How to Find Your Dream Job

13 ways to leave your lousy job and find one you really love

| January-February 1999

OK. You've finally let the bitter truth seep into the part of your brain that admits bitter truths. Your job sucks. The mere fact that window envelopes with pretty checks in them arrive every two weeks is not doing it for you anymore. You are becoming very good at the thousand-yard stare, the long, unfocused look past your cubicle into a green-and-gold world out there somewhere, a world that's passing you by. Or perhaps you're so damned wiped out at the end of a day on the assembly line, behind the cash register, or at the nurse's station that the thousand-yard stare shrinks to six inches.

Still, through it all you dare to dream. You dream of the job you love so much you can't believe you're getting paid to do it. The perfect match for your talents, habits, passions, and desire to make a difference in the world. It flickers in and out of your awareness. How do I get this job? you wonder, and then that plaintive question is smothered by dark thoughts: Pipe dream. The economy is sliding. The only real choice in the new millennium is between the burnout track in corporate cloneland—if you've been to college, that is—and a stupefying McJob.

Now, I don't disagree with these staples of leftist pessimism. It's bloody hard for most ordinary Americans to actually lead satisfying lives under an economic system that portrays itself as the final form of human felicity. Finding good work—work that both thrills and pays the bills—is a struggle for most of us. But if you put the right spectacles on at the beginning, it can be a more joyous, revealing, altruistic, fun, and even subtly subversive struggle than you might think.

The following ideas aren't conventional career counseling, which may be what you need to make a small, sensible move inside the corporate culture. But if you want to consider breaking out of the box altogether, you'll have to look a lot harder and deeper, risking (and delighting in) transforming your feelings about yourself and the working world.

Think big
Not only do you have a constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness, but large goals are practical in a special way: If they really belong to you, they have more power to get you off your butt than "reasonable," "sensible," half-hearted ones do. So blurt 'em out. Sure, for an overweight 47-year-old, dreaming of a career as a professional gymnast is a little off the wall—but there's a truth inside your dream that you ought to pry out. Maybe you won't go to the Olympics, but can you see yourself doing something else triumphant and physical in front of an audience? Can you immerse yourself in the sports world in another way? The idea is to use the energy of your deepest desires—reliable energy—to make big changes.

Be prepared to create your job 
While you're thinking big, ask yourself if you're willing to create your dream job if you can't "get" it any other way. And leave yourself open to the idea of a collage of jobs—food writer, cooking workshop leader, cook, restaurant consultant, saxophonist.

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