Why “Follow Your Dreams” May Not Be Useful Career Advice

Why

The pressure of trying to “follow your dreams” can be overwhelming. Yet, on any given day, young, career-minded folk are bombarded with that message, and others like it:

  • Follow your passion!
  • Your job should never feel like a job!
  • Turn your interests into a career!
  • Do what you love!
  • Find a job that makes you happy!

There’s this idea that in order to be happy in our careers, and our lives, we must find the thing we’re most passionate about and turn that into a lucrative job. I can appreciate the sentiment behind these statements and I have said some of these very things on occasion. But I’m beginning to think they’re doing more harm than good.

Turning something you love into a career would be a wonderful thing. We see people get interviewed on television and magazines, or we learn more about a company and realize it all started with a dream, and that sounds like something we can all accomplish. The truth is, though, those individuals are anomalies. We can’t all be great in our careers, because then we’d all running around as CEOs and have no workers.

It’s not to say I don’t think you should have dreams, or to chase dreams, or to dream. You absolutely should, if that’s your thing. (For me, it totally is.) But I just think we should remove some of the pressure that we must somehow be in constant pursuit of “Our Dreams” (whatever that may be), lest we be labeled or feel like a failure.

Imagine if we all stopped attending our day jobs and instead pursued the things we loved — most of us would probably end up trying to vacation professionally for a living. We’d pack our bags and leave for the airport and realize the streets were packed with others just like us. There would be no police officers to pull those awful drivers off the road and, once at the airport, no pilots to get you to where you wanted to go. There wouldn’t even be someone to pass out those little packages of peanuts on the plane!

For every person whose dream it is to have a practical job — like a teacher, a fire fighter, journalist, or a garbage collector — there are probably about 100 others whose dream is to spend their lives tasting pizza. (I have no statistical evidence to back this up, but still.) How can the world, life, function that way?

Following your dreams is intense pressure. It requires you actually know what your “dreams” are and that they not be ever-changing (as they usually are) or unrealistic (given that these are dreams and not realities, that is sometimes the case). If I came up to you right now and said, “Congrats! You can now do That Thing You Love professionally! What will you do?” I am sure only a handful of us would know what that dream job would be. Once you know what your “dream job” is, you’ve got to figure out how to make that happen. And there are only so many positions available for Oprah’s BFF, you know?

In truth, it’s okay to view our jobs as something we do because we have to make money. We don’t have to feel like failures if our perfectly secure, decent-paying job isn’t also fulfilling and passion-fueled and fun. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with working a job that you chose simply because it pays well — or because it’s secure or was what was available at the time.

So if our jobs make us money, congratulations! Our job is doing the thing jobs are supposed to do. If it also happens to make us feel good about ourselves, then we’re getting even more than we bargained for. If, on top of that, our job incorporates even one thing we love to do in it, then I’d say we’re lucky.

The next time we are feeling inadequate because we aren’t doing, or don’t know, what we “love,” let’s try to remember this: we’re actually doing just fine.

For a follow-up to this article regarding what realistic job expectations should be, check back next week! 

9 Comments

  1. I love this. I always felt a little weird about the “you can be anything!” message kids are bombarded with these days. Isn’t that setting them up with unrealistic expectations for adult life? It’s good to dream, but the reality is that not every kid is going to grow up to be president or a rock star, and that’s OK! Why are we making them believe they NEED to aspire to more than a secure career that pays the bills and allows them to live a stable, independent life?

  2. This is such a good point and it takes a lot of pressure off! What came to my mind is, what if someone’s “dreaming big” is being the person whose job it is to hand out peanuts on the airplane. Then they have a fulfilling career even if it wouldn’t be for someone else and even if it’s not a glamorous, typical “dream big” gig.

  3. This is a thought-provoking angle. You’re absolutely right that there should be no pressure to chase your dreams, even if ultimately all of would inherently love to be paid to do what we love doing. The subtle difference is that our passions don’t always have to align with our professional world – that is, our passion and life purpose doesn’t always have to be a “job”. One can hold down a job and still pursue their passions and life interests in other ways, instead of tying it into their profession. Of course if someone is able to connect both together and cohesively create a career out of their passions and interests, even better. No pressure though!

  4. I beg to differ. Pilot and police officer are dream jobs. I think the situation you’d have would be closer to several pilots fighting in the cockpit over who gets to fly this time around. As for the peanuts, couldn’t you simply leave the bowl at the door and let people help themselves? 🙂

  5. You are making assumptions about what people’s dream jobs are. Believe it or not, for some people, being a pilot or a doctor IS a dream in itself. Not everyone wants to be a Hollywood clone.

    Personally, I strongly recommend doing something you genuinely care about. This could be anything, as I am someone who has many interests – some more lucrative than others. “Follow your dream” is actually very vague and has broad meaning, so to discount it completely is meaningless. Also, people know better than you what they want from their own lives. For some people, this involves having a stable career with a fun hobby on the side; for others, it means having an on-the-go life as a rock star. Both are valid career choices.

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  1. 3 Realistic Expectations For Your Job | Positively Smitten
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