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Why Chasing Your Dream Job Will Make You Miserable

Written by Jeff Johnston
dream job miserable

Give a scroll of your Facebook and you’ll come across an article about how to be successful and score your dream job.

How kids all started businesses right out of college. Or maybe you’ll see some positive affirmations from the richest and most successful people of our time giving you the secrets to success.

Student Life Network itself loves sharing similar stories about how dropping out of school landed someone their dream job.

Millennials like us love these articles. They inspire us. Encourage us to think big and never stop dreaming. They make us want to be positive. But this presents a problem if we’re not careful.

Our generation is fond of chasing our dream jobs, having high expectations for ourselves and being incredibly optimistic. This might be making us unhappy. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, waking up from the dream job fantasy and adding in just a little negative reality might make you feel just a little better.

What makes this generation so optimistic, yet so anxious?

We need to put our generation in context. The concept of choosing what you wanted to do with your life is almost brand new. For most of human history, your future was pre-determined. You either got married, took care of the family farm or went to work at the local coal mine or factory. Few people were able to break tradition or move out of their station. There was no anxiety over what you were “meant” to do with your life. It was probably already figured out.

Even our parent’s generation’s lifestyle was linear. There were five main milestones that people would expect to meet by age 30: Completing school, leaving home, achieving financial independence, getting married and having a kid. In 1960, 77 per cent of women and 65 per cent of men had achieved all five. In 2010, only 13% of women and 10% of men had checked all five of these boxes.

Fast forward to 2017 and the avenues for 20-somethings are endless.

Expectations and social pressures to follow suit lessened. Many of us were given permission to do what makes us happy. Millennials can choose to go to school or not to, get married and settle down with someone of the same sex, the opposite sex or not settle down at all.

You can choose to have kids or not to have kids. You can choose to embark on a career or hustle at a side gig, start a business or travel Europe aimlessly for a while. This is good news, but it comes with a ton of crippling anxiety to choose the right path. Especially when your Facebook or Instagram is full of people broadcasting the highlights of their lives. I’m sure our parents would struggle with insecurity or would meet people more successful than them, but they didn’t have daily exposure to it. For our generation, it’s not enough to get a job; we need to get a job that makes us happy. That’s a lot of pressure to put on one aspect of your life.

You’re trying to figure out the path to your dream job and in the unsure, disappointing or unfair moments of your life, you’ll see people like you enjoying mojitos on the beach in Spain, getting promoted or hired for big jobs, buying houses, and getting married.

It’ll be easy to think you chose the wrong path.

They are only posting the good parts of growing up. In between the party pictures, vacations and baby photos, all of us are going through the same uncertain, second-guessing insecurities as you. Classmates who became lawyers will wonder if they should have stuck to their goal of becoming actors. People who got married and settled down will wonder if they should have stayed single and travelled the globe. Don’t despair over the decisions you made. While you may regret the path you took, someone else will wish they took yours instead.

Your optimism and hopefulness for dream jobs can be used against you.

If you don’t combine them with some skepticism.

I don’t think there is one of us that hasn’t been approached by a friend to join a multi-level marketing scheme (MLM). Whether it’s Amway, ItWorks, Scentsy, Primerica, Herbalife, Vector, etc., they are everywhere, and their doctrine thrives on one main thing. The unbridled optimism of Millennials.

The failure rate of these endeavours is virtually certain. However, a few buzz words about “being one’s own boss” and “how millennials want side-gigs” and “financial freedom” make it sound enticing. They will add in how our generation is driven and motivated for success. There will be endless sales seminars and motivational speakers and apparent “examples” of how someone “just like you” and has boats and planes and mansions in Beverly Hills.

It hinges upon your optimism and vulnerability. They will fill your head with tons of success quotes from Tony Robbins, Kevin O’Leary and Steve Jobs. They might even bring out real-life success stories showing how they “proved all the doubters wrong” and how they went from rags to riches.

A 20-year study of 400 MLM businesses found that 99.6 per cent of people who entered them weren’t even able to recover the money they had invested. So, how do these scams keep getting members?

It’s called survivorship bias. Focusing on only the positive story and disregarding all of the negative ones.

Blind optimism will make you want to carefully filter those 0.4 per cent and ignore everyone else who failed. An ounce of skepticism can be all you need to avoid these pitfalls.

