It's a Mann's World: Is chasing the dream worth it?

Olly Mann

I’ve been invited to chair a debate entitled “Is There Such a Thing as a Dream Job?” It’ll be an after-work, ties-off, canapés-and-cocktails affair, a free event for City types who feel directionless in their current role.

Alright, so the City types are probably management consultants or recruiters, and thus spend their days instructing others how to improve their careers, but I’ve agreed to the gig because I like talking, and the idea of being paid to talk about anything still seems an impossible fantasy.

I’ve enjoyed talking ever since, aged two, I realised I could enliven my afternoons by pointing at a passing cleavage, shouting out “Boobs!” and sitting back in my pram to leave Mum to deal with the consequences. I enjoy talking so much that I went on to make podcasts for years, for free, for fun, albeit eventually leading to professional broadcasting. I guess that’s why I’ve been approached to host this event: I’m proof that the right career is out there waiting for everyone, if they follow their passion.

Except I know the reality.

I know that by imparting the home truths of my employment—the seemingly endless tax returns, the self-doubt that mires my self-motivation, the choking paranoia of freelance existence, the role of sheer luck in my fortune—chances are I’ll put folks off from pursuing their dream job, rather than inspiring them to chase it.

Having emotionally and financially benefited from deciding, a few years back, to plunge into the world of being a self-employed rent-a-gob (see, I’m bad at glamorising it), I’d hate to be in the position of deterring others.

After all, if you really want to set up your own business these days, or find a creative outlet, technology proffers a plethora of free platforms with which to experiment: you can crowd-fund the gadget you firmly believe will revolutionise the world of dog grooming, or tweet your incisive commentary on this year’s Junior Eurovision and get instant feedback from a real, international audience. 

 

"No job is quite as important as spending time with your family and friends; no deadline quite as pressing as one after which you actually die."

 

As Dr Frank N Furter proclaims in The Rocky Horror Show: “Don’t Dream It, Be It.” If you’re the kind of person who would sign up to hear me and a panel blabber on for two hours about dream jobs, I fear you’re probably already too far down the path of procrastination, when what you require instead is the avenue of inspiration.

So here’s some inspiration. I read recently about a French celebrity chef, Bernard Laurence, who made his name by blogging delicious pudding recipes, recently spun off into a cookbook and TV series. For years he worked as an air steward for Air France, never feeling brave enough to develop his hobby into a culinary career.

Then, on June 1, 2009, the plane on which he’d been scheduled to be working crashed into the Atlantic, killing everyone on board. It was only thanks to his last-minute decision to avoid that particular shift that he survived. The shock of facing his own mortality finally gave him the impetus to chase his dream, and he’s now wildly successful.

But we must be cautious when drawing lessons from such stories. However fabulous your current job is—interviewing movie stars, driving the Large Hadron Collider, headlining Glastonbury—you’d probably down tools right now if you discovered this was your last day on Earth.

 

Rat race daydream
Illustration by A. Richard Allen

No job is quite as important as spending time with your family and friends; no deadline quite as pressing as one after which you actually die. It’s always worth, I think, reminding ourselves that we only grace this mortal coil for a limited period.

Are you happy to have spent 43 hours this week being employed as you are?

Really, that’s the only question you need to answer, isn’t it? Viewed through this existentialist prism, all your persistent doubts about whether chasing your dream might negate your ability to pay the mortgage, school fees, two holidays a year or whatever else it is that keeps you awake at night, rather fall into place. 

But there’s a sting in the tail to Bernard’s story: he still works, part-time, for Air France. Pourquoi? He enjoys the variety. He likes spending time with his colleagues. He doesn’t need the money, but he wants his pension plan. He feels, I presume, that there’s only so many puddings one man can make in a week without going mental.

I wonder, therefore, if rather than asking, “Is there such a thing as a dream job?”, the delegates at the event I’m hosting should instead explore the question, “How can I improve the job I have?” Perhaps by moving part-time, indulging their creative pursuits on the side.

Perhaps by attempting to define a new role within the organisation where they currently work, playing to their strengths.

Or perhaps they should just stick with what they do now—not because they’ve surrendered to its drawbacks, but because they’ve understood that even a dream career can get tiresome over time. Virtually no one cartwheels into the office, grateful to have tackled that morning’s sweaty commute.

That said, if any of them do quit their jobs, they can call me for a chat when it all falls to pieces. I charge extra for that.