It was getting late. The sun had gone down and we had a two and a half hour drive home. My husband and I grabbed our stuff and we were ready to leave. My brother, the birthday boy, threw a lovely party packed full of food, activity, and conversation, but he and I didn’t really get a chance to talk. Now, with coolers in hand, we stood in the driveway ready to say good-bye, when my brother asked, “What’s next up for the blog, now that your 30-day project is over?”
“I don’t know yet,” I answered. “I’m open to suggestions.”
He looked up to the sky for a second, a mischievous smirk on his face, as if he had a brilliant idea he’d been saving and was just trying to figure out how to word it.
“I want you to write 2,000 words on your dream job.”
It sounded like an assignment I might toss at my college composition kids. I scoffed at first. No one would read a blog that was 2,000 words long, I assured him. But in the end, I said, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
My brother, like me, has always been a believer of dreams coming true. When we were kids and someone asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, my answer was a writer (or a rock star) and his answer was an actor (or a rock star).
My brother and I waiting for the bus when we were kids.
That question: “what do you want to be when you grow up”…it doesn’t ask for a rational answer. It doesn’t ask what you will be most suited to be when you grow up. It doesn’t ask what career path you will be interested in following. It asks what you WANT to be. What are your desires? Where do your passions lie? What would make you most happy? The question asks us to dream about the future. So we ask ourselves over and over again, well into our adult life: what is my dream job?
In my brother’s eyes, I was born a writer. I used to write stories in elementary school, win Young Author awards in middle school. I filled journals upon journals in my youth. I went to college to study words. The fact that I’m not a published author by now must boggle his mind.
My brother has long been an instigator of action. He’s a big believer in reaching for your dreams. He’s always trying to inspire me, my mother, his wife, and I’m assuming all of his friends to take risks, follow their hearts, start businesses, put their lives on the line for love.
Over the last decade, he’s encouraged me to make writing my career. He introduced me to NaNoWriMo. He instructed me to write for an hour a day so that I might produce a novel. He suggests places for me to publish my writing to get more exposure.
I love him for that. I love that he cares. I love that he wants me to accomplish my dreams.
Desires, passions, and happiness aren’t always at the forefront of our adult careers, though. At some point, we stop dreaming and start settling. We can’t all be famous authors, celebrity actors, sports stars, and the like. The majority of the population has to find something a little less glamourous to fit into. Some are lucky and find a job that incorporates what they’re passionate about. Some aren’t so lucky.
Up until now, I led a rather passive life. I did what is necessary of me to do. I knew I needed a job and I needed to make money, so I settled for jobs that I didn’t care for because it was a steady paycheck and offered me some security. And I’m pretty sure that has always pissed off my brother.
If someone were to ask me what my dream job would be now (as my brother just did), I couldn’t answer as easily as I did in my youth. Yes, I am still passionate about writing. I would love to do it and get paid for it. But my experience in the working world gives me pause when it comes to answering the question of what my dream job is.
Before, when I was young, and I said I wanted to be a writer, I meant that I wanted to get paid to write whatever I wanted. That’s not what writing for a living is like, though. Writing for a living involves writing about things I’m not the least bit interested in. It sometimes involves compromising my integrity so that whoever is paying me to write gets what THEY want, not what I want. It sometimes involves not being completely honest so others will promote me (my 30 days of GR project was nearly 100% positive material, but there are things I dislike about my city and things I dislike about a lot of the establishments I wrote about. If I was honest, I wouldn’t get the promotion I was hoping for).
Writing is political. Writing is subjective. Writing is controversial. There’s always going to be someone who doesn’t agree, who doesn’t care, who looks at my article and then clicks the “x” in the top right corner because they’re already bored by the time they finish the first sentence. I’m willing to bet someone just clicked the “x” on my page after reading that last sentence.
The people who think writing for a living is a dream job are people who don’t write for a living.
So if not writing, what is my dream job?
