I do not want a ‘dream job,’ just a real job


Britton Downing, Contributor

I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who is a millennial. He had asked what my career goals were, and we were soon talking education, life goals, and pathways. At a certain point in the conversation I took an unexpected pivot (unexpected even to myself); I started railing furiously about how the current and generationally recent narratives related to finding your “Dream Job” are a sham. Blasphemy! What had I said? I had to evaluate my conversation many times over in the coming days. My conclusion…I was right.

The premise behind what I said, had to do with fulfillment and enjoying one’s life. We are currently programmed to find our “Dream Job”, with the unsaid subtext being: “because you are never going to have any time to enjoy your life when you are not working because you will be to tired, or to busy, or you won’t have enough money.” Wait a minute, what the hell happened to the gold watch that my grandfather got? He is my prototype. He worked for Illinois Central Gulf railroad for the equivalent of 40 years. He retired at 60. He had worked 100-hour weeks in the 60’s when the railroad had time and half, and double time. He lived 34 years after retirement, but that is only part of the story. While actively employed he took annual vacations all over North America, and was able to catapult himself from extreme poverty in the Great Depression, into the middle class by the 50’s. So, here’s the thing, he didn’t have a dream job. He had a job that allowed him to live out his dreams. That is a different thing.

To that end, I have decided to not pursue a “Dream Job.” I have decided to pursue a job that makes me feel fulfilled but allows me to pursue my personal interests on my own time. What is this job going to be? I don’t know. I am hoping it will find me. I have a direction and a passion, but that is just a path to follow until one of the right doors opens up. “Luck favors the prepared” as they say, and I believe that is really the truth about getting a career that fits your needs. Being ready and being at the right place at the right time is how it really works.

How do you get ready? This is farcical part…, you have to have a “Dream Job” in mind. So, when I get asked that question (as I often do in academic settings) my response is: “Hello, my name is Britton R. Downing, I am a Non-Traditional student that is currently pursuing a B.S. in Wildlife Biology, with a final goal of earning a Ph.D. in Inland Aquatic Biology.” The newest addendum to that is: “I am now also considering a double major that would include Communications or Journalism.” I have literally written, rewritten, and copied and pasted some iteration of these quotes so many times, into scholarship apps and introduction essays, that it is starting to seem fake. Not just my motivation, but the process as well. I mean one time I would just like to post “I am pursuing a life where I can watch Nature and BBC news on PBS while I eat potato chips, after I have spent all day fishing, boating, or camping.”

Let’s be real though. I am not going to get a fulfilling job that will allow me to do the things I want, by saying I want to do those things. And to be honest, I do want a fulfilling job. Well then, I will have to play the game, right?  And on a certain level this entire conversation is hyperbole since this is not my grandfathers job market.

So, for now, I will continue to pursue my education for personal and professional reasons and hope that I will find a job that will fulfill me and allow for some partition between the two. I hope everyone that reads this can do the same.