It’s been over forty years since Pulitzer Prize-winning author Studs Terkel traveled the country conducting interviews for his book Working. One of the people he spoke with, Nora Watson, had this to say about the subject: “I think most of us are looking for a calling, not a job. Most of us, like the assembly line worker, have jobs that are too small for our spirit.”
Going Beyond the Obvious
The same can be said of dreams. So many of my clients have jobs that are too small for their dreams. Take Foster, a 50-year-old airline employee who writes to tell me he “dreads going to work.” He only finds true pleasure, I am told, in carpentry. “Whether it’s building a house, cabinets, or whatever, I get lost in the project. I can sit for hours and watch ‘This Old House.'”
So what’s stopping him from following that dream? “So many people are trapped in jobs they only tolerate,” Foster explains. “I guess the fear of failure is our biggest problem. I know it is mine.” I could practically hear the sigh on the other end of the modem as Foster signed off with a wistful, “Wish I could get the courage to make the change.”
Finding the Right Perspective
As career challenges go, Foster needed to know that he was actually pretty lucky. Most people don’t have a clue as to their true calling. “Here you are,” I told him, “letting something as natural–and manageable–as fear stand between you and vocational heaven.” And if this wasn’t enough to shift Foster’s thinking, I reminded him that he should really be afraid of something else–spending the next 15 years doing something he dreads.
Sure, Foster could always become a carpenter. Or he could think outside the box by experimenting with some creative ways to dabble in his passion. For example, he might start out by teaching a carpentry class through an adult learning center, or perhaps even write a how-to column for the local newspaper. Neither of these ideas would require Foster to quit his airline job. Not in the beginning, at least. Both plans could jump start Foster’s creativity, make him think about all the different ways there are to heed a career calling.
Stop Wishing and Start Dreaming
Before making any kind of change, however, Foster would first have to get to the heart of his problem. The clue lay in his own words. “The real reason you’re stuck,” I said, “isn’t fear. It’s that you have been wishing when you should be dreaming.”
What’s the Difference?
Wishing is passive. We wish for things over which we are powerless. We wish we’d win the lottery. We wish we were taller or thinner. We wish the waiter would hurry up. Many wishes are tinged with regrets about past decisions. We wish we’d ordered the fish instead of the chicken, or taken the other job, or let the love of our lives get away.
Dreaming is much different. A dream is active, positive, and speaks to the future. “Wishful Thinking” has everything to do with hopelessness and the supposed impracticality of achieving a goal. “Dreamful thinking” centers on the exciting prospect of seeing your goal realized. Dreamful thinking invites possibilities into our life.
Still not convinced? Close your eyes and imagine the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King as he thunders the words, “I have a wish!” Not exactly inspiring is it? That’s because unlike a wish, you can see a dream. The civil rights movement proved that when others share a common vision of a dream, the motivation it inspires is contagious.
If Foster really wanted to pursue his love of carpentry, he’d have to stop wishing and start dreaming. “Fear is natural,” I told him, “it goes with the change territory. That’s why you need to fortify yourself. Let your dream of doing what you love be the “soul fuel” that propels you to act despite your fears. Once you take those first bold steps on behalf of your dream, the courage will come.”
There are dreams and then there are Big Dreams. I closed by tossing out a Big Dream idea. Why didn’t he approach his local television station about producing a weekly home improvement spot? To satisfy that ever-important local angle, Foster could feature improvements made to viewers’ homes. I even joked that Foster should turn his age to his advantage, calling the segment “This Old Carpenter.”
“Hey, if you’re going to think big,” I told him, “then think big. Who knows, you may eventually land a spot as the featured carpentry expert on the “Today Show!”
Reach for the Stars
Apparently, something I said worked. A week later Foster wrote to say he was crazy about the prospect being an on-air carpentry guru. He’d even set up a potential collaboration between himself and an old friend who had a passion for video production. I told you dreams were contagious!
This time Foster closed on an upbeat note: “I’m ready to start following my dreams. I sure want to go out of this world doing something I truly enjoy!”
What’s your Big Dream? Maybe all you really know for sure is that you’re ready for a change. That’s a start. Now you need to bump it up a few notches by dreaming big:
- If you have multiple interests, picture being able to earn a living enjoying them all.
- If you like the idea of working at home, imagine doing it on an island or maybe working only nine months a year.
- If you’re just making ends meet in an unfulfilling job, imagine doing something you love and doubling your income at the same time.
You may not get everything you want, but two things are certain: It takes not one ounce of energy more to dream big than it does to settle; and you’ve got a lot more to gain by shooting high than by shooting low. As Carl Sandburg once said, “Nothing happens unless first a dream.” So reach for the stars and catch hold of a Big Dream. Then, one day at a time, honor your dream with action.Career Dreams: Finding Your Dream Job and Career by Harrison Barnes