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Idealog—in the ideas business

The problem with passion

What does one do when their dream job is not something anybody would pay them good money to perform?

Penelope Whitson

A friend’s children recently demanded to visit her office to see where she goes during the day. Their logic is that if she chooses to go to the office five days a week instead of hanging out at home, then her workplace must be awesome, with free gummi bears and unicorns for hat stands. So she took them in and said she’d never seen such disappointment.

One of the munchkins marched up to a colleague and demanded:

"Do you sit here?"


"Every day?"

This little voice of reason has yet to learn that, for many adults, jobs aren’t actually supposed to be fun. Because fun doesn’t always equal status or delicious cash. 

How many people do you know that actually like their job? Or sort of like their job? Would rather be doing something else but that would mean going back to school, taking a pay cut, not being able to afford stuff like mortgages and children? Or stuff like my overpriced drink of choice at present, the $4.50 soy chai latte? It’s flavoured milk, innit? I also paid $9 for a sandwich the other day. It was a pretty nice sandwich but I think it signals a downward spiral into corporate wanker madness. 

Peering into the abyss of the unknown is unnerving – what if your ‘dream’ job turns out to be rubbish, or what if you turn out to be rubbish at your dream job? Your life could change dramatically, maybe not for the better, so it’s just easier to daydream instead. And what will people think when you confess that you don’t want to be a banker, you want to cut hair? Not everyone will be overwhelmingly positive about your chances of success. Are they just being ‘realistic’ or negative because if they can’t have their dream job then you can’t, either?

We also come up against ideas of what we should be doing. If you’ve been to university you are apparently ‘educated’ and ‘above’ doing certain jobs. The thing is, I came out of university qualified to write essays on Euripides. I have yet to be asked to do this by an employer. And then throw in some peer pressure – if all your friends wear suits and earn truckloads then there’s the feeling you ought to do the same.

We’re told to do what makes us happy. Sadly, what makes me happy is lying in bed knowing eggs benedict and the newspaper are on the way. I’m not sure I can make a career out of this. And, of course, when you really need a job you’ll generally take what’s on offer. Because you have bills to pay, possibly people to support, feelings of utter lameness at being unemployed to combat and the knowledge that good jobs are hard to come by.

No, I don’t know what the answer is. I do think it’s important to enjoy your job. But that’s pretty much the only conclusion I’ve come to. Unless you count the fact that I’ve realised I’m now too old to be a trophy wife – the dream job of my twenties. I just don’t think I have it in me to do the pool boy and run about all day in six-inch heels anymore.

And – I did think recently that I had my dream job but then they took away the free Tim Tams. Now I have to reconsider if being able to afford the flavoured milk is worth it if I have to buy the biscuits too.

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As ever, Penelope, it's like we share a brain.

I constantly worry about the dream job option. And when those bad days at work roll round, there's that little voice in my head that says “You're going to wake up one day, and find that you're 40 and you work for a second-rate jerk who makes you miserable.”

Hard to find the motivation to view one's employment as a necessary means to an end, and not a fulfilling endeavour in itself! Thank god I have wine…

Penelope reads my mind too. I wish we had free gummi bears at Idealog. I might see if our evil overlords could rustle up a few.

Darn, I was hoping for an answer but looks like no one has it! I thought I had THE 'dream job' once but it turned out to be my worst nightmare. Not because of the job but the people who work at there. So, I can safely conclude for myself that the best jobs (not dream jobs) are ones with great colleagues. Ones who share gummi bears with you :)

i'm still desperately hoping to find a way to get piad for being enthusiastic and knowing a little bit about/doing lots of nerdy stuff.


Brilliant as ever. Penelope - I want a unicorn hat stand.

Today I'm finding my job (which I'd not ever describe as my dream job, but about 50% of the time describe as OK) pretty grim. A combination of being alone in the office, every phone call being one of drama, every email being likewise, and a very much anticipated bonus being cut in half by taxes and student loan repayments etc, reality is feeling a bit lackluster.

So I'm daydreaming, but not really about any workplace alternatives. More like all my things in a backpack and walking through the wilderness… Also about that last glass of wine I've got waiting in a bottle at home.

Perhaps my perfect job is in fact a wino-vagrant. Oh dear.

I have what most women would describe as a 'dream job'.
It certainly has its perks, but most days I'm either completely bored by it or feel like I'm selling my soul to the devil. I don't believe there is any such thing as a 'dream job' because at the end of the day, or should I say - at the end of many 12-hour days - it all comes down to paying bills. It doesn't matter how much you love something, doing it day in, day out, rinse, repeat, not to mention said job being reduced to a struggle to meet ever increasing bills eventually takes the charm out of things.

I've yet to come across an employer who has an ounce of respect for their staff as well and knowing that your head is on the chopping block as soon as a cheaper person comes along is not conducive to work satisfaction.

You have caught me on a very cynical deadline day though.
*Reaches for a glass of pinot and some gummi bears*

Let's face it. Not everyone can have their dream-job. Because somebody has to take out the garbage, make the soy chai lattes, and serve the wine. :-) I had my dream job once, and it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Doing something you used to love day in and day out is a surefire way to destroy your passion for it. These days I try to remind myself, that simply being a contributing member of society is a great achievement. Daph is right, it's more often the people who make a job enjoyable, not the work itself.

Agreed - it's the people that make it. Like with everything in life I suppose… I now look back on my days at Dymocks Booksellers in Wellington as though it was a golden age, because I worked with a group of people who felt almost like a family. Lucky for me I'm still friends with so many of them! Never mind that half of us were in tears almost daily with our existential angst (we were young… but it never leaves entirely right?)

Which makes me think of 'Helplessness Blues' by Fleet Foxes…

Great work! I've actually taken the plunge and you're right about the abyss. The abyss is deep. I now work for myself, I do what I love, I'm enormously motivated - and it's peachy keen on so many levels but I gotta tell ya the hours are long and pay ain't great. Yet.

Great blog, Ms Whitson.

I have found the key to having a good job is good colleagues, a reasonable amount of challenge and good pay. Have I sold out? Possibly. I'm yet to be head-hunted by Fonterra or BP, but I'll let you know what amount I will sell myself out for.

In my twenties I dreamed of being a DoC ranger, but that fizzled into nothing with the realisation that a) I'm quite unfit, b) I don't want to earn minimum wage and c) the powers that be don't think DoC jobs are very important anyway, so being unfit and unemployed did not seem like a worthwhile career goal.

As cliche as it is, I discovered working in a job that is just okay is absolutely fine as long as you have cool things that you can do outside of work. The bonus about being paid well is that you can have expensive hobbies, such as sailing, eating out at five star restaurants and shopping exclusively at Cue (okay, I haven't done the first two, but am working on number three).

I rage against the inflation of sandwich prices. At our local cafe the sammies are upwards of $6.50 - for a frikin' slice of white bread with plastic cheese and sow-crate ham.

What's worse, they have painted 'witty' pictures on the walls of people dancing under umbrellas saying 'you gotta laugh!' and 'it's a hole new day!'.

Grrrrr. If the processed food don't kill you the typos will.

I have read a poem that captures this sentiment, although a little more from the aging man side of things. I will just include the first few lines for simplicity (and because most people hate poetry!):

Men at forty by Donald Justice

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

We are all afraid of the closed door. I know I am.

Your description is funnier than the poem, but the poem captures the sadness somehow.

Love your stuff Penelope!


A friend and I were talking about this recently. Neither of us answered that fateful day of five “I want to be a tax collector”.

I particularly liked the hair comment. If that's someone's passion in life and that's what they want to do then they should, although the caution of “you never know until you try it” also comes to mind.

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