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Here’s how to work out what your dream job actually is

PHOTOGRAPHY BY OLIVIA REPACI

WORDS BY ALYCE GREER

Do dream jobs exist, and where can I find one?

I’ve had a lot of dream jobs. When I was seven, my dream job was a secretary (lol) because I liked forms, sitting at a desk and typing on the keyboard. When I was 10, I thought I might like to be an author. At 16, I realised I was meant to be a high school English teacher. Until I was 19 and found my real dream job: a journalist at the local newspaper. 

It didn’t go down well. I did work experience in the newsroom as part of my journalism degree and despised every moment. Everything was beige (including the people) and the air felt tense. Also, no one talked to me so I mostly sat in the corner and read the newspaper. My point: if I hadn’t gone through that hellish week I might’ve ended up stuck there after my degree, or worse, never tried and wondered ‘what if’ forever. 

What’s your dream job? Do you have one in mind, or are you already working in it? Do you believe dream jobs are a load of baloney? Are you fine to stick out your regular non-dream job for all of eternity? Or do you have absolutely no clue what you’re doing or where you’re going and could use some help figuring it out?

If you’re pondering any of these questions, Emily and Shelley from the My Millennial Career podcast are back to give us the hard truths about dream jobs — and some advice if you really can’t imagine your life without one. 

Ok, let’s say I’m feeling lost, super uninspired, and I have no idea which direction I want to go in. What’s my first step?

Shelley: The one thing I would focus on is your core values. Ask yourself “What matters to me?” Next, investigate how you find a career that aligns with that. Whether you’re big on sustainability or something else, you want to find something that’s meaningful and something that connects with you. 

A lot of people struggle to figure this part out when they’re going straight from school to uni. They choose something and eventually enter the workforce, only to realise it’s a job that doesn’t really connect with who they are. Figure out what you value and look at career paths from there. 

It feels as though we need to pick what we want to do forever, and stick at it, which can feel restrictive if you’re really not sure or unhappy. What are your thoughts on this?

Emily: In life, the only way to figure out if you like anchovies or not is to try anchovies — the same goes for everything else. Embrace the period in your career (which might be all of your twenties and early thirties) where you’re experimenting. You’re working out what you like, but also what you don’t like! After you’ve experimented a little, you can assess: What’s the theme here? When do I feel energised? Which parts of these roles am I enjoying, and which parts am I not enjoying? 

Shelley: People have this expectation, or there’s this myth that you’re going to land in a job and just love it. You want to be a doctor or a fireman, and you believe you’re going to love everything about it, but that’s extremely unrealistic. 

I think you should enjoy the experimentation and learning phase, even for 10-15 years. Maybe you’ll find a job that feels like a dream job, and maybe down the track you’ll leave that job, you’ll ebb and flow in that experimental phase again. It’s such an unreasonable expectation to place on work or your employer to think that they can fulfil your purpose in life, but we do seem to put that pressure out there.

How important is it to like your job and enjoy going to work every day? 

Shelley: It’s way more important to enjoy your job than get a higher salary!

Emily: You spend SO much time at your job – it breaks my heart when I hear people get themselves to a point when they’re in tears at the thought of having to go to work. It just doesn’t have to be that way. Of course, we’re not going to love everything about our job but I’m so passionate about finding something you do enjoy. 

What’s a good way to experiment or ‘test the waters’ in a new role or industry?

Shelley: There are so many ways to test the waters, especially at uni! Far too often, people finish their degree and they’ve spent however much it cost, and all of a sudden they get into the real world and they go “Oh crap, I hate this”. But if you’re in your first year of uni and you’re interning – even if it’s not a requirement of your degree – and you realise you hate it… well, you can get the heck out of there and find something else. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen as often as it should. 

It’s highly unlikely as employees we’ll be doing 10-year stints with one employer; we’re going to have multiple career changes. So, young people need to be willing to jump in, see what the vibe is and then feel free to change. It’s not set in stone just because you’ve done the degree. 

Once we’ve found something we’re super passionate about — and have confirmed we actually like it — what sort of steps can we take to make it a reality?

Emily: I would recommend finding people who have a connection to that role or industry – buy them a coffee, have a conversation and learn from them. How did they do it? How do they like it? Who can they introduce you to? Pick their brains!

Next, go on LinkedIn or Seek and find job ads that relate to that role, and start to build your to-do list. For example, you might notice that everyone that has your dream job also has a degree in XYZ. Maybe you’ll realise they all interned, or they all started in a similar position and worked their way up the ranks. What are the things those successful people have? What are those job ads looking for? Start to chip away at it. 

Having a dream job isn’t the be-all and end-all (I hope?!). Why are we so stuck on having a dream job, and feel less than if we don’t?

Shelley: It’s ALL expectations. Look, work is called work for a reason – it’s hard, it’s work. Yes, we all want to have a dream job and there’ll be times when you do, and times when you don’t. So for me, it comes down to setting your expectations. Unfortunately, we see everyone’s successes and side hustles and they look like they’re killing it, but really, everyone’s just trying to figure it out. Reset those expectations! If you’re not where you thought you’d be after five years in your industry, that’s normal, and that’s okay. 

My Millenial Career is hosted by Emily Bowen, a recruitment and customer experience specialist who is obsessively curious about the daily collision between business and humans, and Shelley Johnson, a human resources and management consultant whose focus is to see people achieve their personal career goals while enabling businesses to achieve theirs.

Alyce is a contributing writer for Fashion Journal and the director and head writer at Bossy, a Melbourne-based copywriting and content studio. You can find Bossy here and here.

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