I always wanted to be a writer, at least as soon as I stopped wanting to be a private detective. But from the day I landed my first writing job, I was already planning on how to get some other, better job. For years I kept daydreaming about the ever-changing dream job (usually some form of screenwriting because I’m that kind of cliché), always comparing it to my “real” job.
This constant mental comparison robbed me of some of the joy and potential of every job I took. It led me to turn down opportunities that didn’t get me closer to that one dream job—even as I failed to do the real work required to chase that dream.
Journalist Jess McHugh describes a similar case of dream-job fever, which kept her obsessed with the dream job of “war correspondent”. She writes:
I still measured each assignment by primarily one rubric: Is this bringing me closer or further away from conflict reporting? I felt guilty writing about subjects that simply interested me or weren’t related to my long-term goal.
Because she wasn’t getting close to that dream job, it could remain a dream, so of course it always looked better than whatever she was actually doing. Finally she got a taste of conflict reporting while covering the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris. After that, it wasn’t that she didn’t want to do conflict reporting — but she no longer idealised it. And that helped calm her aspiration down from an obsession.
For me, the big breakthrough was realising that I already had what I really wanted: The opportunity to put my own style into my work, and to collaborate with smart people. I’d been “saving” all my talent for work that didn’t exist, while neglecting the writing I was already getting paid for. (Meanwhile I learned that screenwriting is way less glamorous than it looks.)
McHugh’s piece explores how our culture pushes us to chase dream jobs, and how that can help us cling to our childish imaginations of what those jobs are like. It’s good to be ambitious — but ambition needs to be rooted in reality. That way we can chase the work we actually want, not the fantasy job we’ve only dreamed up.