Created in partnership with Charles Darwin University

What Happens When Your Dream Job Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

To learn more about degrees for a new career, head to Charles Darwin University, a leader in flexible online degrees. CDU has delivered online and distance education for more than 30 years.
I'm about to leave my dream job. For years, I fantasised about being in this exact position — it was on a vision board and everything!
So, why would I possibly leave? I thought it was my dream job, but it was like when you get a little crush and build the idea of a person up in your head — you forget to factor in reality. That dreamboat you've put on a pedestal will still have flaws. And when you eventually go on a date with them, they'll have bad breath or be a bit of a know-it-all, and the illusion will be shattered.
The same goes for a job. On paper, mine was perfect: the team was a dream, I laughed every day and it gave me a good industry reputation. But the reality surrounding my dream job (ie. sitting down all day, working in an office and doing long hours) wasn't perfect.
So, what do you do? You've worked hard in the early stages of your career to reach this shiny dream job — do you just throw it all away? Maybe the doubt will be a temporary feeling? Maybe it's contentment now that you've made it?
To help us work through these muddy questions, we chatted with Carly Dober, a psychologist who works in corporate spaces.

Reaching the "dream job"

As it turns out, it's common to land your dream gig and then feel a little bit of anxiety or disillusionment sneaking in. According to Dober, this is known as the "arrival fallacy".
"Focusing on a future goal triggers reward centres in the brain, inducing a cognitively soothing effect," explains Dober. "That feeling of accomplishment becomes part of your day-to-day identity. You readily adjust to this new state of being so much so that actually attaining a goal turns out to be less satisfying than expected."
So, Dober says knowing that this fallacy exists (and is normal) can be a good starting point if you're panicking right now.

Is it the job...or me?

Next up, it's time to interrogate that bubbling doubt. Dober says we need to get reflective and honest with ourselves.
"Are you just bored? Did you hype this up in your mind to the point where it was unrealistic? Are you valued there? Do you have good relationships? What is the work/life balance like? Do you have opportunities for growth and progression? What is the job market like in your field? Is this an impulse, or something you could sit with for another 12 weeks?" she asks.
"I encourage people to give it at least three months to see how it feels once you’ve settled into the role, and then reevaluate what your next move might be (unless there’s a toxic work culture or you aren’t being valued)."

Ditching the "dream job" mentality

To be honest, the scariest part of the whole situation is the idea of leaving your dream job, and then making the same mistake again.
If you're worried about having unrealistic expectations, Dober suggests chatting to your friends about what you thought your current role would look like versus what it is like now, to help you avoid a repeat situation. She also recommends talking to others in your industry and testing your thinking by getting honest feedback and information about what their jobs look like daily.
Remember the old, "If you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life," saying? Turns out, not so helpful. Dober warns it's an unhelpful trope that may lead to a persistent feeling of needing to chase something that might not be attainable.
"While some roles and workplaces may be incredible, they would not be without their share of setbacks or annoyances such as longer work hours, tight timelines, some annoying coworkers, and other similar issues. Consider what you can live with, and what a "good enough" job is instead of a "dream job", and you might end up much more content," says Dober.

Finding a new gig

When it comes to finding a new calling, Dober likes to ask people what kind of problems they would like to solve in the world, and what their values are.
"This leads to a broad range of ideas, fields, and topics," she says. "I also encourage people to consider that work — no matter how engaging it is — is work. Being comfortable with that is also psychologically helpful."  
Also, these days, if you need to retrain, it's easier to fit it in. Universities like Charles Darwin University make it easier to fit learning around your lifestyle, with a range of flexible online degrees on offer. You can balance study and life while still working in your current job.
After a long, hard look at my own values and the lifestyle I want to have around my job, I've decided to move from writing to education and will be kicking off the new year by studying online.
While it's hard not to let my expectations run wild about my exciting new life, for now, I'm just trying to remember it's still going to be a job. Albeit a more rewarding one. And, I can always move again if it's not the right fit!
Want more? Get Refinery29 Australia’s best stories delivered to your inbox each week. Sign up here!

More from Work & Money