Deferring the Dream

Image: Robson#/Flickr

As a new crop of college graduates hits the job market in the coming weeks, many of them will undoubtedly be advised to put themselves on a path toward their “dream job,” one that will not only pay the bills but will also provide a sense of purpose and excitement.

What we don’t tend to tell them is that, many times, these dreams are going to wind up crashing on the rocks of reality.

As Sue Shellenbarger noted this week in The Wall Street Journal, those who lack sufficient work and life experience often think they’re entering a “dream job,” only to find that they’re unhappy in it. “It’s a surprisingly common dilemma,” she wrote.

And what are you supposed to do if this happens to you? As Shellenbarger sees it, you have no choice but to take heart, buck up, dust yourself off and try to learn something in the process.

“Turning a dashed dream job into a win requires overcoming disappointment, looking hard at where you went wrong and making the most of the skills you have picked up,” Shellenbarger wrote.

Or you might just consider yourself fortunate. As we’ve noted, Peter Drucker considered early-in-life setbacks to be a gift from God. They help you learn how to cope.

In fact, with any luck, being dissatisfied with a job will teach you when to quit, which Drucker called “one of the most important things—particularly for the beginner,” because young people often keep their first jobs too long.

A bit of job-jumping is what, in Drucker’s view, most young people must bumble through in order to find an answer to the following question: Where do I belong?

As he explained in his famous essay “Managing Oneself,” “this is not a decision people can or should make at the beginning of their careers.” While being a doctor or a mathematician usually requires an early focus, Drucker asserted, “most people, and especially highly gifted people, do not really know where they belong until they are well past their mid-twenties.”

What would you tell a young person trying to figure out the sort of job in which he or she belongs?