Why the Idea of Landing Your ‘Dream Job’ Is a Myth

STYLECASTER | How to Get Over Career Perfectionism
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To this day, I still remember when a colleague I couldn’t stand gave me some professional advice: “No job is perfect,” she said. At the time, I was searching for my “dream job.” That’s why I was so distressed when the gig that I thought was my ideal situation turned out to be another doozy of a disappointment. (By the way, even though I happened to dislike that particular coworker, she was 100 percent right.)

Now that I see things a little differently, that job—though it was disappointing in some ways—wasn’t a total waste of time. It may not have had my ideal hours, benefits, or the commute I was after. But looking back, I can see that it gave me much of the foundation needed to launch my career as a freelance writer. Hindsight really is 20/20, which is why I’m letting you in on the secret now.

Are you trying to make all the right moves in your career, and freak out when things don’t go as planned? Are you stuck in a job that you swear is a complete dead end? Maybe it’s time to stop thinking in terms of career perfection. Even your dream job or career has things you won’t like about it. While you may not be able to see the benefits of your current situation right this second, they probably do exist. The key is to stop pushing for perfection and work with what you’ve got. Many of us aren’t where we want to be career-wise and may not handle every less-than-ideal situation with finesse.

But we’ve got to go easy on ourselves, learn from the mistakes, and move forward. Ahead, a few tips that will help you do just that.

View Each Job as a Stepping Stone

In my case, I thought being at a job that didn’t meet my expectations was a waste of time. Feel the same? Try to look at your situation objectively. Will the job be a good foundation job in the future, even if you hate it right now? Then it may still be worth holding. Other signs that a crappy job does have worthwhile qualities include: being around powerful people in the company that may be able to help you in the future, being able to gain valuable education in your field, and making contacts in your industry even if the ones at your company suck.

MORE: How to Cyberstalk Your Way to Your Dream Job

Don’t Beat Yourself Up

Mess up a big presentation? Even though it might feel like it right now, it’s extremely unlikely that your career is over. About five years ago, Alexandra Franzen, author of You’re Going to Survive, attended an event featuring a well-known scientist and author. “The place was completely packed. The scientist began her talk. She was brilliant, thoughtful, and totally captivating,” recalls Franzen. “But then, in the middle of her talk, she completely blanked out and forgot what she was supposed to say next.”

After a long, awkward pause, Franzen thought the speech would be a disaster. But the speaker cracked a joke, laughed at herself, and marched confidently across the stage to grab her notes from the podium. “Then she dove right back in like nothing had even happened,” says Franzen. The speaker went on to get a standing ovation—and some of the audience was even crying because her talk was so powerful.

MORE: 5 Questions to Help You Figure Out if You’re in the Right Career

“That’s when I realized that being ‘great’ at your work has nothing to do with perfection,” she says. “So what if your article has a typo? So what if you temporarily go blank and forget your next line? So what if you sing slightly flat or sharp? Sure, it might be embarrassing for five seconds, but so what? You’ll survive. Everyone will survive. And most of the time, your colleagues or audience won’t even care or notice. If you try your very best, if you operate with courage, if you’re genuinely passionate and excited about whatever you’re sharing, that’s what people will remember,” she says.

Now that’s a lesson worth remembering and applying no matter where you work, what your title, and whether you feel like you’re a year or five years away from the job you really want most. Should you reach for the position and company that makes you feel excited, proud, and fulfilled? Of course. Should you also make the most of whatever point in your career you’re actually at, and never forget that even the most successful people have fallen down, failed, been laid off, or totally disappointed to learn that their ‘dream gig’ was really just another imperfect job? Damn straight.