Like most people, I became a clock-punching, chair-warming office worker right after I graduated.

Don’t get me wrong; my first job wasn’t completely bad. I was lucky enough to have awesome bosses and co-workers – on top of having a decent salary, and an opportunity to put what I learned in college to good use. Any way you look at it, I should’ve been happy with my job; but I wasn’t.

No matter how many times I showed up early, no matter how many smiles my co-workers gave me, no matter how many times my boss praised me … I couldn’t shake off the nagging feeling that something was wrong. Like there’s this bottomless pail inside me, and it wouldn’t fill up no matter how much water I tried to pour into it.

I decided to do a little soul-searching, if you will, and asked my boss to give me a couple of weeks off. Lucky for me, he said: “Of course you can take a break, Sarah; you need it.”

His last three words caught me off guard. “What do you mean, ‘I need it,’ sir?” I asked, carefully.

He cleared his throat before basically telling me, in a nicer way of course, that I had lost my spark. I was no longer excited about my work, and it was starting to show.

After hearing all that, I was shocked. It was the first time my boss ever said anything remotely negative about me.

At the same time, though, I was thankful. Because of what he said, I was able to figure out much of what I know today about finding a dream job.

Here’s what I learned:

 

You Don’t Find Your Dream Job; You Create It

During my two-week break, I browsed LinkedIn every now and then.

I felt a bit guilty about it, to be honest. After all, my boss was the reason I had all that spare time in the first place. Then I remembered his words, and the guilt melted away – for the time being, at least.

Anyway, I discovered that no matter what keywords I typed in the Search bar, there was no single, ready-made job that fit all my requirements to a T. My skills were all related to marketing, but my interests were a bit more eclectic: career development, education, DIY, cooking, animal rights and economics, to name a few.

I realized my question shouldn’t be: “Where do I find a job that allows me to pursue all my interests?” but “How do I make my dream job?”

In my case, I decided to take up freelance writing. That way, I can do what I do best: Write about whatever I want, wherever and whenever I can.

I still kept my day job as a marketer, though. That’s because I understood that …

 

Passion Isn’t Enough

Passion is like a car engine. It’s what keeps the car going, but without everything else – the hood, the safety belts, the upholstered seats – you’ll ultimately end up with an unpleasant driving experience.

Yes, you need passion. Yes, it gets you out of bed every morning. However, you also need to back it up with something solid, something that won’t fizzle out over time.

Like good old common sense, for instance.

For example, my clients sometimes ask me to write about topics that are a gazillion miles beyond my comfort zone. When this happens, I have two choices:

  1. Turn them down politely, and risk both my reputation as a freelance writer and being short on cash for the monthly bills; or
  1. Take them up on their offer, do my best work, make them happy, expand the number of topics on which I have some sort of expertise and pay the bills.

Obviously, I chose the second one. Not only is it the more practical option, but it also helped me expand my comfort zone as a writer.

 

Be a Career Explorer

I know it sounds weird coming from a career junkie, but I’m not a big fan of the “Have a crystal clear vision of who you want to be 10 years from now” line of thinking.

You know why? Because anything can happen during those 10 years.

Passions can change, or fizzle out. Future injuries can hinder you from doing your work. Long-term commitments, like marriage, can force you to make painful but necessary decisions.

If, by now, you’ve already figured out that one thing you want to do for the rest of your life, you have to be prepared for the possibility that your dream job won’t last forever.

You might be thinking: “Wow, that’s a bit dark. So what should I do?”

Keep exploring your different skills and interests. Pay close attention to:

  • The things you’re passionate about;
  • The things you’re good at;
  • The things you’re neither passionate about nor good at, but are comfortable doing; and
  • The things you’d never do in a million years, not even at gunpoint.

Narrow them down to the things that fit the first three points, and figure out how you can make a viable job out of them. It doesn’t have to be just one, off-the-shelf job; in fact, it’s better if your job allows you to slide in and out of multiple roles. That way, you’ll have job security no matter what happens.

For example, as a blogger, I love to write about careers. I also write – and read – about a lot about other topics, because I can get more opportunities that way, and because I’m always on the lookout for niches that I can get into in the future.

 

Be Careful About Feedback

Of course, career development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You need to pay attention to what other people say about you, too – but only to an extent.

I had to learn this the hard way. When I first started out as a freelance writer, I thought I only needed to hammer out beautiful prose for people, and BAM! I’m done. As I gained more and more authorships, however, I realized I also needed to listen to what they had to say about my work – and me – too. Sometimes, their comments are helpful – “I love your writing style!” Other times, they’re best left ignored – “You should be on Skype 24/7!”

Honestly, there’s no right or wrong feedback. There’s only feedback that might/might not be helpful to the professional you want to become. You figure that out only when you put yourself out there and do it.

 

Final Thoughts

If, by now, you haven’t figured out what your dream job looks like, don’t fret. Like I said earlier, there’s no telling when and where you’ll find it. Who knows; your dream job might be right under your nose. You just need to sniff it out.

 

Have you found your dream job? What tips do you have? Share them in the comments!

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

2 Comments on How I Carved Out My Dream Job From Scratch

  1. David Dressler, BA, RMT
    September 24, 2015 at 6:31 am (2 years ago)

    I want to talk about how I found my first and best career. I found it by having an insight that I think everybody can use, no matter what career they end up having.

    I graduated from Reed College as a philosophy major. I had no idea what kind of work to look for. I only knew (I thought) the meaning of life. Not how to live it well, much less find a job!

    I was working at my first summer job, counting fish on a fishery patrol boat in the gulf of Alaska. It was boring, to put it nicely. My partner was also a graduate from Reed, a biology major. I noticed he was classifying the fish to dispel boredom. I wondered what I was doing. I noticed that I was physically excited by the flash of silver or gold as the sun struck the backs of the fish as they undulated to the surface and then dove again…. I asked myself: What kind of person is excited by form, color, and movement? The answer came instantly and was completely convincing: A dancer! I realized I already was a dancer and just had to get the training.

    I also realized–and here is my insight for others–that HOW we think, more than WHAT we, think is WHO we ARE. And understanding this, it is who we will BECOME.

    Let me explain. I noticed that my mind was occupied with visual perception, movement, and physical excitement. That was HOW I think. Not so much in words but in visual imagery, visual perception and kinesthetic sensation. Those experiences made me want to MOVE!

    So, if you are stuck not knowing what you are made to do, try this experiment. Sit for a few minutes and just watch what goes on in your mind. When finished watching, write down on a piece of paper what occupied your thinking most–words, visual imagery, emotions, or sensations. Write down the second most prevalent, the third, and so on. When you are finished, you can classify yourself as a “visual” person or a “kinesthetic” person, etc. based on the most prevalent couple of thought processes you observed taking place in your meditation. Then ask yourself: Who thinks like this? The answer may not be as instantaneous and convincing as mine was. I spent the next almost 20 years becoming a pioneer modern dancer in Canada. But this question, this meditation, will let you examine careers from the standpoint of what kind of thought processes it requires, rather than what interests, expertise, values it may require. This question goes deeper, as you can see. It is more likely you will feel more passion about a career that suits the way your mind works than if it merely makes use of your education or experience.

    Reply
    • Sarah Landrum
      September 24, 2015 at 11:55 am (2 years ago)

      What an incredible story, David! Thanks for sharing. I’m so happy you have found your passion and pursued it.

      What great advice!!

      Reply

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