Michael Erard | Projects

The Dream Job Project Part II

Dream Job Project, logo designed by Alex Knowlton

Last April, in a piece on these pages, I solicited comments from people about what they aspire to in the way of work, whether those aspirations were for a "dream job," the next stage in one's professional life, or a first stepping stone to something different. My thinking on this originated with the notion that aspirations offered by the culture aren't necessarily supported by the economy, and that one possible response was to design those aspirations. Before you can design, you have to have a 360º view of the structure of the work. With that, you could build an aspiration design tool, a dashboard of options and choices, something to help you measure where you are and where you want to be.

If you offered your comments on that piece, you helped with the first stage of that process. I read your comments, pulled out things you said you wanted or didn't have, and constructed a category for that thing. From the concrete particulars I created a set of more abstract categories which, if you took them all together, would make up everything that someone — at least in a contemporary knowledge-based economy — could want from work.

Now, for stage two, I need your help again. Below you'll see all 22 categories that I abstracted out. Please note that these don't appear in any order. Is 22 too many? I don't know. Below that are the same categories with the concrete particulars that sparked them. The list may contain 22 categories, but I know it isn't exhaustive or complete — it's not a full 360º view. What else is there? What else should someone dreaming of the best job or even just dreaming of the next job be on the lookout for?

Also, do the categories have the right labels? You can read the concrete particulars I pulled out — tell me if the category names capture what that category seems to be about. (You could also go back to the original comment thread and look for particulars I missed.)

In stage three, I'll present the final aspiration design tool and give some ideas about how it might be used, and invite comments on the tool.

Source of Motivation/Direction
Workplace as Space
Job/Life Location
Job Duration
Daily Schedule
Amount of Income
Predictability of Income
Type of Income
Appropriateness of Income
Quality of Interactions with Others
Meaning/Personal Value 
Psychological Experience of Time
Psychological Experience of Sustaining

Source of Motivation/Direction
— External
— Internal 
To be able to seek out projects/initiatives that interest me, then do what I need to do to become involved and a contributing member of the project

Workplace as Space
— I can do it in my home, my favorite place, my haven
— A work station that doesn't share my bedroom...a whole area dedicated to this persuit consisting of 3 conferrence/crafting tables...one along each wall....one for my knitting machine and supplies
— Comfortable surroundings
— I work out of the house because I have two small children
— Having a healthy, open environment in the office is key

Job/Life Location
— Where we live will matter less
— I also do not want to commute the 35 minutes into Boston, where many jobs would likely be for me
— Hopping in my car with my laptop and driving 15 minutes to some small office

Job Duration
— Project-based work
— I want to have ample vacation time so that I can spend several weeks out of the year freshening up on my language skills, in addition to moving me around the country so that I can live in many different cities

Daily Schedule
— I can do it when I want, my own hours
— Some flexibility to work on my hours, off-site if possible
— Flexible hours

Amount of Income
— Steady minimum income that allows me some mad money at the end of the month
— Enough to pay bills plus savings and health coverage
— Then sell enough work or reproductions to have a decent quality of life and take a vacation each year

Predictability of Income
— Just to keep income steady, may sell yarn, books, and offer knitting classes
— Predictable financial security, an ability to estimate that i will have enough $ to support current (moderate) lifestyle and attain health insurance
— Sustainable business model & cash flow

Type of Income
— Then sell enough work or reproductions

— Flexible relationship to an institution whose principles I generally agree with; so, not being dependent on one single place for any duration of a time but choosing to develop (possibly long-term) relationships with institutions whose product/services/philosophy I agree with (or at least, don't disagree with)
— We may need multiple projects with multiple groups going at any time
— The critical balance between a person's gifts and a company's goals
— Collaborations in many fields (both paid and volunteer)

— Work with nice people; those that like their job, are responsible, cordial and positive
— I work with 10 other women, also writers and creative types
— No psycho bosses or gossiping
— To be stimulated by collaborating with those around me
— The ability to learn from and teach my co workers, bosses, and employees
— With people who challenge innovation all the time
— Work with funny and quirky individuals so that I can be friends with those I work with

— I just passionately want to understand the natural world by experience
— Explore/popularize/conserve the natural world through mixed media
— Whatever a complex test would determine you're most compatible with

— To be an expert and share that knowledge with others

Appropriateness of Income
— Payment for what the project and skill level is really worth

— Ability to work with my hands, my mind and my spirit

Quality of Interactions with Others
— Respect and trust from the client
— My dream job involves me speaking several languages fluently

Meaning/Personal Value
— Ability to really delve into a project, invest myself into it, know it inside and out and see it through to the end
— The opportunity to grow
— My drive to pursue my passion
— I would much rather be living a life full of meaning and balance
— To be part of something meaningful with a group of people I enjoy and care about
— To be part of a project that enhances creativity of the world around me, impacts lives in a positive way
— The chance to produce meaningful and thoughtful work
— Nurtures my creativity
— I want to love what I do completely and believe in the people I am working with
— Allow me to search within my own process to find new ways of learning, thinking, and doing

— The ability to control when I am the most creative
— Find that inner voice that can fuel my true creative process

— There's certainly been some movement in the last years to reinstate "craft" as a component of work, especially design work
— A workplace where no idea is overlooked and where open communication leads to the betterment of the project

