Behold! The illustrious dream job; the affliction of the twenty-something. I’ll start by saying that I am a twenty-something and I too somehow was taught that my job should define who I am. I’m not really sure where I arrived at that conclusion. It could be cultural. In the U.S., the first thing you ask someone you’re first meeting is, “So, what do you do?” As if somehow the answer will give you some kind of great insight into who they are. In Europe, or at least in France, that question is just not the norm. Plus, we talk about work a heck of a lot more than Europeans do. They find that kind of shop-talk boring, and it is.
Maybe it was because we were spoiled by our parents. We grew up in good times, idealized our perfect career, and were disappointed when we graduated college during the worst recession that our country has seen in years and wind up working as a glorified secretary, if we can even find work.
For me, it might have been because of the value my dad put in his job. He’s a successful doctor, who is very respected in the community and his career defines him. He can go anywhere and still be a doctor and people will respect him for that.
“But this isn’t my dream job,” I whined. I graduated early thinking I’d get a head start in the game. I ended up job searching for four months while living at home. My friends were still at school so I felt disconnected from their experience. I hadn’t really rushed to graduate early, but between my summer classes, AP credits, and summer study abroad, I could have graduated in three years. I ended up graduating a semester early and just cruising as a part-time student for my last semester.
My degree was in journalism and my dream was to write, but the news industry was changing and I couldn’t justify taking a $22,000 a year job at a local paper that might not be there tomorrow. Or rather, my mom would never have let me move for a job where I wouldn’t be able to support myself. Journalists were either leaving the field, at least in the traditional sense, or they were being cut from the newsroom. I had no future in traditional journalism. I still wanted to do something creative, where I could persue my dream and like many people, ended up falling into an industry that I knew nothing about at the time. Before I found my first “real job,” I interviewed in D.C., at a consulting firm where I knew someone. “If you could do anything, what would you do?” the interviewer asked. The question had startled me. What was the best way to answer to make it seem like I still wanted the job? Was this a trick question? “Go ahead and answer honestly,” she told me. “They asked me what I wanted to be during my interview and I said a chef. I still got the job.” “A writer,” I said. “I would be a writer.” ”That’s great,” she said. “Good writing skills will definitely help you in this position.” I interviewed at what was to be my first job in Chicago. My first impression was of the very cosmopolitan feel of being on the 68th floor, the ugly bright carpeting when I exited the elevator, the huge conference room when I entered the office, and what seemed like a mostly-male office. All I knew about it was that it was some kind of techie company. I had run around town on nine different interviews that day and was definitely overdressed in my cream-colored suit. The guy who was interviewing me was wearing jeans.
My interviewer told me he needed someone who could write short copy and I had experience writing teasers at a TV news station. He explained the position, and I just nodded my head as if I understood. He was from Pennsylvania and I mentioned that I had gone white water rafting there. So had he. Three weeks later, I got the job as a copywriter for a search engine optimization company, internet profile company, or was it search engine marketing? I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just glad to get a job where I could write and make a liveable salary.
It turned out that my boss was well-known in the field and I was able to attend one of his speaking engagements in Chicago and I learned as I went. It wasn’t my dream job. My job was to create pay-per-click ad copy templates for our PPC Analyst drones to implement. I felt like a drone myself. I started to get more to do as there was the need help create estimates so that our sales team knew how much they could reasonably sell to clients. Management eventually wanted me to join a new team, where I edited our online profiles. There was no editorial process in place before that and oh, how they needed it. It quickly became evident that they didn’t hire writers to write our online profiles. I’m no grammarian, but I learned the difference between their and there, they’re a long time ago. Those people were still in the dark.
Ten months after I started, I found out that the company was closing. I started to look for other work. Maybe this time, it would be my dream job. I found a job a few months later in interactive account management at a company that’s part of a huge network of advertising agencies. I like my job. I think that’s all there is to it. I still haven’t found my dream job, but I’m starting to realize that I can’t define myself by my work. I define myself by what I do out of work, and by my relationships, rather than by my nine-to-five.