“I no longer aspire to have a career.”
So reads the title of Youtuber Kathout’s video from this summer, which garnered over half a million views and 8,000 comments — most of which agree with the video’s title:
“I just want to be financially stable while still having a life.”
“A career is not who a person is and I think people are just getting sick of working so hard for little to no gain sometimes. It gets frustrating and all I want to do is enjoy my life for a change.”
“I work to live, I definitely don’t live to work.”
In the video, Kathout, a self-described former “hustle-culture-obsessed college vlogger,” argues for a life where she doesn’t dream of labor.
We might think we don’t “dream” of labor, but many of us have had a “dream job” — the dream being that we’re doing a job that aligns exactly with what we want to do. The “dream job” is the job that makes us feel like we have a purpose. It’s what we believe we’re supposed to be doing, even if it means it consumes our lives.
Our dream jobs were so important to us because our lives revolved around work.
Since COVID-19, a new study reported that 93% of Americans aren’t currently pursuing their dream career. Almost 60% are rethinking their career; 1 in 3 are considering leaving their jobs.
Why? The new way of working has turned what many thought were dream jobs into nightmares.
Living to work vs. working to live
For many corporate workers, the pandemic brought a shift in the physical way they work. Gone were commutes, in-person meetings and 8+ hour days in cubicles.
Remote work didn’t just take away what office workers were used to; for many, it gave them much more. It gave them time with family. It gave them more sleep. It gave them the ability to be home for dinner, to do their laundry in the middle of the day, to take a walk around the neighborhood, work from a beach in Hawaii, to have more flexibility and structure in their life. Work was no longer such a barrier to living life as they wanted.
It gave them the ability to work to live, instead of living to work.
The pandemic hasn’t just changed the way we physically work. It’s changed our relationship to work as a whole. It’s made us rethink our priorities and what we want out of a job. It’s made us realize that we don’t want to work for companies that don’t care about us.
And for many, what we want out of a job has little to do with what the job actually is. It’s about what the job can give us and how it can fit into our lives.
With the right support, flexibility and benefits, our work can be just part of our lives, rather than all-consuming.
Living the dream
So, what does a world look like when the dream job is dead? It looks like a world of “dream lives.”
Instead of dreaming about what we’re doing for work and what title we’ll have, we think about jobs as a piece of our life. Does this job pay what you need to live how you’d like? Does it provide the benefits you want? Is it flexible to your schedule? Does it give you the work-life balance you want?
It’s a world where we get to think less about our jobs as crucial to our identities. Our jobs become less of something that defines us and how others perceive us. Instead, we see our jobs more as a way to support ourselves financially and live the lives we want to when the workday is done.
This world of dream lives, not dream jobs, sheds light on those who never were able to achieve a dream job in the first place: people who had to take certain positions to support their families; who couldn’t afford to go to school and get a job that required a degree; who were discriminated against in the hiring process; who had to settle for the “good enough” job that gave them the flexibility to care for others at home. It takes away the pressure to get a “dream job,” when for many, the dream job was never possible to begin with.
Focusing on dream lives rather than dream jobs dares us to dream about what our lives are — and who we are — outside of work.
Of course, we can’t expect this to be done just by changing the way we think about work. We live in a world where we need to work to live. There are times when we can’t always work the way we want to, or get the salary we need from one job to support ourselves, or land even the “good enough job.”
But by shifting away from the dream job, even by starting with our mindset, we get one step closer to our dream lives. It allows us to value ourselves not just for the work we do, but for the lives we live outside of work.
So maybe it’s not that the dream job is dead. It’s that the dream job as we knew it — focusing just on doing what we love, what our purpose is, for 8+ hours a day — is dead. Now, a dream job is one that fits into our dream lives, not one our lives workaround. Our dream job is less about what we’re giving to our work but rather what our work is giving us, whether it be a certain salary, benefits, convenience, or flexibility. Work becomes not a way to live but literally a way to make a living. We no longer dream of serving to do a job; we are dreaming of lives, and jobs, that serve us.
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