A new study from Social Forces reports that only 6% of adults land the dream jobs they have always wanted since childhood. According to New York magazine's "Science of Us," this represents a "depressing stat."
Sure, it doesn't sound promising: that we have all boundless hope and imagination as children, and then somehow get pigeonholed by financial pressures, geographic constraints, relationship troubles and more once we are actual "grown ups." As a result, we end up doing anything but our dream jobs, right? Well, I think it's a little more complicated than that.
Based on data from the British Household Panel Survey, researchers focused on interviews with 3,000 participants who had been given consistent questionnaires each year since childhood, asking them about their career hopes and dreams. The methodology was quite simple: researchers compared the participants' answers from childhood with their actual jobs today.
The majority of respondents proved to be in careers that were not their dream jobs. Given the limitations of the study's straightforward format, the study didn't examine why there are so few people out there doing what they dreamed of as kids. And it could be for a variety of reasons: that kids don't know many jobs ("doctor, scientist, police officer," NY Mag lists as the top kid contenders).
To me, there is a subtle beauty about this seemingly disappointing or "depressing" statistic, particularly given the way the study invited participants to reflect on their career aspirations each year. What was different each time results were examined? Everything: time was passing, and perceptions shifted. Plain and simple.
We are all tremendously complicated. Our desires for relationships are inexpressibly important, but so is our need for food. And we need money for food. So, we need jobs to make money. And in this way, we need to prioritize our jobs.
But our culture perpetuates this notion that we should all be "doing what we love" (which Miya Tokumitsu critiques eloquently in Jacobin magazine). The idea that our jobs should be aligned with what we dreamed of as children is not only unrealistic, but perhaps even underpinned by a vague elitism.
Why? Well, things happen. For example: perhaps your partner gets a back problem and has to stop working for a while, forcing you to pay a greater percentage of the bills. You might need a higher paying job that is less glamorous. Or maybe you have to cobble together a few low-skill, low-wage jobs to make ends meet. There's nothing depressing about tuning into the demands of life at each moment and reacting with care and precision. We need to, as I have said, just do what we do.
The key here is mindfulness. As author Sharon Salzberg suggests in her recent book Real Happiness at Work, we can deploy techniques of concentration, mindfulness and compassion to allow us to see difficulties and other snags in our lives — and particularly at work — as opportunities.
Our dreams are, and perhaps should be, constantly changing, adjusting moment to moment.