Is there such a thing as a dream job?
In this episode, multimedia producer Alana Herlands and I describe our “catfish moments” of a dream job; break down the unhealthy mindset of a dream job culture and tying your identity to your work in the United States; and give advice on how to cultivate a dream life.
Full transcript and show notes at tiredtwentiespod.com.
Alana Herlands is a multimedia producer who is passionate about critical thinking and making truth widely accessible and far reaching through a compassionate lens. She has produced video, editorial, and audio content for companies big and small, including The New York Times, the Jane Goodall Hopecast, Georgetown University and the United Nations Department of Peace Operations, Pfizer, Greenhouse, Shelter in Place podcast, and others.
Currently, Alana is taking her years of project and client management as well as her creativity and applying them to a new and exciting endeavor, as she transitions into the tech industry.
She is a born-and-bred New Yorker but doesn’t have the accent (even though her mother does). She bakes a mean vegan chocolate chip banana bread, enjoys long walks and weight lifting, and reads a new book (mostly) every week.
Alana and Melissa met during their time at the Shelter in Place podcast training program, and have been having deep conversations about the nature of work, the meaning of fulfillment, and life in their 20s ever since.
Find her on LinkedIn here. Her website is: www.thegrooch.com and her Twitter is @AlanaHerlands.
Melissa: When you’re in your 20s and building your professional life, you may be trying to find your passion and your purpose through aligning it with your job. And you believe that once you get that job, everything will unlock for you. You can spend the next 30, 40, 50 years there, perfectly happy.
It’s your dream job.
Yeah, not quite. Let’s break that down.
The first question you get asked as a kid is: what do you want to be when you grow up? And that is intrinsically tied to work. What they really mean is, what are you going to do as your job?
Then the first question you get asked as an adult is: what do you do? Your job will become the marker of your identity. Your life is now focused on finding that sense of completion within yourself with that “dream job.”
I bought into dream job culture, wholeheartedly. When I was in college I started my quest to have the perfect career that would make me happy for the rest of my life, from carefully choosing my major, to my internship experiences, to my extracurriculars.
And when I finally got into the working world I realized, this idea of finding your “dream job” and it fulfilling you to the point where nothing else matters: it was a lie.
Or at least, it was not the reality for most people I knew. Bit of a disclaimer here: I’m not saying that you can’t have a goal to get a certain job, and then once you get that job, be happy with it. That’s great! But it becomes tricky when we start centering that job as an ultimate source of fulfillment and identity, and thinking the “perfect role” means we won’t be left unsatisfied.
And I’m not the only one who had this awakening to the realities of work as we enter our 20s. My friend Alana Herlands has had that same disillusionment as a young professional.
Alana and I met during a podcast training program in early 2021, and we’ve had many discussions about work ever since. We are going to talk about our catfish moments with dream jobs, why the dream job culture is so pervasive, why it can be misleading and even harmful, and what can happen when you de-center work in your life.
Let’s get into it.
This is Tired In My Twenties, a podcast about figuring out adulthood one episode at a time. I’m your host, Melissa Lent.
Melissa: Hello there I am here with Alana Herlanda, a multimedia producer. And also, as she says, a born and bred New Yorker without the accent.
And today we are bringing a topic to all of you that we talk about a lot, which is the culture around the dream job. And we're going to jump right into it. Do you want to say hello, Alana?
Alana: Hey Mel, thank you so much for bringing me on. I am so excited to talk to you today, as you said, we talk about work and just the various pressures around it.
The various constructs that we've realized as we've grown up and gotten older ourselves, that really don't serve us. And we in different ways, in similar ways, are going through this metamorphosis and this relearning of what work is for us, what work should serve in our lives, in the general public's lives, and just sort of rethinking work in general.
Melissa: Yeah. So I was thinking that first we could just define what that dream job means to us. What was the idea that we had of what a dream job was. And then what were our catfish moments that really opened the floodgates to help us realize that the dream job culture or the dream job concept in general was just something that was not really working for you.
Alana: Yeah. So a dream job and what that means to me. Changed a lot over time. A dream job when I was 18, it was a job that aligned entirely with my moral compass. So a lot of different things appealed to me when I was a freshman and trying to decide my major.
