Leadership Tactic #75: How to Scrap Your Dream Job

Honey I Shrunk the Kids made me want to be an inventor.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Here’s my dream job evolution, starting from when I was a boy: inventor, writer, architect, biochemical engineer, entrepreneur, restaurant owner, and then…well, it’s more in flux now. This isn’t about me, anyway.

It’s about you and your dream job.

Think about your dreams as a kid and how you really had no idea what doctors and lawyers and even grocery cashiers (my sister’s first dream job) did every day. As an adult, you have better gauge of what these jobs entail, but our impressions of jobs are still heavily influenced by movies and television.

As adults, our flexible undergraduate years behind us, venturing into a new career that we think is our dream job is a lot riskier than before. Tell me you haven’t thought this at least once in your 20s: “I know that my dream job is X, and I need to go back to school to get that job.”

Okay. Maybe. Maybe you need to get a master’s degree to get your dream job. But before you spend a ton of money on school, you need to figure out if it’s actually your dream job. I offer two ways to test out and possibly scrap your dream job without spending a penny.

  1. Frank Lloyd Wright made me want to be an architect.

    Do it. Do your dream job. I don’t mean quit your current job; I mean you should find a way to dip your toes into your dream job. If you want to be a veterinarian, volunteer at the Humane Society. If you want to be a doctor, volunteer at the hospital. If you want to be a publicist, find a cause or a person you care about and run a publicity campaign for it. See what it takes to do your dream job. Not only will you learn things you never knew about the career, but you’ll also be able to reflect on how into the job you are. If it’s really your dream job, then you’ll make time to make it happen. Otherwise you’re displacing the dream.

  2. Talk to Someone Who Has Your Dream Job. I’m sure you know someone–or know someone who knows someone–who has your dream job. Call them and ask if you could pick their brain for 15 minutes about what they do. And I’m not talking about some vague description about what they do. You need to ask them exactly what they did at work the last few days, hour by hour. Their instinct will be to brush over the boring details because they hate to admit to themselves how boring their job is. But make them do it.

If you go through those steps and haven’t scrapped your dream job, then it’s time to see what it’s going to take to actually get that job. Maybe it involves school, or maybe it just involves more experience. If the latter is the case, you already have a head start on it thanks to step 1.

What do you think? What was your dream job, and what is your dream job now?

13 thoughts on “Leadership Tactic #75: How to Scrap Your Dream Job”

  1. 1. What made you think you wanted to be a biochemical engineer?

    2. What made you decide not to pursue it? Did you follow one or both of your steps?

    3. What does a biochemical engineer even do? I have no clue!! 🙂

    • 1. Good question. I have no idea. I think it was one of those things where someone told me that being a biochemical engineer would be really lucrative in the future. I think it my head I thought it meant creating robot-human hybrids.

      2. I stopped pursuing it when I realized that it was not about creating robot-human hybrids. My parents took me to talk with a real-life biochemical engineer in high school; they were wise enough to have me follow Step 2 of my advice.

      3. I still have no real idea. Maybe they make pharmaceutical drugs. All I remember from that informational interview was how detailed and precise the work seemed. I’m the type of guy who enjoys cooking on top of the stove, where I can adjust ingredients and spices and sauces at my whim. Baking, on the other hand, is much more precise–if you don’t have the recipe right when you put the pan in the oven, you’re screwed. Biochemical engineeers are bakers.

  2. I chuckled at this post, especially given your Mad Men of 2012 post from a few days ago, because the advertising industry (particularly the creative part of it) is so grossly misrepresented in pop culture. Most people have no clue what’s involved day to day or even the skills you really need to succeed in this industry. Writing a clever headline? While an important skill, it’s surprisingly tiny part of the job of a copywriter.

    • Oh, and I wanted to be an architect too—up until I started touring architecture schools and talked to the students. By mid-way through my freshman year at Wash U I was very happy I’d had the sense to drop that as a career option!

      • I didn’t even make it that far with architecture. I changed course in middle school after I realized that architects had to do more than just design dream homes.

        Also, one of my friends wanted to be an architect and actually interned at an architecture firm in high school. He taught himself AutoCad. Once I saw his drive, I realized that the difference between him and I was that he truly wanted to be an architect, whereas I just liked the IDEA of being an architect. Just like George Costanza.

    • Wait, you mean you don’t sit around all day and drink and smoke and sleep with each other and plot to revolutionize the industry?

  3. lol w/Christine I can relate but what I offer is that in a world where you have to be adaptable anyhow is that you don’t have to have just one dream job. I am blessed that I have several and they compliment each other. Like Jay Z and J Lo. “Branding, it’s about the branding.”

  4. When I was young I wanted to be a lawyer and President of the USA. I dropped the lawyer part sometime before high school and the political aspirations during high school, when I got some real glimpses at all of the politics that goes into being a politician.

    Now I aspire to be a trophy husband.

    • I remember President Trevor. I recall that I was going to be Vice President, because that’s how Vice Presidents are selected in the real world, right? I’m sure Bush and Cheney were best friends as kids, as were Obama and Biden.

      Do you have what it takes to be a trophy husband?

  5. I really like this advice.

    I was personally incredibly lucky to have an amazing man start a program at my high school called “Education to Careers and Professions”. This semester class my senior year entailed researching and writing a 15-page report about the field I thought I wanted, (including what type of personality thrives there, taking diagnostic tests, etc), job shadowing a professional 3 days a week (during the school day), and making a final presentation to the entire class. I think the number of kids who left high school either with a career in mind or a career added to the “no” list was notable. As you said Jamey, there is wanting to be something and there is liking the idea of being something. And not many high schoolers really explore that before spending a gazillion dollars on a higher education with a major picked haphazardly or getting stuck in a job they hate.

    Mad props to Mr. Changnon! https://www.champaignschools.org/ecp/

    • Emma–That program sounds incredible. Which type of career did you think you wanted at the time, and how did the program redefine your expectations?

  6. Great advice and great topic! Strangely I was just thinking about this and how people go from wanting one career when they’re a kid to doing what they do now.

    If you were to consult the diary I wrote in when I was in 2nd grade you would have seen, “Rock Star and a Nurse”. As you know, those two go hand in hand; you never know when someone might faint at a concert and need CPR.

    After realizing the rock star thing might fall through due to lack of an instrument at the time, and that I have a thing with not being able to see blood; my dream job was to be a cartoonist (since the age of 7), whether that meant drawing for a comic book publisher, or working as a cel frame animator for WB or Disney. Unfortunately with technology, cel frame animation has become almost obsolete. I even inquired at KCAI about their animation program and asked about cel frame animating. The woman operating the phones deterred me from it saying they “don’t encourage this at the university”…even though it was in their brochure they sent out to all high-school seniors. I worked with a trusted someone who interned/worked for Disney and said it wasn’t worth it either. (Long story.) So I took this as a big hint to look into something similar.

    Following your step two a few years ago I asked several people in the comic book industry what it took to be where they were and found some very helpful writers and artists trying to make their own way. This seems to be the route that feels most comfortable combining two of my top loves and actually gives me the ability to have full creative control over projects. (This is one rarity where I don’t collaborate but rather ask opinions later. 😉 )


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