It’s not just MLMs and pyramid scams. Some of you might be savvy enough to know better.

This extends to taking out mortgages for a house you can’t afford because so many of us see it as the standard of success. It may mean quitting your day job or dropping out of school to start a business all because Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg did. People do it all with the philosophy of “everything will work out” and “it worked for them, so it’ll work for me.”

You need to be willing to ask yourself the tough questions and rehearse some worst-case scenarios.

We need to take calculated risks and not only use exceptional outliers as our standard for success. Not everyone can afford to take the same chances.

Dream job thinking could be sabotaging you.

Remember The Secret? The new age philosophy/self help book that emphasizes the power of positive thinking. It states that if you visualize what you want in life, the universe will conspire to provide it for you. It sold over 19 million copies. And it sounded like good advice. If believe you can attain something, then it shall be yours. After all you need to be positive to be able to make things happen, right?

According to research, visualizing and fantasizing about your goals makes you less likely to go out and accomplish them. Graduating students at a university in Munich, Germany whom fantasized more about their dream jobs sent out less applications, got fewer job offers and had a lower income than those who didn’t.

Fantasizing about a dream job made students less likely to want to mess it up by trying to achieve it. It also subtly tricks your brain into feeling like it has already accomplished something.

Those who had found more success in their fields of study were still positive, but also expressed negativity about the challenges and job markets they were applying for.

The aim is not to become a cynic; it is to stay grounded. If you’re optimistic and ambitious (like me) this can be difficult.

You will want to ignore your student debt load as you plan to apply for a mortgage on a new condo. You won’t want to consider the hardest parts of certain careers and will want to focus on the glamourous parts instead. You’ll want to avoid negativity and keep feeding yourself positive affirmations. Human beings seek comfort. It can make us take some unnecessary risks and set us up for disappointments.

Be hard on your optimism and ambitions.

Sometimes you need to acknowledge the negative to prepare yourself for the hard parts.

David Wong said in his essay, How the Karate Kid Ruined the Modern World, “Accomplishing worthwhile things isn’t just a little harder than people think; it’s 10 or 20 times harder.”

Success is hard and it needs to be practiced.

Here’s some harsh reality. Eight out of 10 business ventures fail within the first 18 months. As many as 150,000 Canadians go bankrupt every year. Up to 38 per cent of Canadian marriages end in divorce. Canadian Millennials can expect to have an average of 15 jobs within their lifetime. One in 4 families can expect to need to rely on Employment Insurance in their lives. Sixty-two per cent of Canadians under 40 are still paying their student loans.

I’m not saying this to bum you out.

I’m saying that if you aren’t exactly where you want to be, you’re part of a nice little club I like to call EVERYBODY. While you dream and pursue passions, I encourage you to listen to the people who went bankrupt, lost it all, had plenty of setbacks and struggled every now and then. Not just the good stories where everything always works out. You can dissuade yourself from the illusion that you’re the only one who hasn’t figured everything out yet.

You can learn from the mistakes of others and decide what kind of risks you can afford to take. Take the pressure off yourself to make life into some ideal future. Stop second-guessing which major you studied or the path you took, because you’ll see people struggling in every industry and career.

There is no magic answer to life in your twenties. There is no shortcut to wisdom.

If you’re still trying, you’re not failing. While you chase your career dream of riding unicorns, you’ll come across plenty of other meaningful pursuits along the way. I knew a guy who was sure he would become a film director, a couple years out of school and he’s loving his gig in the insurance industry. He didn’t sell out. It turned out that his hobby and his career didn’t need to be the same thing.

An international political journalist. That was my dream job. However, I wallowed in unemployment and underemployment. Got fired from one job and laid off from another. Three times, I made it to the final round of interviews in my field, only to have them pick the other candidate who was in the running next to me.

I used to beat myself up for not doing what I was “meant” to do.

I had jobs in a movie theatre, winery and the rental car industry. All of them added to who I was as worker and a person.

They all had parts that sucked and parts that I miss at times. Instead, I run a freelance media business and work at my small-town electronics store. It’s not my dream job, but I love my life.

Carry your optimism, but allow yourself to be skeptical and forgiving of where you came up short. And wake up from your dream job fantasy. Like so many things in dreams, they probably don’t exist.


*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.