Growing up in the 2000s, getting your “dream job” seemed to be the ultimate goal. Films such as The Devil Wears Prada and Suddenly 30 showed young women who put everything they had into their careers, risking friendships, relationships and even their values to get there.
This was, of course, close to two decades before the events of 2020 (and beyond) which has left many of us asking, ‘What if there’s more to life than work?’.
Since then, the Great Resignation has also occurred sparking many conversations and think pieces. As we isolated, put on face masks and transitioned to working from home if we could, it gave us the space to think about what we really wanted from our lives. For many, this seemed to be a break from the corporate rat race.
I saw this in my own friendship circle: young, ambitious women who’d been told to get a degree, work at free internships and create a consumable personal online brand — so we too could be an Andy Sachs of the world. Many of my friends ended up getting the job they’d yearned for as teens. But they were working themselves to the bone, only to realise that maybe the “dream job” isn’t all that after all.
One woman who scored her dream job at a young age is Emma Bäcklund, who emigrated to Australia from Sweden a decade ago to finish her Advertising Bachelor's degree at RMIT University. Soon after, she settled into the surf community of Torquay, Victoria and landed a coveted role as a graphic designer at American outdoor-wear company Patagonia.
“It was the best education in a circular business model and philosophy that you could ever wish for,” Bäcklund says. But after working with the trendy, eco-conscious brand for five years, she knew that it was time to try a new career as a multi-hyphenate.
"Since I was a kid, I’ve always known that I’m an entrepreneur and thrive on running my own business, so chasing my goals felt really important to me,” says Bäcklund.
Bäcklund now works for herself as a freelance graphic designer, a lifestyle and surf photographer. Her studio is housed in a school bus named The Sandy Bus that she renovated herself. Transferring her design skills from the computer to the clothes rack, Bäcklund also co-founded sustainable fashion brand U&I Label with her friend Jodie Hayes eight years ago. She now runs the business with Noosa-based business partner, Jen Sharpie. Their mission is to cultivate women’s surf culture and promote slow fashion through limited runs of swimwear and apparel made from regenerated nylon and deadstock.
It’s a far cry from the 9-to-5 grind, even if it was with a company she loved.
“Deciding to leave my dream job was extremely hard," says Bäcklund. “It had come to the point where I couldn’t work full-time, run U&I Label and also try to grow as a photographer. So I decided to give my businesses the chance to grow and invest more time into them.”
But with so many projects on the go, how do freelancers ensure that they're taking care of themselves and their business? Or, in the case of Bäcklund, multiple businesses?
“There’s two days [a week] where I have my freelance and my “income hours”. And then the other days are more like my 'dream days'. They’re the days that I work on the label or I make time to swim out and photograph local surfers or just be creative. There’s definitely a balance between doing work to keep the fridge full and the dream stuff, for sure”.
Although there are hurdles (such as Bäcklund having to jump through more hoops to get a mortgage), the multi-hyphenate shares that the benefits of chasing her dreams and being her own boss outweigh any grief around leaving what she once thought of as her “dream job”.
I ask her to share any advice for others who are thinking of going against the grain and following their own dreams.
“If you're starting a business, get a business partner with a different skill set than yours, and surround yourself with people that don't think you're crazy," she says. "Don't overthink it; just get it out there, because people don't remember what you put out a few years ago.”
While the days of glamourising a corporate dream job may be over, perhaps seeing people explore multiple dreams, careers and hobbies is more inspirational than any 2000s film could be.