Robin Cangie | What is a Dream Job — Really?

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Robin Cangie previously wrote a beautiful post titled Doubting for Dreamers which I included in the Dare, Dream, Do Circle workbook; I've also quoted her on HBR.  In order to celebrate Dare, Dream, Do's 1st birthday, I asked her if she would again contribute.  May you be as moved by Robin's writing as I am.

“What would you do if money didn’t matter?” I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve heard this question. Whether from career counselors, life coaches, or well-meaning friends, it seems to bubble up whenever we discuss the relationship between our careers and our dreams. It is a question that resonates deeply in our culture, because the answer is supposed to uncover some profound truth about who we are, what we want, how we should spend our time, and in so doing reveal to us our dream job.

I’ve wanted a number of so-called dream jobs over the years. Novelist. Philosopher. Fashion designer. Travel blogger, most recently. They all have one thing in common. I’ve never made a living at any of them. My career is rewarding and challenging, but it’s not on that list above, and from time to time I still feel a twinge of failure about that fact. I know I’m not alone.

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There is a powerful cultural narrative around dream jobs. It goes something like this: Find your passion and follow it. Work really hard. Don’t give up until you find a way to make a living at it. If you can monetize your dream, you’re successful. If for whatever reason you can’t or won’t, you’re just another failed dreamer, a sell-out doomed to a life of cubicle-encrusted mediocrity.

What a one-track narrative of success, one that cannot possibly contain the multitudes of human imagination, passion, purpose, and aspiration! And yet, when it comes to measuring the success or failure of our dreaming journey, we often accept nothing less. We despair at the necessity of day jobs or the inability to turn that capital-D Dream into a paycheck, as if we had no other possibilities for finding happiness and meaningful work.

And that’s the trouble with dream jobs, at least the way we conceive them now – they’re less about following our dreams or even about doing work that we love, and more about realizing a vision of success that society has chosen for us.

What if, as Alain de Botton argues in his wonderful TED talk, we took a more nuanced view of success? What if, in addition to celebrating the success stories of people who have found a way to monetize their dreams, we also celebrate the people who dare to pursue a dream for its own sake, out of love and passion and simply because it is worth doing, as successes?graff2

And what if, viewing success through this gentler lens, we worried less about how to make money from our dreams, and focused instead on how to make time for them? How much more would we accomplish? How much happier would we be, having let go of the need to tie success to money, renown, or achieving that elusive dream job?

It is liberating and exhilarating to follow a dream for its own sake. Here is just one example – I have a good friend who is a talented comedienne. While she would love to earn a living from comedy someday, that’s not why she gets onstage. She follows her dream simply because she loves making people laugh, and if you saw her up there, if you saw the joy and mirth she inspires and the sheer delight she takes in her craft, you could hardly call her a failure.

And so, to return to that loaded question – what would you do if money didn’t matter? – the answer is that it already doesn’t. I do not mean to sound blithe, for I recognize that most of us cannot live without money. I only mean that we do not need to define the success, failure, or worthiness of our dreams by our ability to monetize them.

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So where does that leave us? I can only speak for myself, but I’ve found that letting go of my preconceived notions about dream jobs has done wonders for my ability to authentically and joyfully follow my dreams themselves.

I’m not a professional novelist, but I’ve completed two novels now and took great joy in writing both of them. I’m not a professional philosopher, but my ability to think philosophically has enriched my life and my career in more ways than I can count. I’m not a professional fashion designer, but my small Etsy shop is a deeply satisfying outlet for both the crafter and the fashionista in me.

And I’m not a professional travel blogger. But you know what? I love to travel and I love to blog, which is why at this very moment, I’m in the middle of launching Untourist SF, a travel blog devoted to exploring the many offbeat and unexpected wonders of the San Francisco Bay Area.

I don’t expect any of these pursuits to replace my day job. If they do, terrific. But if they don’t, I will not consider it a failure, because the daring and the doing are reward enough.

What is your dream job?  Is it really? What do you do that you love?


Robin Cangie is a blogger, digital marketer, and lifelong dreamer. Her current dreams-in-progress include editing her latest novel, designing jewelry for her Etsy store, and launching a travel blog for the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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