A big thing for me always and still is, reaching the widest possible audience with truth and making truth very accessible. And I wanted to engage more regularly with just people out in the world, like the real world. And so I realized, oh, I could major in documentary film production. I wanted to explore so many different topics and talk to so many different people to essentially reach the goal of spreading truth and connecting with people.
That's actually what I ended up getting my undergraduate degree in and so right after graduating, I got a job as an assistant at a very small documentary production company. And I was so excited. I was like, I got a job right out of school. And my friends were like, dude, this is huge.
Within a matter of two months of working this job. There were many people that I met at this production company that thankfully, I love you if you're listening to this and you know who you are. They gave me the low down that I didn't get in school.
I was talking to editors that were in their late thirties and early forties. And they were just like, “I still have to chase like multiple gigs.” They were giving me the lowdown of everyone wants to be a director. And the reality is that what pays you even like decently in documentary is really more technical skills, and then people often use that to go into directing.
But regardless, number one, nobody ever told me this. This was my first catfish moment where I realized that the industry is not what I was told. This job, this industry is not what I envisioned. And unfortunately after a couple of months there, I left And I had my first, can I curse?
Alana: [laughing]I had my first what the fuck am I doing moment?
And honestly that, what the fuck am I doing moment, first of all, it was really helpful and I've had many of those since then, but they’ve I think morphed with the more I've learned about myself and about what it means to work and what work should give me.
So I guess to answer your original question about what a dream job is, it used to mean my entire moral compass is tied up in what I do for a living. And now I'm realizing a dream job doesn't exist. And the construct exists to make us work way harder than we should.
Melissa: Well, thank you for sharing your story. A lot of what you said really resonated with me. Just what you were saying about how about wanting to have your work aligned with your values
And also going through these stages, realizing that the reality is not necessarily the perhaps illusion that was given to you. And if I can speak a little bit about my own experience. Like you Alana, I was in college and I realized that I wanted to be a journalist.
I really felt that I could use my writing skills, multimedia skills and my desire to keep learning, to highlight underrepresented stories, which is what I really wanted to do. Like you were saying that moral compass, right? I really felt that I wanted to support overlooked narratives in my work. And before graduating. I was told it was going to be kind of difficult. I had that frame of mind, but not really how difficult. I was like, I have three different internships with some local journalism outlets, you know, I worked for the school newspaper. I'm like, this is going to be hard, but it's definitely going to be possible, right? And even just trying to find a job was hard, which could be an episode in and of itself, but I won't get that much into it.
But as I was getting into the journalism industry, freelancing for a while, I met a lot of great people and just started to get more involved with the community. And thing is, there's amazing journalism and journalists out there, people who believe in everything that I believed in about how important it was to have good journalism.
But about the job itself, it just sounded like a real grind. No work-life balance mass lay off even if you're there for years, your job is not secure. People are not being paid what they deserve. A lot of people are gig workers, freelancers, and, you know, there's people that are doing great for themselves as that, but maybe they don't necessarily want that.
Maybe some people actually want a full-time offer, but they're just not available. And being a freelancer can also be really taxing in terms of what people decide to pay you. So I'm learning all this. And it's like, it did not sound like a dream anymore. But even in general, in the working world, at least for me, I realized there was an idea presented to you that is like a fantasy.
Okay, once I get into this job, that's it. I'm set. I'm going to be so happy. And that's not to say that some people don't feel like that when you finally get the job that you want, or you have a job that you like. I mean, Ienjoy my job right now. But there's this culture around the quote unquote dream job that seems to be really unhealthy or an illusion.
So that was really my catfish moment.
Thanks for sharing that, Mel. A lot of things that I've thought I need to include in my job because of this notion of like, if you love your job, you'll never work a day in your life, which I have come to truly despise as a saying.
Because let's get one thing straight, work is work. And I think a huge thing that I've realized that we've talked about before is that, I don't need to love my job with every fiber of my being, for it to be the right job for me. And if anything, if you love your job so much that your entire identity is literally wrapped up in your job.
Let's talk about that for a second. It's just like, what if you're laid off? What if something happens and you have to take time off from work? If your identity is so wrapped up in work, then if you get constructive criticism like, what does that feel like to you? Does that mean that you're not spending time on hobbies?
