Describe Dream Career

There’s a famous book about training dogs called “The Art Of Raising A Puppy.” In it, they suggest tying a lead to your leg and the puppy so that it always reacts to where you move. As it grows older, it doesn’t need the lead anymore – it just knows to tag along as you move.

Inadvertently, this happens as we grow up. We’re told to sit in our seats. Generally speaking, we’re told to do our homework, mistakes are not encouraged, and that life should include a new car, a white picket fence, and a 40-hour-a-week job. Unintentionally, these norms that are instilled in us cause us to freeze up when thinking outside the box. Even as adults, with the lead removed, we still feel like we must fit a norm.

I need you to shake that off. Be real with yourself. What do you want? You may have just finished a coding bootcamp, and think the next step is to get a 40-hour-a-week Junior Software Engineer position. That is the normal next step. But is it the best next step for you?

When I say “describe your dream career,” what I’m saying is what is your dream way of making a living. Much of the conditioning we’ve received as kids was born out of a hope and a fear. It is a hope we will make the most of what we have, and a fear that if we don’t learn how to fit in the mold we won’t be able to provide for ourselves or our loved ones. That we’ll grow up destitute. I don’t want that for you, either.

That’s the true dichotomy. There’s the fundamental truth that you must be able to provide for yourself – the whole reason you are considering looking for a job – and the want to spend your life how you want. Don’t worry, we’ll go through an exercise so we can bring the two together in harmony.

Pie-In-The-Sky: Dream Life

What is your dream life? I know that’s a big ask. This is where you can lean into your values and your purpose (and perhaps question them a bit). If at this point you truly believe that a Ferrari and living the life of leisure on an island is how you’ll find lasting happiness, I would ask that you dig a little deeper. People generally become unhappy with no goals and no purpose. With that in mind, let’s dream big.

This can be really scary. I know I’m afraid to be real with myself here and dream big. Remember: this is a fantasy. This is fiction. You can own a purple elephant and turn the Milky Way into a space resort for aliens. No one is looking over your shoulder. Take off the lead, you are not tied to the norms. This is your dream life. Make it big.

Get out a piece of paper and brainstorm. Ask yourself:

  • If money was no object, how would you choose to spend your time?
  • If you could solve any problem with a snap of the fingers, what would it be?
  • Who is one figure in history or fiction you wish you could be more like? In what ways?

As usual, I can use myself as an example if it helps you in any way:

  • If money was no object, how would you choose to spend your time?
    • Traveling to distant places, experiencing different ways of living.
    • Building awesome things with my hands, including software & hardware.
    • Going to MIT to learn about cutting-edge technology, and contributing to it.
  • If you could solve any problem with a snap of the fingers, what would it be?
    • Global Warming is the most pressing need I can currently think of to solve.
  • Who is one figure in history or fiction you wish you could be more like?
    • Tony Stark – funny, a bit snarky, ultimately caring, and builds awesome things.

Pragmatic Optimism

Consider your “Pie-In-The-Sky” ideas. Maybe you are solving big problems for lots of people, like finding the cure for cancer. Or perhaps you are a grand adventurer, discovering every form of life on the planet. Maybe you like making games, and want to make a game that everyone in the world plays every day. Let’s pair these ideas with your values, your purpose, and your interests. You should be building up a fairly clear picture by now:

  • Values: Making A Difference & Growth
  • Purpose: Leaving the world better than I found it
  • Interests: Cars, Environment, Technology
  • Pie-In-The-Sky:
    • Spend time: Traveling, Building Cutting-Edge Tech
    • Problem To Solve: Global Warming
    • Fiction or Historical Figure: Tony Stark, because funny, snarky, caring, and builder of awesome things.

Dream Career Statement

Now things are starting to heat up. Fill out the following prompt:

Because I want to {insert values here}, so that I can {insert purpose here}. I want to get in a career working with {insert interest here}, or ideally a combination thereof to help solve {insert pie-in-the-sky problem to solve}. Inside or outside of work, I want to be able to {insert pie-in-the-sky spending time part here}. I want to live like {insert fiction or historical figure here}, at least when it comes to {insert ways you wish you could be more like them}.

And yep, you got it, here’s my example:

Because I want to make a difference, grow, and leave the world better than I found it, I want to get in a career working with cars, the environment, technology, or ideally a combination thereof to help solve global warming. Inside or outside of work, I want to be able to travel and build cutting-edge tech. I want to live like Tony Stark, at least when it comes to being funny, snarky, caring, and building awesome things.

Dream Career Path

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.

Lewis Carroll

Aha! Now we have something to work toward. Your career path is a path. Either you are walking toward or away your goals. Start off in the direction of where you want to go, and know you can always choose another path at any time in the future. Let’s talk about your dream career, now that you’ve described your hopes and dreams so eloquently thanks to our little mad libs exercise. Describe for me what you want to accomplish in your career at these marks:

  • 1 Year
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 20 Years

You should have an idea of where you want to go in your career. Even if you change your mind a few (million) times along the way, if you know where you are going you can chart a plan to get there.

If I had gone through this exercise when I was first starting out, I may have put this:

  • 1 Year – Learn full-stack software engineering at an environmentally-focused transportation company
  • 5 Years – Go back to school and learn hardware engineering
  • 10 Years – Become a CTO at a environmentally-focused automotive hardware & software company
  • 20 Years – Start a high-growth startup solving a critical environmental problem with cutting-edge technology in the automotive industry

20 years is a long time. Undoubtedly things will change along the way, but the idea is to pick a point on the horizon to reach toward. Managing a career is a tricky balance between taking unexpected opportunities and keeping a driving focus toward a goal. One way I’ve personally found to balance that is to be specific about goals, but keep an open mind and readjust at regular intervals.

At this point, you’ve done the heavy lifting about finding yourself. You’re ready now to shift into evaluating your capabilities at work.