Have you found your dream job yet? And what exactly is a dream job, anyway?
My memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World describes how I began to hear the calling to become a teacher when I was only twelve years old:
“It was the right dream for me. It united the passions I carried forward from Mother and Daddy; it connected me to a long tradition both inside the church and outside the church; and it was, in fact, the way God made me before the earth was born.”
In the 1980’s my dream job often kept me up until after midnight or woke me up early in the morning. It made my heart sing when students started talking to each other in class, eagerly asserting their interpretations or actively disagreeing with someone else’s.
Sometimes students discovered their own callings in class or in an extra-curricular activity or in an advising session. When I witnessed their transformations, I too changed. My job became my career and ultimately confirmed my calling.
Along the way from high school English teacher to college professor to college president and foundation executive, however, you might have caught me having a bad day or a bad week or even a bad semester. “This little light” of my vocation sometimes faltered, but it never disappeared entirely.
When the light of the divine connection to my work flickered, I examined the fit between the shape of my soul and the shape of the job. Could the job adjust to meet my needs, or could I find a way to reshape myself to fit the job? And if not, what next?
For me, reciprocity and movement matter. Work transcends mechanical drudgery when it seems more like a dance than a march; leading and serving, influencing and being influenced are not opposites but partners. Sometimes the swirling elements blend into One.
Yale Professor Amy Wrzesniewski names this process of actively engaging self-hood with work “crafting.”
She recently described her research findings when interviewed by Shankar Vedantam on The Hidden Brain Podcast on Dream Jobs.
According to Professor Wrzesniewski, people who see their work as a calling are significantly more satisfied with both work and life. More of us can have callings if we craft the boundaries of our present work rather than wait for some clear but mysterious “call” from outside ourselves and our current work.
Is work a means to an end or is work an end in itself? What kinds of things do you enjoy and how can you do more of that in your current work? You always have choices to expand the boundaries of work or delegate and restrict them. If you do this skillfully, you will become valuable to your organization. If you don’t, you might get fired. But that need not be the end of the world. Discovering what does not work can be the way to eventually find a better fit.
After I listened to this inspiring podcast on how some people “craft” their jobs to allow more meaning in their work, I responded to The Hidden Brain online with these words:
I loved this program because it named a practice I have engaged in all my life. My dream job is no job at all. I’ve always looked for the place in every job where I could grow, contribute, and feel a calling that matched my gifts. I was a professor. Then I held executive positions for more than 14 years. Now I’m retired, a word that communicates but one I dislike. The word calling, however, I love. The cool thing about a calling is that it has no relationship to a pay check. It continues after the job and career have ended. In fact, it might only come to full bloom in the last third of life.
“Work is love made visible,” says Gibran in The Prophet.
Part of my work now is to redefine work as calling, or vocation. That means I’m working now as much or more than I ever worked even though I’m “retired.”
Right now I am writing these words on a laptop. Sun streams in the window. Thirty-six floors below, taxi drivers pummel their horns as delivery men double park. New York City lumbers and lurches with workers heading to offices. How many of them are headed to their dream jobs, I wonder.
In the year ahead, my dream job involves books. Lots of them. I want to read as much as possible about work, aging, and vocation. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
In the meantime, use the space below to describe your dream job, past, present, or future.