What is your dream job?

I’ve honestly spent a little too much time wondering what that really means.

Today, I’m going to indulge in a bit of my own curiosity. I’m going to try to analyze what makes a dream job, try to answer why more of us aren’t working our dream jobs, and finally attempt to figure out how we can create businesses where more people feel that they are working in their dream jobs.

Dream + Job

A job, by definition, is the exchange of labor for money.

Therefore, a “dream job” is the best possible version of trading your labor for money, right?

Yet, whenever I’ve talked with people about their dream jobs, I’ve noticed that the answers rarely has anything to do with the money.

  • They might say professional basketball player (like I did as a 13 year old).
  • They might say actor.
  • They might say world leader.

While most dream jobs people pick typically pay very well, in most cases the reasons people give for picking a particular job as a dream job has more to do with the work itself, or the impact and outcome of the work, than it does the salary. To test this, ask if they’d switch to another job for the same salary and most would likely say no.

Salary is a factor but I’d argue it’s a relatively small factor, once people’s needs are met.

The Anatomy of a Dream Job

Here’s my hypothesis…

If dream jobs do exist, everyone’s dream job will follow roughly the same formula:

  • do something you enjoy and/or that matters to you,
  • with people who you don’t hate and who, ideally, share similar values and respect one another,
  • on a flexible schedule that works for your lifestyle
  • compensated enough cover all of life’s necessities (food, water, clothing, shelter, and healthcare) plus the time off and funds to indulge in leisure activities that you enjoy,

Unless your definition of a dream job is to be a billionaire or to literally get paid exorbitant sums of money for doing absolutely nothing, then I’m willing to bet that this formula hits on all of the important points.

Never Enough

I can hear it now:

“My dream job would be all of that, but with more money.”

This is one of the reasons why there aren’t more dream jobs. It’s because we’re living in a world where there is almost never enough money to feel truly comfortable and there is virtually no safety net to fall back on.

Without living wages or adequate social safety nets, dream jobs and more likely to be dreams than jobs. So, we frantically chase every dollar, hoping to quell the terrifying fear that a dip in the market, an untimely illness or injury, or an extended layoff will leave us hungry or homeless.

Therefore, for the dream job formula above to work, it would need to be backed by a safety net that would allow you to move jobs without fear of losing your housing, healthcare, or going hungry. Under the current conditions, the only dream job, is the one that eliminates any fear of not having enough, or getting left behind as a consequence of the “free market.”

These jobs are few and far between.

Real Math

In a world with miners, janitors, and people who work in any form of customer service, it is mathematically impossible for everyone to work their dream job whether that is the “purpose, people, pay, and freedom” version or the “get money for doing nothing” version.

Which brings us to the point of this post.

A critical examination of dream jobs reveal that we can put it within reach and fix our broken culture of work along the way.

Here’s how…

Dreaming of Better Jobs

We don’t dream of doing work.

  • We dream about the lifestyle that a particular occupation affords above and beyond the necessities.
  • We dream of the ways that we’d most enjoy spending our time, both at work and outside of work.
  • We dream about how people will relate to us in a particular position. Will they respect us? Will they admire us?
  • We dream about the impact and meaning of our actions and how it cements our legacy.

If we want to build a better culture of work, it starts with our own companies but extends to the way we structure our society.

  1. We need to build our companies with purpose and meaning, designed to solve important problems in the world.
  2. We need to build inclusive, kind, and safe workplaces and encourage collaboration over competition.
  3. Wherever possible, we need to give people the maximum amount of flexibility to do their work on their schedules, in the office, or remotely.
  4. We need to compensate people enough to live a good life. It must be a living wage and even better it should be a thriving wage.
  5. We need to build a strong enough safety net to let people have the choice to find new work where they can let their talents shine brightest.

All of this seems obvious, yet it’s all remarkably elusive in today’s culture of work. I believe we can fix it. We just have to dream of better jobs.

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