Yesterday one of my favourite blogs, Broadside, published a question that’s on my mind almost as constantly as Alfie’s train of thought (see Self-Forgiveness and a Thanksgiving Vacation): she asked, “what’s your dream job?”
She cites a recently published survey by LinkedIn, which asked its users that very question and found vast differences between men and women (though I wonder what surprising differences they’d find if they sliced the data differently). The differences are interesting, and I suggest having a look, but what’s more interesting to me is the question itself: “what’s your dream job?”
We talk often about finding our dream jobs or our dream man/woman… maybe a dream vacation… but how often do we think about our dream life holistically? Or is that it: work, partner, holidays – is that all we’re meant to dream about?
I don’t believe that for a second. I do believe that life is a scarier question.
For the last year or so, I’ve been making an honest attempt at asking myself that question once a month. I look at what I’ve written down as some tangible goals – how close I am to being a writer; how close I am to being truly financially secure; how well my relationships are going; how happy I am at work; how healthy I feel; etc. I plot it on a radar chart and see what that shows me.
Of course it shows me that whenever I make progress in one, something else slips: it’s a constant balancing act.
And sometimes it feels really tiring, this pursuit of constant progress – I’m seriously considering adding an axis that has something to do with relaxation or general enjoyment of life so I get points for some time doing nothing – but, likewise, it’s given me a lot to think about.
On vacation this summer, I found myself thinking about how difficult and frustrating my life is because my job is so demanding: it affords me little time and mental space to write during the week. One of those classic spirals of negative self-talk that’s more common with me than I’ll admit. But the good thing about these moments of reflection – especially if I write them down – is that they force me to admit that rather than solving the problem, I’m just whining. And that kind of behaviour never leads us to our dream lives (or job or spouse or car or holiday)… instead, it just gives us a litany of excuses we can share with our enablers over a bottle of red wine…
I ended up doing some maths (to sit aside my radar chart of life):
I am awake about 16 hours per day… that’s 112 hours per week
I am contracted to spend 37.5 of those at work – let’s be pragmatic and round that up to 40
That’s only 36% of my life.
I have 72 hours left.
72 hours left. Work need only be a little over a third of my life.
I don’t know about you, but that thought was so freeing for me. I’m someone who thought a lot about ‘my dream job’ and saw the workplace as the bulk of life. I still struggle with this, but since then I’ve tried to work 40 hour weeks, tried to take a lunch break to read blogs or write – it’s made me happier at work. I’m happier at home. I’ve learned to switch off and it’s made me more productive. I’ve realised that the 10% of my life I give away by working until 7pm is a valuable 10%.
Questions like ‘what’s your dream job’ force us to view our lives through the context of work. Similarly, ‘who’s your dream man’ encourages us to view our dream lives through the context of another. Is that really how we want to view the world?
I’d much prefer to ask the questions: what do you want to do with your life?
How does the 36% of your life you spend at work contribute to your purpose?
And what do you do with the remaining 64%…..