Follow your dream is very popular advice for those choosing their careers. Unfortunately, it often leads to failure, dissatisfaction and discouragement when the practicality of that dream isn’t taken into consideration. Finding or creating meaning in a different career, on the other hand, can afford a satisfactory life that can offer the freedom to pursue your dream in other ways.
The problem with following one’s dream as a career choice is that it’s just that, a dream. Dreams rarely include visions of practicalities required, but necessary, for its success as a career. For example, when dreaming about becoming an artist, it’s easy to imagine working day and night developing one’s technique and proficiency. This is a critical first step. The reality, however, is that unless your dream is to be a starving artist, you either need entrepreneurial skills or must be willing to work for a company that will dictate the direction and specifics of your art. In these cases, it’s essential to have an understanding of business in addition to your art. If either of those seem like selling out, then it’s better to keep your art as a hobby, supported by a career in another field.
There are many careers which were probably seldom anyone’s childhood dream career, such as accounting or plumbing, but which can provide satisfaction as well as an income that supports your passions. More important is to find work that you don’t find distasteful, can excel at, and can create meaning around.
Enjoying meaningful work is more than a matter of just finding meaning; it can also be about creating it. Sometimes, that meaning can be the paycheck that supports your hobby or other things/people you love; it can be the people or cause your work helps; it can be a way to develop skills or personal qualities that you might find useful for your dream or something you haven’t yet imagined. Great satisfaction can also be found in a job well done, especially doing work that further refines your skills.
When choosing a career, think more broadly about how that career can fit in a practical way into a life you imagine for yourself. Think of it in terms of income and lifestyle over the entire path of your career—its beginning, middle and pinnacle stages. Many successful people started in a career where they had to create their own meaning, while developing their dream as a hobby on the side. By mid-career, they had acquired the ancillary skills that enabled them to successfully go professional.