I mean, that's been a huge thing for me. I've just kind of realized that if I don't prioritize myself, my relationships, my friendships, my hobbies, no one else will, I could spend all of the 16, 15 to 16 waking hours that I have on work. I easily could. And I think honestly, most of us could with most how most jobs are today
I'm curious like how that has shown up in your life. Because that whole “Our identity is wrapped up in our jobs” has been like a huge thing for me that I've worked through.
Melissa: I think that when you're talking about what happens if we don't have that job that we’re striving for, or what if we lose it? What happens to us is really important to talk about because work is just such a huge part of our identities and whether we like it or not, we're going to spend a lot of our lives working.
And so because of that, a culture has arisen that really makes work seem like the main way, or sometimes the only way to feel self fulfillment in your life. So if you don't have that job, are you disappointed? Do you think about: who are you without that job? Our identity is so much more than that.
I've been having this epiphany slowly since college, where I would do a lot outside of my classes.
I thought to myself that I would have to take on all these extracurriculars, do internships in the pursuit of really finding what it is that I wanted to do and in the pursuit of constantly working. And I slowly started to break that down for myself, I started tracking my moods and I was most happy when I was spending time with friends and family when I got to do things outside of work that made me happy.
Whether that was reading, whether that was doing watercolor or whether that was watching a Netflix movie or whatever.
In my senior year of college I actually quit most of the things I was doing, except for just school. And I had so much more time to go out with my friends.
I had so much more time just to go home after class and take a nap. I don't even have to do anything. And when I started working it's I fell back into those bad habits I fell back into, to the extreme again of kind of making my whole life revolve around work.
Alana: I think this is actually a very strange thing to many people in other parts of the world in the United States.
I honestly think it's expected in a certain way, like as a default for your work and career to come first, if not second. And if it's not in those top two, then you're lazy, unambitious, and have no goals, aspirations, which I find so absurd and limiting, frankly.
The biggest thing that I actually keep in mind so often, that I have a sticky note of it on my desk to remind me, which is something my boyfriend said to me a year ago.
And he said that if I get run over by a bus tomorrow, God forbid, my job will replace me in a week. And you know who won't replace me? My friends and my family. And this image, like this reality, I think is so important for all of us to remember.
And it even helps me make small decisions throughout the day. When I start reprioritizing and like reminding myself of that fact, like today for example.
No joke. I could just keep working for like 14 hours today. Easy. However, it was really really sunny and warmer today in the middle of the day. And I was just like, when I remember that quote and recentering in that way, I'm going to go for a walk with my partner. If this thing doesn't get done early, in the way that I really want it to, that would be convenient for the people at my job. If I get it done on time, that's fine.
Melissa: No, I feel you on that. Your work will always be there. There is always more that you can do for your work. And that's not to say that we're irresponsible.
I know you, and I know myself, we're very responsible people and we're going to get the work done and we're going to get it done well. But you think to yourself, I could put 14 hours, 12 hours if I really wanted to, but why? [laughing] Why am I doing that to myself?
And it's just how our culture has glorified work and has prioritized work even over wellbeing. And that's why we have this glamorized culture of a dream job when, like you said, this dream job doesn't exist. First of all, there will always be boring days at your job. It's not going to feel like a fantasy land.
Alana: There will be hard days at your job too.
There will be days where you're like, you know what? At the end of the day, I'm tired or it was a hard day. And something I thought of as you were just talking was this huge thing that I was realizing as I was reading up on just the history of like how we've gotten here in our work culture.
And every economist pretty much, with the invention of the internet, was like, in the next 20 to 30 years we're going to have massive leisure time. I think they called it something like the leisure generation or something they were anticipating–
Melissa: Ha. Ha. Ha.
Alana: Uh huh! [laughing]
Alana: They were anticipating less work needing to be done by humans. They were anticipating that technology would take over and be able to do most of the work that we needed to do and that human beings. I would do what all human beings have wanted to do throughout history, which is spend time with people they love, pursue hobbies, passions, explore themselves and explore the world. And guess what happened? What happened was the opposite. Because of capitalist thinking, yes, technology definitely did take over a lot of different parts of jobs, but they just added more work to that job.
Melissa: Yep. Gotta love capitalism.