By middle school, my brother and I realized we weren’t going to be rock stars. I still wanted to be a writer and he still wanted to be an actor. But we both started to recognize that it might be a good idea to have a backup plan. In eighth grade, I met Mrs. Bower, who inspired me to teach English. She once came to class dressed in a green unitard. On the board, she wrote “green being” as a play on “green bean,” and her outfit was the manifestation of her joke. In all her eccentricity, it was clear that she was passionate about words, and her excitement latched onto me. I wanted to be just like her, absurdity and all.
When I got to college, I didn’t think twice about declaring my major: Secondary Education. As I completed my education classes, however, I started to learn what being a teacher really meant. It meant being a mentor, a nurse, a counselor, a politician, an activist…so many more hats than what I wanted to wear. I wanted to read books and talk about them with my students, in the same simple way I wanted to write about my interests and get paid for it. What I wanted from a career was so straightforward. In reality, these jobs were complicated and complex. They weren’t the dreams I imagined.
I ended up dropping the major and focusing only on English. Since there aren’t a lot of jobs out there for English degrees, I settled into a job that paid the bills after graduation.
I went back for my Master’s because I wanted something more. I wanted a more meaningful job. I was still thinking about writing. I was still thinking about teaching. I knew I didn’t want to teach high school, but maybe teaching college would be less political. I thought a Master’s program might steer me in the right direction.
During that program, I got the opportunity to work with undergrad students. I helped guide them as they wrote their papers. I even got to stand up in front of them and teach them a few times. The program allowed me to test the waters. I learned that I could teach college, that I might even enjoy it.
I considered going on for a PhD. There would be more teaching opportunities while in the program, and when I graduated from that, I could get a decent-paying full-time job teaching at a university. But many of my professors steered me away from that idea, scaring me with claims that the field was competitive, that I might spend all that time and money for nothing in the end. I also knew that if I did get a PhD and was lucky enough to get a job offer, I would likely have to move to a new city, probably to a new state. And I couldn’t see myself living anywhere but here.
I passed on the PhD and instead tried my luck at the local community college where I did get hired as an adjunct professor teaching composition. Truth be told, I love it. It’s not perfect, but I enjoy teaching more than I’ve enjoyed any other job.
If teaching college were my dream job, I’d be living my dream right now, but of course it’s not that simple. Adjuncting doesn’t really provide a living. So I am still looking for full-time work, something that offers stability and a steady generous paycheck. My brain says I need to earn money, save for a family, for a much-needed vacation, for retirement. Freelance writing and adjunct teaching are too unpredictable. Sometimes the work is there, and sometimes it’s not. I want to know every night when I go to bed that I have a job to go to the next day.
So I ask myself yet again, what is my dream job?
Some people believe that if a woman is a feminist (which I am with much enthusiasm), she must be career driven. I’ve never been career driven. And I acknowledge and appreciate the fact that if I wanted to be the CEO of a company, I damn well could do it. But I have never wanted to be the CEO of a company. I have never felt compelled to work 80-hour weeks to accomplish something in the workplace. And when there were times I had to work an 80-hour week, I was miserable throughout.
If I could spend 80 hours a week on my passions, on the other hand, I’d be much happier: writing, dancing, and teaching. If I could spend 80 hours a week with my husband, I’d sign up for that job in a heartbeat. No vacation benefits required.
There’s a large part of me that would like to conform to the adult career, to settle for that job that incorporates my interests but gives me the stability and freedom to have a normal life like everyone else. As I get older and as I continually get let down by the job options out there, I think that’s the kind of job I dream about more than anything: a job that I can enjoy, that challenges me, that leaves me with plenty of time for my hobbies and husband, and that is steady and secure.
I know that’s not a very satisfying answer. Dream jobs are supposed to be monumental. They are supposed to be impressive. And this idea of settling could seem cowardly, average, boring, passive.
But I think I would choose a passive work life so I can have an active personal life.
Our jobs are not our whole lives. That’s a misconception we’re fed from the day we start we kindergarten. Maybe we should stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. Because living is about so much more than working.
Fear not, my dear brother. My dreams are far from dead. Writing this blog is proof of that. I will keep hoping, keep working towards a life that allows me to write and teach. No matter what my day job is, I will have passion in my life. And that sounds like a dream to me.
My brother and I now.