The words “dream job” have come up a lot along the way in my professional career. The words mostly swirl around in my head while I figure out exactly what a dream job is.
As a teenager, I wanted to be a rock star. But, I never did anything to actually work towards that aside from sing in my room and listen to other people’s awesome music. I took guitar lessons, but I didn’t practice. I loved to sing, but I believed I wasn’t good enough at it for anyone to want to listen to me other than me. Once, I recorded myself on a cassette tape, and then, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to listen to me. But, I never tried. I never sang to anyone. I never attempted voice lessons. I never did anything to become a rock star.
When I went to law school, I wanted to be an “entertainment lawyer.” I wanted to work for a big, fancy record company in big New York City. I found intellectual property law pretty exciting, which would have been appropriate to pursue for a career with a record company, but I heard that only super smart people could carve out a legal career in trademarks and copyrights in Kansas City. And, patent attorneys had to have a completely different education that I had leading into law school. I tried to go to law schools known for their entertainment law education opportunities, but those schools didn’t accept me. I was the president of the Intellectual Property Law Society, and I resurrected the defunct Sports and Entertainment Law Society. So, it’s not as though I didn’t make some effort, but I believed the lies that I wasn’t tippy-toppy enough in my law school class to follow my dreams anyway.
Through some twists and turns, my career path led me to be the director of Royals Charities, the charitable foundation of the Kansas City Royals. That job was not my dream job. Then, it was. Then, it wasn’t again. And, it got confusing.
I did not apply to work for the Royals because it was my dream to run a charitable foundation in sports. I didn’t even know that was a job until I had it. Then, as I thought about it and as I built the position in a slightly new way, it was my dream job. It was a cool combination of my education, experiences, and interests. I loved sports. I loved philanthropy and had professional experience with it. I sometimes did need to use my legal mind for foundation matters, and I was working in the sports and entertainment industry. I also was working way too much and not taking good care of myself, my relationships, or anything else. But, I had a boss who trusted me and let me implement my vision. So, had I just been able to get the wellness piece under control, I’d have been in a pretty good “dream job” position.
I even remembered that as a young girl, I had decided that my dream job was to be the first woman to play for a Major League Baseball team. I specifically chose the Seattle Mariners because I liked Ken Griffey, Jr. Given that I didn’t play baseball or softball or ever swing more than a T-ball bat, I likely wasn’t going to play in high school let alone the majors. But, when I recalled this original dream job, I grew even more fond of finding myself working in sports.
Then, my dream job got complicated. It felt like everyone around me assumed it was my dream job. So, when the job started to feel less like a dream job, it was not good for my mental health to have every person I ever met say, “Oh, that job must be so much fun!”
As I was preparing to leave the Royals, someone asked me about the dream job potential of the new job. “This must be, like, your dream job?!” What I wanted to say was, “No, I’m leaving what was my dream job because it is not functioning like it once did, and I am so sad.” I said something like, “No, but it’s a step in the right direction.” That was probably true, but it felt like a lie at the time.
So, what exactly is a dream job? Is a dream job a title? What if the work is a dream, but the title doesn't obviously show your value to professional colleagues? Does a dream job have amazing benefits? What about a job that allows you to put your own personal wellness goals first? Best coworkers ever? Maybe that's the dream? Certainly, each person’s definition of a dream job likely changes throughout a career.
And, while we know that everyone isn't always in their dream job, it makes me sad that people might feel reluctant to share their professional dreams lest a current employer see that one of its employees has a dreaming mind. You can certainly be an effective and productive employee while dreaming up the future. If you don’t share your dreams widely, how do you know who might be able to help you get there?
But, I’ve heard some pieces of advice over the years that encouraged me to stay quiet about my dreams. One of those pieces of advice came from a senior leader at the Kansas City Royals. I heard him say that one shouldn’t be concerned with what happens “next” in a career. If you put your head down, work super hard, and be awesome at what you’re currently doing, someone will notice and offer you “the next.” Well, God bless ‘em. While, yes, I have had people call and encourage me to apply for jobs, it wasn’t that simple. I’ve never had a job where my position was high-level enough that people from other teams or companies are watching me. As such, I have to tell people what I want the next to be. I have to work to be noticed, and if “the next” isn’t “the same,” then, I have to go out and make it happen.
I’d like to not be afraid to share my professional dreams. I’d argue that if I’m working towards a dream, I’m likely giving my current employer the best of me. I’m not dwelling on the past. I’m energized by the future, and I’m focused on how I can prepare myself in the present. That means, I’m growing and learning and staying motivated to do well now to be ready for “the next.”
Or, if my current employer gives me great retirement benefits, I might just already be in my dream job. Because while there was a time in my career when I only (well, a lot at least) cared about my professional title, I’m old enough now to add “helps me retire when I want” to the list of qualities a dream job would have.
So, what is your dream job? It is a title? A benefit? Tell me all the things that would make you feel like you were in a dreamy professional spot.
I’ll start. In keeping with my tradition of wildly unlikely jobs I could never have, I do tell people that my dream job is to be the commissioner of Major League Baseball. Like, that’s a true day-dream. I don’t actually know what a commissioner does, but I bet I’d make too much money, be able to retire whenever I wanted, and get go to any MLB ballpark for any game at any time. But, the job I dream I’ll have one day would allow me to return to sports to work in a legal department. Of course, I’d still be seeking those coveted retirement benefits, trust and empowerment from my boss, and I’d really love never to put my health and my family in second place again.
And, because there’s power for me in song lyrics, U2 has often guided me with this gem. “She’s gonna dream up the world she wants to live in... She’s gonna dream out loud... Dream out loud...”
So, go ahead, dream out loud with me.
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