We’ve gone this far. How can we go even farther to make a profit and sell people on this idea that they should be in love with their jobs and prioritize their jobs over everything else going on their lives, their families, their friends, emergencies. And the thing is like the idea of the job will never live up to the reality. You might go into a job and you realize that it’s not even what you thought it was gonna be, which is maybe what we realized. And so what are you left with?
So we've been breaking down this dream job culture right? And how it's just kind of an unhealthy mentality to look at how to incorporate work into your life. However, it is the reality that work is a huge part of our lives, and I'd really love to get into: how do we manage that? What is the power in de-centering work from our lives? What else can bring us joy? What else can complete us? What else can we find meaning in?
Maybe work doesn't even have to be the top three on the list. It could be. There's nothing wrong with that, but also giving yourself the space to not have that be the case. Like for me, it was a process of rediscovery of the things that I enjoyed outside of work. A lot of the hobbies that maybe I had let go, because I was prioritizing grinding all the time.
And I think something that's really special for me now is starting off the day with the things that I really enjoy that are not work. So I wake up. I have my little tea read my little book, do my little one-page journal. And then I feel like I'm set for the day. And it brings me a lot of joy to do those things.
I just feel like I'm choosing to live my life in that way and myself over, “Okay, I'm up, let's start working.”
Alana: Totally. I mean, with remote work dominating right now, it's easy to always work, frankly.
And so I think that we really need to be very intentional about, am I exploring other parts of my identity? My multiple identities, my complex self.
Sometimes I look back on certain days and it was only like my professional life that day. It was only my professional identity that I was exploring that entire day. And that's only like one identity. And I think that it's so powerful as you said, to kind of wake up and like guard like that sacred time. And I think the reality is that if we don't prioritize our other identities and the things within those other identities that we want to explore, then they won't get done.
Like they won't happen. And on the topic of work and like my identity wrapped up in that if you spend more time on other identities that you have, the work identity doesn't feel as heavy with this massive meaning that it doesn't necessarily need to have.
Melissa: Yeah. I like that. We are a multitude of things. It's a little sad to think that I know a lot of people who have maybe let go of their hobbies. Especially a lot of people who say, “Wow I don't even read for fun anymore. I just have let that go.” It is a little bit sad, but also I think we're just here to remind everyone that it's never too late.
I really sometimes only read for maybe 10 minutes a day. And even if I only read one page, that's one more page than I read yesterday. I can choose how much to invest my time in that to also protect my sanity, protect my mental health because you can pursue these hobbies and those are ways that you can lead a meaningful life outside of work and discover these different parts of identity outside of your job.
Alana: A goal that I'm personally working on is I used to write poetry very consistently and it was just something I did because it felt good doing it for a very long time.
And at a certain point I just stopped. And I think at some point I got in my head, if this isn't like everywhere online, if people don't like, look at it and it doesn't get a certain amount of likes, then it's just garbage.
I actually bought a little notebook specifically for this, that I'm going to carry around with me so that it's specifically not on my phone.
And I'm just going to carry around this little notebook. And if I have like a thought, I'm just going to write it just cause like it feels good to do that. And so I think that that thought of going back to even, what did you do naturally as a kid?
Like without anyone pushing you in a certain direction? And that's something I did as a kid that nobody ever told me to do. And so I'm trying to do more of those things.
Melissa: I love that. Even just hearing about what you're doing for yourself to get back into poetry. I absolutely love that.
Also, you don't have to do anything if you don't want to. The life that you have outside of work, if there are some weeks where you just say to yourself, “Yeah. I just want to watch Netflix all week,” or “I just want to, I just want to veg out on the couch and that's going to be my week.” That's also perfectly okay.
Alana: Yeah, totally. I mean, there’s a lot here.
And I think for every individual they're going to have to assess what is doable in their own lives.I've realized actually a big thing for me that has nothing to do with self-development at all. It has to just do with taking care of myself and being able to function. And that is the fact that I'm an introverted person, which means that energetically when I'm on multiple meetings back to back, there's this such a thing that I've been reading about called an introversion hangover.
It is what it sounds like. It's just, you have so much social interaction and need decompression time to not engage with anybody, to be able to function at your best and feel okay. And I’ve realized that I need that.
I am not perfect with this by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm trying to pencil that in. If I notice in my calendar, I have back-to-back meetings and I anticipate on feeling that way I will pencil in like 20 to 30 minutes where all I'm doing is shutting down my computer.
