The year was 2017. I was sitting on a bean bag in my cool, open plan office one day when a friend who had come to visit asked me, “Is this your dream job?”
At the time, I had just given up a job writing content for giant corporations to write for a tiny nonprofit that assisted fellow startups in getting their feet off the ground, all for free. I was bright-eyed and 26, and the job tied in nicely with the Development Studies program I studied in college—a relatively hipster degree that I would bring up whenever the opportunity arose.
“Why, yes, I did read Trust by Fukuyama. And, yes, I found his arguments for new institutionalism rather compelling,” said nobody ever.
But back to the question at hand—was I working at my dream job? No. No, I wasn’t.
One of my deep shames as a cookie-cutter millennial is that I didn’t have a dream job. I was in some shape or form a writer, but the prospect of creating social media campaigns, writing catchy copy, or figuring out what the fuck SEO was, didn’t exactly stoke a fire in me. I liked most of the jobs I landed, but they definitely still felt like work, when I was promised they wouldn’t.
Every time a human resources manager would ask me where I saw myself in 10 years, I would buckle and sweat. “I don’t even know what I’m doing next week… ha ha,” I would jest, as I watched them scribble down what I could only presume was a resounding recommendation on their clipboard. Did everyone else know what they would be doing in 10 years?
The pressure cooker wasn’t isolated to my professional connections. On occasion, I’ve had friends ask when I would write my book.
“A book? I never said I would write a book,” I would say. “But you should,” they’d respond, as if things were as simple as that. Looking back at my life, the only memory that stood out was the time I tried riding my bike downhill while balancing a giant grapefruit in each hand—not enough for a memoir.
“I’ll think about it,” I’d say.
The truth is, I don’t have a burning passion for writing. There, I said it.
I don’t get drunk in a cellar, waiting for inspiration to hit as I report the latest dog coin in cryptocurrency. I don’t scheme of worlds that were built off history books and create characters that are, for the most part, based on slightly different, sexier versions of me. I became a writer because I was allured by the prospect of free food and concert tickets, of which there were plenty indeed.
The idea that my work should be my passion—that I should create something great in this tiny sliver of time that nature has afforded me—was the result of growing up in the ‘90s, when I was fed Disney clichés and Hallmark-level quotes about following my so-called dreams, whatever those were. So most of my career was spent wondering whether something was wrong with me for having no desire to do anything in particular.
“Most of my career was spent wondering whether something was wrong with me for having no desire to do anything in particular.”
But my upbringing isn’t all to blame for my internal conflict. Our concept of work has been shaped by our collective experience as a generation. While boomers view work as utilitarian, seeking job security, millennials seem to view work as a form of liberation from our parents’ expectations (while backed by their promise that we can achieve anything we set our minds to). No, I certainly will not become a doctor/lawyer/astronaut, mom, I’m going to chase my dreams of becoming a spoken word poet. Art imitates life, and that was just the prevalent sentiment at the time.
But now, another vibe shift is coming, and for some, it’s reconciling our relationship with labor. More people are acknowledging that our lives don’t have to be centered around our jobs; that life exists outside of the workplace, as much as it does in it.
This ties in with something a life coach once told me: “You can look at your job in one of two ways. You could look at your job as your passion, or you could look at your job as an enabler of your passion.”
This made sense to me. After all, the idea that your work should be your passion is inherently privileged. Not everyone dreams of becoming a corporate slave or a blue-collar worker. For a lot of us, work pays the bills (and, in my case, funds my cat’s exorbitant lifestyle), and it doesn’t have to be anything more if you don’t want it to be.
The moment I stopped forcing myself to think of my job as my dream, my identity, my passion, was when the fun really began. I let go of the pressure of finding a “calling” and stopped questioning myself about whether [insert job here] is what I really wanted to do. I just stuck with what I knew and enjoyed, and accepted the job for what it was. If what I’m doing serves some sort of purpose and doesn’t hurt anybody, then that’s OK. That acceptance healed my relationship with work.
So obviously, I quit that job at the nonprofit and went back to what I knew best: writing about food, music, and life.
While writing wasn’t always my dream, doing it every day for the past eight years has allowed me to create a relationship with it. And, I dare say, I’ve become quite good at penning a paragraph or two (you can be the judge), and I’ve fallen in love with the process.
Dreams, it seems, are not predetermined at kindergarten, when I was forced to draw Crayola versions of my future self slumped over a desk, contracting carpal tunnel. In my case, it came after the fact. Now, I get to write personal essays for a living and I’m not complaining.
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