Dream Jobs, the Lack of Long-Term Goals and Turning 26

My birthday will probably include me and a whole cake.


So tomorrow is my birthday and I’m turning 26. Which, if I was feeling terribly morbid, indicates that I’m one year more in that long march towards death. And if I was feeling optimistic, I’m one year wiser. I go from one to the other on an almost daily basis.

A few months ago, I started online dating on OkCupid and one of the questions they ask you to fill out on your profile is, “What I’m doing with my life….” It’s the obligatory, “What is your job question,” from which you discern what the person’s income probably is (if they don’t state it in their profile). And what I filled out is, “I get paid to write all day. It’s pretty awesome.” The man I’m dating right now, in one of our initial messages, he wrote, “It sounds like you found your dream job.”

It’s a funny thing, the concept of dream jobs. I was reading the other week this piece on the “Wall Street Journal” about when dream jobs end up being disappointing. An excerpt:

After years of planning, preparing and perhaps paying for an extra degree, you finally land your dream job—and discover you don’t like it.

It’s a surprisingly common dilemma. The idea of a “dream job” is drilled into job seekers these days. Increasingly, people expect to find jobs that provide not only a living but also stimulation, emotional fulfillment and a sense of purpose. The image of a career as a source of passion is promoted by career advisers, self-help books and even the glamorous characters in TV dramas. But fantasies about a job can blind job-seekers to workaday realities and to consideration of the best fit.

Having gotten hired right out of college for my dream job (or rather, what was my dream job at the time), which is writing about theater for a living, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what my next step professionally is. This past year, I’ve accumulated a great number of portfolio boosting clips (including my first “New York Times” byline) and have constantly pushed myself to think beyond writing, find other ways to make my job more fulfilling and entertaining for myself (since a good amount of my job is tedious and administrative, hence the term “assistant editor”). No job is 100% perfect and you have to do the best you can within it or, if you are like a friend of mine who hated her work environment, find a new job.

Ever since I decided I was going to be a journalist, my goal was to get published in the “Times.” And then that happened and I was ecstatic for about a week and then, naturally, my thoughts turned to, “Okay, what next?” The only answer I have: do it again. And then what? There is no happily ever after, you still have to continue moving forward.

Where do you see yourself in five years? I don’t know. Then again, does anyone really know? One of the biggest misconceptions that you have when you’re a kid is the belief that adults know it all, that they have it all figured out. And it’s not until you become a working adult yourself that you realize, no one knows anything, we all pretend to, because what’s scarier than knowing is not knowing. That’s why the dark is so horrifying. And I was never the person who reveled in the darkness and in the uncertainty of the moment.

The piece I wrote for in the “Times” was about a Gertrude Stein children’s book, about a little girl named Rose who climbs a mountain and then when she gets to the top, she feels scared and sad and unsatisfied. So she carves this phrase on a train, “A rose is a rose is a rose.” I am me. And I know who I am. And I embrace myself, in all of my perfect imperfections.

Or to put it another way, you climbed that mountain and reached your goals, and it didn’t feel the way you thought it would feel. It didn’t solve any big question you had about what your life’s purpose is and you still have to move on from that to…whatever else. As a lyric from the musical “Avenue Q” goes, “Everyone’s a little bit unsatisfied.” No one tells you that in grad school.

At the end of the day, you’re just one person on top of a mountain and beyond the accomplishments, the goals, all you really have is yourself. And the only thing you can do is carve your name on a tree and establish contentment and happiness within yourself.

So that’s my goal for year 26.

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