— Many of us are mothers who have only five or six hours of available time during the day. But together we might equal six full-time employees, and so we have created a firm that offers the labor of six employees
— Fairly flat management

Psychological Experience of Time
— Allows me to experience "flow" more often than...whatever the word is for the opposite of flow
— Work days would move swiftly, and yet I would leave work each day ready to embrace everything else in my life fully, rather than always being pre-occupied about the next day's business

Psychological Experience of Sustaining 
— To live without fear of being without work
— Without worry about how I would sustain myself
— A lot of us have actually already realized our dream job/dream parameters, but because it isn't as glitzy as we thought it was, there must be ANOTHER dream job out there somewhere

— Actually making enough that I don't need an outside job and all bills are current or paid off

Posted in: Business, Social Good

Comments [16]

Wonderful piece. I did notice, however, that there is little to no mention of securing a sound retirement in the process. That is an incredibly important part of the "dream job."
Lisa Garrett

If you have your dream job, you shouldn't even be thinking of retirement! haha

what about the ability to travel as part of you job?
joseph grillo

Speaking of retirement, there's no mention of the "reason to live". There are certain groups around the world that live longer than others, and one of the factors that determines longevity is having a reason to live, to work, to get up in the morning. People don't retire in these societies.

My dream job should be the reason to live, including having vacations that allow me to take a break and remember why it's so important.
Juliana Danger

Looks like a complete picture for a Dream Job. What do you do after your find the dream job? After you fill in all the blanks and achieve it? Take time to dream about the other side of your life.


Nothing about those lines indicate an exciting atmosphere—quirky doesn't quite capture it. I can't speak for all but I have come from an office that matched that definition perfectly and it was boring as Heck. But I now work in an office which I'd describe 'exciting'; people throwing things on you when you aren't looking, people walking in on you unannounced, a little bit of "stick it to the Man" gossip... really makes for a fun, exciting atmosphere. When the design has you down, the people tend to bring you back up.

Have I not read between the lines enough? Maybe I haven't, I admit. Otherwise, perhaps an addition would make that part complete.
Devin White

@devin white: I appreciate the comment. What's listed are categories of things someone might want to think about; decisions an individual would make about each category would be particular to that individual. So you want to work with people who throw things at you; someone else doesn't want that; someone else doesn't want to have colleagues at all.

Another way to put it is, if you were thinking of the sort of job you wanted, have you thought about who you want to work with, the sorts of interactions you have with them?
michael erard

Think Howard Roark in "The Fountainhead".

@elmas: Wouldn't that fall under "autonomy," which is already on the list?
michael erard

What about mentorship? Having a colleague or personal friend who is in a position to guide and instruct, give you advice and direction.

I would like to always feel that I am in a position to learn and become better at my career and life, and that there is a system in place that allows that to happen.

@Acree Interesting. Would that fall under "colleagues"? Maybe that category has a bad name. You may be right: there needs to be a category about WHO you work with, and another on the sorts of relationships you want to have with them. Any suggestions on what to call that category?
michael erard

What about building a community as opposed to just building a business? My dream job is to construct a collective of different types of creatives like designers, writers, artists, and conscious thinkers that work together in a studio but also welcoming the outside world to participate and build upon the the community/ company. Creating an entire community which serves as a platform for a very broad range of endeavors, creative and otherwise, is a significant interest of mine.
Joseph Cuiller

I'm just amazed at how closely I relate to everything and how everyone's dream job falls into the same venn diagram.

I think colleagues would fall under partnership, because we often have arguments with colleagues over difficult clients and forget it's us against the clients, instead of us against each other because of the clients. What I had found particularly helpful was using the same suite of work skillset in personal relationships, it's a partnership/teamwork and you're in it together, so being solutions oriented as opposed to finger pointing and blame shifting.

I think this is an excellent synthesis. I think the ability to travel (^^^) is massively to me at least. The "Explore/popularize/conserve the natural world through mixed media" is probably something that I may have prompted and although you can do something along those lines anywhere - being able to travel for work is important. Albeit air travel isn't sustainable, exposure to new places and peoples probably promotes new ideas and creative measures.

There is a strong emphasis on autonomy in all of this which resonates with what most people want - the space to take some chances and do something fueled by passion rather than performance incentives.
Brendan McGarry

I think you covered every aspect of what you may or may not want in a dream job. It was very informative and made me look at what I would want my dream job to be in a different light. The Meaning/Personal Value is the most important part of a job for me.
Mary Beth Brackmann

One of the comments really jumped out at me as something that I find particularly important also. It's listed under the category of psychological experience. Someone stated, "I would leave work each day ready to embrace everything else in my life fully, rather than always being pre-occupied about the next day's business."
Worrying about work when you're supposed to be enjoying time with your family can be very stressful not only on yourself, but also the people around you.
I would love to go to work each day feeling as though I have chosen the right career path. Working in a creative and supportive environment, feeling like part of a team and that my talents and personality are valued and appreciated.
To get up each morning looking forward to going into work would be great. To go home at the end of the day with that sense of fulfillment and purpose would help me to focus more on the most important things to me, being a better husband and father.
Matt H.

Jobs | June 24