Is the dream job a myth? Well, it’s easy to imagine plotting out your careers like a coming-of-age movie: the initial pie-in-the-sky dream, the struggle to turn your hodgepodge ideas into the mightiest of ducks, the unfortunate but recoverable fall, and then, finally, the ascent, the Dream Job™. Success, happiness, huzzah.
But dream jobs, as admirable of an aspiration as they might be, aren’t all they’re cracked up to be because, like movies, they’re often not realistic. In no definition of a dream job are there menial tasks like paperwork or paying for health coverage, and there are definitely no cases of the Mondays, when, no matter what you do, you don’t want to go into work. Dream jobs are a fantasy, albeit a good one, where the work you do is always fulfilling, even when you work long hours or are living paycheck to paycheck—but that’s simply not what work and life are like. Hanging everything on in the idea of an idyllic career or job is an easy path to disappointment, dejection, and even burnout.
That doesn’t mean, however, that you should stop setting goals, or that upholding and pursuing a certain passion is bad. It just means that, when daydreaming about your future, you need to set realistic expectations of what that job will be like and whether it will actually make you happy.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering a dream job.
Will my financial burden be worth my aspirations?
Let’s get this question out of the way because if you’re a dreamer, it’s likely your least favorite one. Almost all careers these days have a financial downside. Even doctors struggle with mountains of student loan debt that cause them daily stress and can lead to burnout and depression. Is that risk worthwhile if you’ve always wanted to deliver babies or cure cancer? It very well could be, but it’s better to know going into your career what financial burdens you will bear so you can plan accordingly.
Do I understand fully what this job entails?
There are many sexy careers out there. In fact, there are so many that dating sites like eHarmony release studies annually about which professions their users seek out most often. (Here’s looking at you nurses, professors, veterinarians, and firefighters.) But there’s a difference between what a job appears to be and what it actually is, and it’s worth finding out for yourself both the shining moments and the stressors of a career before you become besotted with it.
Writing, for instance, is my career (ranked 10th on eHarmony’s list, thank you very much), and it gets a lot of oohs and ahhs at social gatherings. Yet the reality of being a writer is that pay can be crappy if you don’t advocate for yourself, the process of writing can be temperamental, and whether you work for yourself or a company, you won’t always be writing about something you love. But sure, it’s attractive on eHarmony!
You can learn the reality of your chosen career by talking to people are already doing it. Ask for informational interviews, shadow someone, or apply for an internship.
How will I manage naysayers?
If you’re an entrepreneur or an artist of sorts, plenty of people will rag on your dream. They might tell you it’s impossible or that they won’t help you. You’ll face rejection and failure. You need to know how to manage, if not overcome, those wet blankets.
Setting boundaries is a good start. If there’s someone who constantly puts you down, address it directly. Tell them they’re not being supportive, that their commentary is unhelpful and unnecessary. Ask them to stop or to frame their criticism in a more constructive way. Learn how to defend your dream and know when it’s time to distance yourself from someone who doesn’t believe in you.
Sometimes, that person might be you—that’s something to be aware of too. Expect to imperfection and seek out opportunities for growth.
What will I do to find fulfillment outside my job?
You are not your job. Even if your job takes up a large percentage of your being and you like it that way, you weren’t born with “sports marketing for a major league team” stamped on your forehead. You can love something and not let it be all of you.
To stave off burnout and career dissatisfaction, I suggest finding alternatives to your career that feed the same emotions that drive you on the day- to- day. I’m personally driven by creativity, so I participate in organizations that let me experience it in other forms—theater, choirs, etc. Marketers, you might like connecting with people. Join an intramural team. Financially burdened doctors, you might want to help people. Participate in 5Ks that fund causes you care about.
Whatever it is you do, look for a similar spark that isn’t linked to how you make money and pursue the heck out of it.
Read more: I Learned How to Be Happy at Work