I'm going to sit in another room or going outside or whatever. And I'm just either like reading a book or I'm just completely not engaging with anybody and taking a walk. And I think even that notion like this notion of disengaging and doing nothing as a form of self care, I feel like it's becoming more pervasive in society's consciousness now.
I read a book last year called Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price.
And they sort of touched on this theme that you’re actually getting at right now which is essentially that, sometimes the best thing that you could possibly do is actually not work on yourself and not try to optimize and improve yourself.
Although I think that always questioning, like how can I better myself is really healthy. I think there's a certain extent that it's healthy. I think there's a certain place where it becomes like obsession of self optimization, like that we're not enough right now in the beings that we are. And that's why I think that this topic as we've talked about so many times, it's so complex with work, because once you start talking about work, you start talking about everything.
Melissa: Vegging out on the couch with some Doritos is one of my versions of self care. Maybe if we can just both leave a last piece of advice for our listeners today, what I want to say is, look, we're not saying you can't enjoy your job.
You should still pursue a job that you like, that you enjoy, if that’s what you wanna do. We're totally not saying that. Oh yeah, no one enjoys their job. That's totally not true. I enjoy my job. But work doesn't have to be the end all be all of what you enjoy in life. It doesn't even have to be top three things that you enjoy in life. So give yourself permission to feel that.Give yourself permission to de-center work from your life and see how that feels for you.
And you may be surprised or maybe not even surprised on how much better you can feel when you're trying to live a meaningful life rather than strive towards the ultimate dream job.
Alana: And I also just think for anyone listening like, be compassionate to yourself on this journey, because I think the reality is that especially in the states. Like we have all whether consciously subconsciously intentionally and unintentionally absorbed this very unhealthy idea that our work identity and our jobs are number one are the, just the thing that should be prioritized over anything on that.
And that if you don't have XYZ kind of career, then that means you're XYZ kind of person. Just being intentional about taking time for the next couple of months, like every now and again, just reflecting on what am I spending my time on? Am I being incredibly hard on myself to the extent that I'm literally having panic attacks, which I can very much say I truthfully definitely have?
To say to myself, is this gonna matter to me in six months or even a year?
Melissa: I think that point of self-reflection is really important because when you reflect back and you think about, like you said, how have I been spending my time and is the idea of the life that I want in my head playing out in reality? And if it's not. What am I going to do to get there? Alana, where can people find you?
Alana: The only social media I have, which is mainly for my job is Twitter, which is at @AlanaHerlands.
So you can find me there.
Melissa: Thank you.
Alana: Thank you, Mel.
Melissa: Listeners, by the time you hear this episode, Alana and I will be one step closer to living our dream lives.
There is definitely satisfaction and fulfillment that can come from work. I personally want to have work that I find at least a little meaningful to me, although not everyone has to. But that dream job culture is just not it. It puts too much pressure on one part of our lives to be the most important part of our lives. And inevitably, we are going to be disappointed when the dream job loses its shine, and at times can be boring or dull, or at worst, stressful and soul-sucking. Then, is that what our lives have become?
But as I said in my conversation with Alana, I hope you can give yourself permission to look outside of work for your own self actualization, and find the things outside of that that are going to enrich your life. And you may be surprised at how much freer you feel when you can accept work as one part of your life, but not the entire point.
Let’s end dream job culture and embrace dream life culture.
Tired In My Twenties is an independent podcast produced, edited and hosted by me, Melissa Lent! Get detailed show notes at tiredtwentiespod.com and subscribe to my newsletter at tiredinmytwenties.substack.com.
Music and sound effects for this episode come from Artlist. Special thanks to Isabel Gouse.
Thank you for listening to Tired in My Twenties, and join us next time to keep figuring it out together.
And if you've listened this far, here's an outtake.
Melissa: I really sometimes only read for maybe 10 minutes a day. And even if I only read one page, that's one more page than I read yesterday. And if I read one page every day, that's seven pages in a week. And if that's a month, then that's…
Melissa: [laughing] Wait, wait. Um. I was trying to do math there. So fast. 28. It’s 28. Um. And if that’s a month, that’s 28 pages. So it adds up even if it’s just a little bit.