It's standard to usher in the New Year armed with a list of resolutions. Maybe 2018 is the year you run your first marathon, or learn to bake homemade bread. You might sign up for a foreign language course, download a meditation app, or book that long-anticipated beach holiday. Your goals could also be career-oriented: a raise, a promotion, a marketable new skill.
But if you don't feel like you're in the right job to begin with, hitting those targets may not feel as meaningful. And while pinpointing exactly what qualifies as a "dream job" varies from person to person — for some, it might entail pursuing a long-held, stars-in-your-eyes ambition; others yearn only for a position that offers intellectual stimulation and the semblance of a work-life balance — it's clear that far too few of us have landed one.
According to Toluna's Women at Work survey of 1,000 women aged 25 to 35, only 30% of respondents currently hold what they would consider to be their dream job. The survey also revealed that the careers we covet aren't simply about making piles of money, or nabbing a lofty job title that will make other dinner party guests perk up with interest. We have passions — the arts, healthcare, academia — but also practical needs.
A reasonable commute, a work schedule that won't put a strain on our personal lives, a sense of independence, and flexibility are all important factors that help determine whether or not a role is truly right. Nearly 80% of respondents expressed a desire to work from home, while 64% were keen to work for themselves. Intriguingly, only 36% of the women surveyed had an interest in working abroad.
Finding that perfect fit can be an elusive task, and the pressures that stem from financial worries, family responsibilities, and a lack of training can put off many women from indulging their ambitions. Still, a majority of the survey's respondents said they were willing to take a risk if it meant making that dream job — say, giving up your flashy fashion PR career to photograph wildlife in Africa — a reality.
"While gender equality in the workplace is still an early work in progress, it’s equally important to understand what actually makes a great career and workplace for women," Janice Caston, Toluna's vice president of global marketing, said of the Women at Work findings. "And it’s not what many companies seem to assume. Out of the 1,000 women who answered the survey, only 30% of women are currently in their dream job, with 54% stating they would quit their current job for a dream job even if it meant a drastic cut in salary."
It's that drive to prioritise and pursue our ambitions that has inspired Refinery29 to launch the Dream Job career series. All week we'll be honing in on what a rewarding career might look like, particularly at a time when technology has redefined the traditional 9-5, chained-to-your-desk narrative.
Is it sacrificing financial fortune for meaningful work that speaks to your soul? Is it striking out on your own and blazing your own trail as a business owner? Is it seeking out unconventional opportunities that work around your life, not vice versa? Is it devoting yourself to the grit and graft and trusting that it will reap rewards? Is it bunking off, hopping on a plane, and seeing where life takes you?
We'll hear from female entrepreneurs who have become their own boss; creatives who have successfully turned their art into a paycheque; women who changed careers in their 40s and never looked back; and professionals who discovered that stepping down a rung or two on the corporate ladder could actually bring them closer to career fulfilment.
We'll also be talking about work ethic, self-discipline, and the challenges that spring up when you refuse to settle for just any old job. Whether you're a charity worker doing it for the cause or an Instagram influencer with a million followers, a dream job so rarely just falls into your lap; if it did, more than 30% of women would have one. It takes hard work, tenacity, and a keen understanding of one's big-picture priorities and personal needs.
As a child, the question 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' may have conjured visions of astronauts, police officers, or pop stars (it may, in fact, continue to do so). As grown-ups still grappling with that same question, those visions of cool job titles are now tempered by very real, practical concerns about wages, gruelling shifts, job security, and employee benefits. That's to say nothing of the less measurable metrics of how a job makes us feel. Does it have purpose? Are we satisfied? Is there stimulation? Sure, experiencing zero-gravity sounds brilliant — but can we also have flexi-time, good employee morale, and a boss who isn't a micromanager?
Ultimately, defining a dream job is down to trial and error. Our experiences cultivate our particular preferences and skill sets — a natural knack for leadership roles, an aversion to open-plan offices, a schedule that allows for a real work-life balance — so we can then recalibrate our image of the perfect career, for us. Over time, that image is bound to change as we look for fresh challenges and take advantage of new technology and workplace trends.
All the more reason to spend some time with Dream Job and the stories of success and sacrifice that we'll be sharing. You never know what changes lie ahead, and how they'll impact your working life. We hope that these women's stories inspire, inform, and help lay the groundwork for what could be a beautiful and bold new career direction, whether it's one you're ready to take now, or in a few years' time.