A dream job deferred

Dream jobs are rare; dead-end jobs aren’t. What can you do when you feel like your career is stalled?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

During those rare moments when we’re honest with ourselves, we realize we aren’t working our dream job. Many of us never will.

We call them “dream jobs” precisely because there’s usually a pie-in-the-sky, if-a-million-factors-fell-into-place-just-so quality to them that make them something worth dreaming about even if they’re far out of the realm of possibility.

My dream job? I’d love to write fiction — short stories and novels — for a living. More than once I’ve heard, “Well, if you want to make it happen, you just need to do it.”

I do like the sound of that. It makes it sound like my career or life success is completely within my grasp if only I reach for and grab it.

It also ignores reality.

As much as I write, as good as it may (or may not) be, neither I nor anyone else can will someone to buy it and keep buying it. That way, I could maintain a regular, dependable income stream from writing, one that lets me afford groceries, a car, a house, some nice things for my family and, oh yeah, affordable health insurance would be nice, too.

So, I know my dream job is just a dream, for now. Luckily I do still get to write for a living. I’ve gotten to write about some interesting people and topics. I even got to cover a murder trial early in my career, the Holy Grail for some journalists. There have been times in my career when I’ve felt stagnant though.

For young professionals, it’s often easier to advance our career by switching jobs rather than growing within one organization. I doubt I’m the only one who’s ever left a job because there was someone literally standing in my way for advancement. When the people above you on the totem pole aren’t going anywhere any time soon, there’s often little you can do to force your way up the ladder.

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Now, I don’t expect promotions to be handed to me or anyone else. But what about those times when you’ve done everything you can to earn a promotion, a raise, or increased responsibility … and it doesn’t happen? At some point you have to realize that if you’re doing all the work and getting none of the rewards, your talents and time are being wasted.

So, what to do when you feel like your career has stalled?

First, don’t quit your day job. Upending your life may seem like a great way to jumpstart some forward momentum, but that decision’s going to seem real short-sighted when bills start coming due the next month and you’re still sending out résumés.

Second, if you haven’t talked to your boss, now’s the time to do it. There’s always a chance, perhaps a good one, they don’t even know you’ve been trying to move up. There’s also a chance that there’s just honestly nothing they can do
to help you at your current company, but maybe they can be a resource in helping land your next job. Good bosses want to see you grow, even if it’s somewhere else.

Third, find that thing you love to do and commit to doing it. No, you’re probably not going to turn that into your “real” job, not overnight at least, but just because you might feel mired in your 9-to-5 doesn’t mean you can’t own your 5-to-9. Feeling fulfilled in your personal life can go a long way to feeling more at ease in your professional one.

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