How many times were you asked that as a child? How many times, as an adult, have you asked a child that question?
What answer did you give? Fire fighter? Ballerina? Astronaut? Doctor? Inventor? Pop singer? Marine biologist? Would you ever have said something that wasn’t a job title? Probably not, because we’ve all been raised with this pervasive idea that whatever career we end up withour identity. We are what we do for money. And it doesn’t start and end in childhood, either. Throughout our lives, people can’t seem to stop asking us these questions:
We’re all guilty of asking these questions, because we’re all accustomed to this idea that everyone has a “dream job” - some hidden passion or skill that they could turn into a career that they love. We seem to think that even if people currently have jobs that pay the bills, keep the lights on and put food on the table, they should still be aspiring for more.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing that some people do have a “dream job.” It’s amazing that some people can find work that they truly enjoy, because work is something that most of us will spend most of our lives doing. It’s amazing that some people find passion, ambition and purpose through their career. And that’s a valid type of success for anyone to seek.
But not everyone has a “dream job.” Not all of us lie in bed at night, dreaming of performing labour. Not everyone has wanted to be Prime Minister since they were a toddler. Not everyone is passionate about something that they can turn into a successful career. Not everyone is ambitious. A lot of people will never have a job that they love, or a career that they tie their identity to. And that’s okay.
It should be considered normal for people’s dreams to be entirely untied to their career. There are so many things that we can dream of being that have nothing to do with what’s on our LinkedIn page.
The person we want to be when we grow up could simply be a good friend. A good listener. An avid reader. A stamp collector. A vegetarian. A hiker. A movie buff. Someone who can make a mean paella. Someone who can play the guitar. Someone who walks their dog on the weekends. Someone who likes to dance at parties. Someone who goes on overseas holidays. Someone who votes. Someone who flosses. Someone who drinks the recommended amount of water every day. Someone who is happy and loved.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter where you find your contentment, passion or aspiration. It doesn’t matter what you think of as the central facet of your identity. It doesn’t matter if you define yourself as an athlete or a sister or a Lizzo fan, or a hundred other things all at once.
Not all children will grow up to have the job they thought was cool when they were five years old. They might never have a job that they think is cool. If we can acknowledge that and normalise having other aspirations - being ambitious for personal growth rather than upward career progression - then a lot of people would feel a lot more content right now.
Let’s take the pressure off.