The internet is flooded with people throwing around the phrase “Dream Job”, but few rarely take the time to define it.
Let me clear it up for you.
If you look at it from the flip side, you could define it as a job that you don’t hate. But that isn’t a very good definition because there are probably any number of jobs which you wouldn’t hate but you wouldn’t love either.
I actually think that’s worse. Being comfortable is the enemy. In a job that you just “don’t hate” it’s bad enough to make you complain, but not bad enough to do anything about. This exact scenario leads you to look back at the last 40 years of your life and say “Oh, shit. What have I done?”
And the answer will be “nothing”.
So clearly a dream job is one which you love. One where you’re actually excited about getting up in the morning and heading to work.
“But still that doesn’t get to the root”, you might say. “Surely you can do better than that.”
I can, and don’t call me Surely.
Positive Psychology and The Search For Meaning
Though the concept of happiness has been studied by philosophers and psychologists alike since the days of Aristotle, it was Martin Seligman who brought it to the forefront of scientific study during his inaugural speech in 1998.
As the newly elected president of the American Psychological Association, Seligman stood in front of those attending his acceptance and said,
"[a priority must be] what I call ‘positive psychology,’ that is, a reoriented science that emphasizes the understanding and building of the most positive qualities of an individual: optimism, courage, work ethic, future-mindedness, interpersonal skills, the capacity for pleasure and insight, and social responsibility."
Now that’s a rather daunting list for the pessimists out there, and for the optimists, well, you might have just done a little happy dance simply hearing those words. I know I did.
Either way, with positive psychology being a legitimate topic of study subject to the stringent testing of science, Seligman set out to define what was meant by ‘the good life’.
This is where he came up with the PERMA model of sustained well-being.
I’d like to show you this model and demonstrate how it relates to defining your dream job.
The PERMA Model of Sustained Well-Being
Positivity in the workplace may seem obvious but it also includes things like curiosity, inspiration, peace, and gratitude to name a few.
When we talk about dream jobs, I think these are generally the first things we think about and with this we only brush the surface of what it means to love what we do.
Now, we may have varying degrees of these things in our careers, and as individuals we naturally rank these different in terms of what matters most to us, but just being aware of these concepts and how they relate to your workplace gives you the opportunity to recognize if one category needs attention.
We should be striving for an environment that fosters inspiration and encourages curiosity.
We need to recognize and have gratitude for the skills that we have and strive for the right to have a peaceful work environment.
This is important from the perspective of both managers and employees. The workplace is an ecosystem and to function effectively, everyone must be committed to growth.
I want you to think about a time you were so focused on something it felt like the world melted away.
Do you know that feeling I’m talking about? The one where you’re oblivious to everything except what you’re doing right at that moment.
That’s called flow.
That is the sign of a truly engaged individual, and in that state your best work is achieved. That’s the pinnacle of productivity and effectiveness, it’s where things of wonder are created.
The great creators of our human history were capable of creating an environment which facilitated a higher likelihood of entering this state.
But how do we get there?
We do it by identifying, celebrating and playing to our strengths, and creating the proper set and setting. This is why the notion of looking inward is so important. As we learn to understand ourselves better, we begin to create a mental map of what our strengths are and where we do our best work.
When a challenge meets your strongest skill set and you’ve chosen your environment wisely, you have the ingredients for flow.
This was one of the amendments to Seligman’s original framework which originally consisted of simply PEM.
Clearly our relationships play a significant role in our well-being, and this can be seen both inside and outside of work.
Unfortunately, some places of work simply do not hold this concept to high regard, and as a result, employees are less engaged at work and simply defiant towards a troubling manager.
Victor Lipman writes in his book The Type-B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type-A World “People leave managers, not companies”.
When looking for your dream job you need to consider the environment and make sure you ask questions about what it’s like to work there. Speak to both employees and managers so you can get a good idea of what it’s really like.
Perhaps you’re currently in an environment which has its share of communication problems. There are a number of ways we can develop better relationships and leadership including having a better understanding of emotional intelligence, effective communication, and critical thinking.
These are all well documented areas of study, and could dramatically improve your situation by digging a little deeper.
Ah, the holy grail of the coveted dream job. The glorious search for meaning.
Okay, but we have the same problem here as we did in the beginning.
What does meaning actually mean?
As defined by Martin Seligman, meaning consists of
"using your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are"
Now, when we talk about finding a dream job it’s important to remember that there’s rarely one single gig out there that’s a perfect fit. We get caught up in what our career title will be instead of the work we’ll be doing on a day to day basis.
In fact, there’s probably a thousand different jobs out there which could qualify as your dream job.
Here’s another look at what it means to have a meaningful job as suggested by Baumeister (1991):
- Purpose – having objective goals and deriving subjective fulfilment form meeting them
- Values – with which any choice of goal or action must be consonant
- Efficacy – so that we believe our strengths can make a difference
- Self-Worth – which both encourages us and is encouraged by our meaningful work
I encourage you to take a look at yourself and spend the time to understand what it is that you want, set goals, uncover your values, and develop your self-worth.
Find your meaning and you’ll find your dream job.
In the realm of positive psychology it’s said that we are motivated towards growth. By learning to set proper goals following the SMART model (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) we take small steps towards our predefined ideal outcome.
It’s these small wins which create momentum as they inspire us to keep moving knowing that we’re heading towards the finish line.
Many people feel as though they need the motivation to get started, but they’ve got it backwards.
Start moving, and as you make progress towards your goals your motivation builds pressure until you realise you’ve entered a state of flow.
And as I mentioned above, that’s where the magic happens.