact started this way, but you will probably need to spend time in a job working for someone else, learning the ropes, and making connections. However, you shouldn't think of it as "Paying My Dues." This kind of thinking encourages staying in a job that may not really suit you. Wouldn't it be more fulfilling if you could be excited about going to work each day?

I'm getting near retirement. Have I left it too late to find my calling?

Many people who are nearing retirement grew up in an era when career choices were limited and work was more narrowly defined. This often meant sacrificing your dreams for years of drudgery, but now is your chance to take the time to do something you really love. You might consider volunteering, being a mentor to someone just getting started, or developing a hobby into a part-time career. There's also the possibility of doing consulting work or finding an organization that really appreciates the wisdom of older people.

What to DoAssess Your Skills and Talents

Begin by making a list of all the things you are good at, including proven skills as well as abilities you know you possess but have not yet put to use. On this same piece of paper, make three columns. Label the first one "Current Job." In this column put a check next to all the skills and talents you are currently using. Label the second column "Joy and Meaning," and here put a check next to any ability that brings you joy and a sense of meaning when you use it. This should include things that may not be using in your present job. Label the third column is "Dream Job." In this column put a check next to any skills that you would like to use in the best possible job that you can imagine. As you are doing this exercise, other abilities may come to mind, and you can add them to the list. After completing the checklists, make some notes about any thoughts and ideas that came up about what a dream job might consist of for you.

Allow Yourself to Dream

Think about the dream you may have buried because it wasn't practical. Dreams can come true, but you have to believe in them and be willing to work toward them. Read stories about people who have made their dreams come true. Find Your Calling, Love Your Life by Martha Finney and Deborah Dasch is an excellent source of inspiration. For many people, the source of a "calling" comes from difficult or painful experiences that they have gone through or overcome. It becomes a calling, then, to help other people with similar difficulties.

Focus on Service

All vocational callings have a strong element of service in them. By focusing on the principle of service, you will uncover clues to your calling. Have you ever wished you could make a difference? What issues in the community, in business, or in society do you care about? Whom do you want to serve? How can you use your gifts and talents to help them? These are important questions to ask yourself.

Do What Brings You Joy

Before we can truly be of service to others, we first need to give something meaningful to ourselves. So do what pleases you, and you will probably find that you are acquiring knowledge and skills that will be of service to others as well. And sometimes it is enough just to know that by doing meaningful work that brings you joy, even if it is not of service to anyone else, you are helping to make the world a better place. The world could certainly do with a little more joy.

Make It Real

It's important to make your dream real in concrete ways. Write down a description of your dream job, possibly even with two or three variations. Do some writing in your journal about what "calls" to you. Find people who you trust and tell them about your dream job. As you get more and more detailed in thinking about and describing what you are looking for, you will notice that opportunities will "coincidentally" appear. Make sure you are paying attention to these opportunities.

Talk To Others

Don't hold back in sharing your thoughts about your calling with others. The more you talk about your dreams, the more real they become, and the more likely you are to notice opportunities that will help you fulfill them. Also, by telling others about the job you would love to have, you are making important connections and increasing the chances of finding someone who can help you.

Remember the Rule of the Bumblebee

According to the laws of mathematics and aerodynamics, it is physically impossible for bumblebees to fly. But because bumblebees don't know this, they just keep right on flying. Keep in mind that the most successful business people were frequently told that what they wanted to do was "impossible."

Be Prepared to Make Sacrifices

In order to follow your calling, you will probably need to make some sacrifices. It's important to consider these before moving to another job or to starting your own business. This means that you're going to have to spend some time thinking about what are absolute necessities in your life and work. Is it essential that you have high earnings, or are can you afford to earn less money in order to pursue work that is more meaningful? Must you have a steady paycheck, or are you excited about the risk and potential of working for a small start-up organization, or for yourself? Is it essential that you work with people, or would you be content to work alone? What things are absolutely necessary to you in your work, and what can you do without? Make a list of five things that you consider essential and five things that you are willing to forgo.

Think About Your Attitude

There's an old song that goes, "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with." In essence it means that sometimes even though you can't change your situation completely, you can adapt by changing your attitude. This can apply to your work too. Many people cannot easily leave their job to start something new. The challenge, then, is learning to see your current work in a new light. Once again, the principle of "service" can be very helpful. If you feel that at this time you need to stay with your present job, write yourself a brief reminder about how the work you do is of service to others, and keep it somewhere nearby.

What to AvoidYou're Not Realistic

Don't fall into the trap of thinking that your dream job already exists, and that if you just look hard enough, you will find it. No, the job of your dreams is not to be found in the classified advertisements and probably not even on a Web site, although you may get some ideas from these sources. The truth is that most people who seem to have discovered their calling have actually created the work that they do. Creating your dream job will involve networking, making connections, and talking to people about your ideas.

You're Not Strong Enough In Your Convictions

But be aware that once you begin to think seriously about following your calling, there will be people who are only too eager to tell you that you are impractical, unrealistic, idealistic, or selfish. Try not to listen to them. Whether they are truly trying to be helpful, or are doing it out of spite, jealousy, or narrow-mindedness, they are the people who want to tell the bumblebee that it can't fly. Remember that you are the one in charge of your life, and just because you are attempting something that is more creative or daring than most people would consider, it doesn't mean that you can't find a way to do it.

You Sell Yourself Short

Also look be aware of jobs or business opportunities that sound too good to be true, especially if you are being asked to put in your own money or to work for very little compensation at first. Unethical business people understand the hunger that people have for a dream job, and they are willing to play on that. If you are offered an opportunity that really seems to fit what you are looking for, or be even more than you had dreamed of, make sure that you are going to be paid what you are worth.

You're Not Flexible

Don't put stumbling blocks in your own path by becoming too attached to an idealized concept of what that perfect job would look like. Beware of being too particular and of passing up opportunities that could turn out to be even better than the job you think you want. Keep an open mind, but at the same time don't settle for something that doesn't fit your values, or that doesn't really use your most important talents and abilities.

Where to Learn MoreWeb Sites:

Working from the Heartland: www.marthafinney.com/Heartland/index.html

FastCompany Online Guides: www.fastcompany.com/guides/index.html