day job

Dream Job

Growing up, I imagined many dream jobs. Astronaut, architect, interior designer, novelist, journalist, professor, magazine editor, ballerina. I directed sustained and passionate efforts toward a few of these trajectories; others were brief but memorable blips on the dream job radar. In college, publishing caught my attention, and I began to distinguish between the various logos on the spines of my used paperbacks. One fall, I made a starry-eyed pilgrimage across campus with droves of other English majors to a Random House info session. I clutched my brochure and free pen with equal parts hope and anxiety. I remember every word.

After about two hundred runs through the brochure and a chat with a career counselor, I decided to let go of that trajectory too. From what I could tell, it seemed the only path toward making books went like this: move to New York, clamor for unpaid internship, starve. I decided I couldn’t afford the risk and let it go.

But a winding and unexpected journey took me through grad school, finding love, moving to Atlanta, creating my own hodgepodge internship of sorts, almost starving (how many different ways can you cook rice and beans, people? seriously.), and finally picking up that thread again, of helping to make books and sending them into the world. I couldn’t have planned it that way, and if I had, it would have seemed like a weird and crazy plan.

Of course, dreaming of a job is entirely different from actually doing it. A recent post by Lisa Congdon helps explain some of the unexpected challenges of making your dream job your real job, and I’ve been wondering lately about the whole concept of dream jobs in general.

Sometimes it seems as if the internet is full of people with dream jobs, people on their way to dream jobs, and people giving advice about how to get/find/create your dream job. Is anybody else overwhelmed by this? I am a little overwhelmed. Here’s why.

The most obvious path toward landing or creating a specific dream job is to work very hard over a long period of time acquiring a particular combination of skills, experience, education, and expertise. But here’s the catch: along the way, you will be changed by your experiences, and that dream job will be changing too.

Since I attended that fateful info session around 2007, publishing has undergone (and is still undergoing) massive changes. And the day-to-day work in any of my childhood dream jobs must be very different now from what it was when I first imagined it. (For one thing, everyone is on Twitter, including astronauts and ballerinas.) There are also plenty of brand new dream jobs to wish for: Content Strategist, Full-time Blogger, Etsy shop artist/entrepreneur, Social Media Maven, Ninja (this is a thing, I guess?).

A dream job, it seems, is a moving target. At any given moment, you, your dream job, and your perception of your dream job are changing. The idea of a dream job can offer inspiration to work hard and to meet goals, but, held too tightly, it can also be a recipe for disappointment and disillusionment.

How about you? Are you doing your dream job, or working towards one? Is the idea of a dream job inspiring you, or just getting in your way?


My working life over the past year has been anything but simple. Creative, perhaps—especially in terms of scheduling. But simple? Absolutely not. When someone asks the dreaded question about what I do, I usually feel as if I’m being sucked into a vortex in which my mind races backwards over everything I’ve actually done in the previous week or so. Gleanings from that vortex vary drastically depending on the week, but may look something like this: blog posts, incoming mail, outgoing mail, email, phone, database, website, blog posts, other website, slow web, write something, footnotes, footnotes, nap, footnotes, bibliography, transliteration, tired, footnotes. Hmm.

Needless to say, I generally return from this cloud of confusion with nothing very satisfying to offer my interlocutor and instead respond with a question mark in my voice: “Publishing? Books, usually? Also, the internet?”

My journey into the working world began last year at this time when, armed with two consecutive diplomas, I strode with equal parts excitement and bewilderment out of the university gates and into the employment-seeking wilderness. The intervening months between then and now have been marked by a few shining moments of serendipity, a smattering of deep disappointments, and an unfailing stream of worry, fear, and self-doubt. If I could offer my one-year-ago self any advice, I would tell her to spend more time doing things and less time worrying about doing them. I would also tell her to stop submitting resumes to automated robots, start meeting real people, and just make something happen. She might have listened, though not without eyeing me suspiciously and worrying that my advice was completely biased and autobiographically motivated.

Since beginning this column last summer, I have wandered through the desert of too little work and the valley of too much. I have wondered about fostering creativity in work and play, and I have worried all the while about finding direction. I have managed an ever-evolving concoction of part-time and freelance work. I have copyedited books, written an essay, and helped make something happen.

In just a couple of weeks, my hazy vortex of work will crystallize into something a little more recognizable: a full-time job in book publishing (without the question mark). While the internet seems increasingly flooded with glamorous entrepreneurs and mysterious freelancers, I am trying to muster up some confidence as I march in the other direction—toward a lovely office with an finicky copy machine, Dunder Mifflin paper, friendly faces, and what seems remarkably like a 9-to-5 schedule.

I can think of a whole new set of questions to worry about (for example, what exactly does one do with an entire weekend?), but let’s leave those aside for now and get to work on making things happen, shall we?