Confessions of a Disney Leader: There’s no such thing as a “dream job”
Updated: Oct 13
As a leader at Walt Disney World, I meet with a lot of people who are searching for their dream job. So, I tell them the truth.
There’s no such thing as a dream job.
Now, hold on a minute. Before you start thinking I’m the Scrooge of Disney, hear me out.
When I tell you that dream jobs don’t exist, I’m not saying it to discourage you — I’m saying it to liberate you.
Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I feel like a lot of us are searching for a dream job based primarily on doing something we love. And if we aren’t 100% passionate about the work we do, then we’re missing out on something important.
But the expectation we should relentlessly chase a “dream job” is not only unreasonable, it may actually leave us feeling disappointed. (Notice how I’m not singing showtunes on Broadway?)
Besides the fact that working for passion is a privilege most people can’t consider, I also think it misses the point.
Passion for your job is one small puzzle piece in the picture of your happy life and I think we are doing ourselves a disservice by making it the primary consideration in our career decisions.
I have always been the ultimate dream-job pursuer. I moved to New York City and worked on Broadway (the street, not the stage — that dream died rather early). I moved to Florida and worked a number of roles at the most magical place on earth. I moved to China to live out my youthful yearnings of living abroad. I joined a travel company where I actually got to travel for work.
All were, subjectively, “dream jobs” that I had chased. Some I really enjoyed, some not so much. And yet if these were really “dream jobs,” why would I ever leave them?
Because I was searching for the wrong thing. I was only chasing passion, but I should have been chasing happiness.
So, here’s my advice. Don’t search for a dream job. Search for a job that makes you happy.
This may sound like I’m splitting hairs over semantics, but it’s an important difference.
If we stop to think what would actually make us happiest in life overall, how you approach your job may completely change.
I’m all about leading your best life, but we need to untangle what that means.
Determining your bucket levels for the right-fit job
Instead of seeking a “dream job” based on passion alone, I consider right-fit jobs that will support my wholistic vision of a happy life.
That means you first need to determine what a happy life looks like for you. Is it a big house for your future kids? Lots of time with friends and family? Doing your part to make the world a better place? Early retirement? Your career decisions should support your personal goals.
Then I determine the right-fit job to achieve my long-term goals using three buckets — money, balance, and passion. A dream job would fill each bucket handily, but since dream jobs are pretty elusive, it’s up to you to decide the ideal levels for your buckets, and what you’re willing to compromise on.
These levels may ebb and flow during different stages or situations in your life. While it’s probably rare to find a job that fills all three to the top (because wouldn’t that be a “dream job?”), if you have two full buckets or a moderate level of all three, you’re probably doing pretty well.
Yes, y’all, MONEY! It’s taboo to talk about wanting to make more money, but it’s important. It allows us to afford basic needs and even contributes to a certain amount of happiness.
Ideally, I think this bucket should always be at least half full. According to Maslow, we can’t achieve any higher form of happiness until our basic needs are met. But I think we sometimes feel shame for wanting to make money. We’ve created a halo effect around intrinsically motivated “passionate people” and we attribute negative qualities to people who are extrinsically motivated (ie by money).
It’s ok to want to make money. Money may not be everything, but it’s definitely something. Now that my husband and I are a bit more financially stable, we’ve found we enjoy the freedom money gives us to do more of the things we like. Things like traveling, eating organic food, and maybe just not going into a complete tailspin when the AC breaks or we have to get a medical procedure.
If it’s a big house with a yard for your future kids to play in, that means money may be a fuller bucket for you. It may also mean you want balance so you can enjoy time with your family in that hard-earned house. A high-earning job that also provides flexibility may not be easy to find, so the passion bucket may have to take a back seat so you can chase a job that will make you happy in life.
Let’s be honest, most of us work because we have bills to pay. And while I don’t need to fill my financial bucket all the way up to the “wealth” line, I have found I’m happiest when it’s at least half full.
When you think of your life, time is a finite resource. How much of it are you willing to invest at work versus your personal life?
For some people who love to work and prefer full financial or passion buckets, leaving the balance bucket a little dry may be an easy choice.
For others, working is a means to an end — to provide for a family or sustain an enjoyable standard of living outside work hours — meaning balance becomes increasingly important.
When I was younger, I worked crazy hours, hardly seeing my husband and never going home for holidays. But based on my vision for a happy life, the best investment of my time is in my personal relationships and health.
I want to be active until the day I die — so a job with regular hours is important so I am home in time to cook healthy meals and exercise. Creating memories means investing time with people I love, traveling, and pursuing activities outside of work — so a company that only offers two weeks a year to enjoy life won’t be fulfilling.
There may be times in your life when grinding at work is necessary. Or maybe throwing yourself into work you are passionate about is most fulfilling for you.
But it’s helpful to remember that while it would be great to love what you do, it’s also ok to be content just liking what you do if it means more time to focus on things that matter most to you.
I know I said dream jobs don’t exist, but that doesn’t mean you can’t love what you do. If you have the chance to pursue what you enjoy during your working hours, then go for it! But many people don’t have the luxury of pursuing passion — they might just need a paycheck.
Luckily, we don’t always have to rely on our place of employment to offer us professional development. Instead of relying on your employer, invest in yourself by sharpening your tools and pursuing your passions outside of work. Take classes, join clubs, watch tutorials online.
I wake up early every day to write (and work out). I learned basic photography skills on YouTube. I enlisted my husband to join me for outdoor yoga in our neighborhood. I started my own travel blog that nobody sponsors or pays me for (or maybe even reads).
Taking time to pursue your passions on your own accomplishes three things: it allows you to explore and develop skill sets important to you, it prepares you for future opportunities, and it decreases the pressure to fill this bucket to the brim via your nine to five.
This used to be the only bucket I cared about. And I was under the impression that it had to be completely filled by my job. Now I feel happy fulfilling some of my passions on my own. And since I look for jobs that fill the financial and balance buckets a bit more, I usually have the time and money to do it.
No one wants to be miserable at work — and I will be the first to tell you to leave a dead-end job or toxic work environment. But once I stopped expecting my job to fulfill all of my passions, it actually removed a lot of pressure (for me and probably my employer) and I’ve gained new perspective.
I don’t feel guilty wanting to make enough money to support our lifestyle, which means I have gained confidence asking for what I think I’m worth. I have invested more time in my life outside of work, which has led to greater overall happiness. And I’ve started to feel more content about my career decisions instead of restless.
As a serial dream-chaser, I used to suffer from job FOMO. But by constantly pursuing that dream job, we may fail to consider what will actually make us happy long term. Of course, always keep your eyes open for new opportunities. But view it through the long-term lens of overall life satisfaction, not just the chase for the whimsical job of your dreams.
Maybe I’m just getting nit-picky about hyperbole. There are great jobs, I know plenty of people who love their jobs, and it is totally possible to be passionate about the work you do. And if you are in the position to pick a job based on passion alone, then congratulations!
But for those of you who are always searching, or don’t have the option to pick a job you love, or feel discouraged because you don’t feel that elusive “passion,” I’m just here to tell you — it’s not everything.
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This has definitely resonated with so many people within my community! Thank you all for the kind words and I am so happy to hear this article (that I spent WAY too much time writing) was helpful!