Asked what job they would take if they could have any, people unleash their imaginations and dream of exotic places, powerful positions or work that involves alcohol and a pay cheque at the same time. Or so you’d think.
None of that appeals to Lori Miller who, as a lead word processor, has to do things that don’t seem so dreamy, including proofreading, spellchecking and formatting. But she loves it.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
“I like and respect nearly all my co-workers, and most of them feel the same way about me,” she says. “Just a few things would make it a little better,” she says, including a shorter commute and the return of some great people who used to work there. And one more thing: She’d appreciate if everyone would put their dishes in the dishwasher.
It’s not a lot to ask for and, it turns out, a surprising number of people dreaming up their dream job don’t ask for much. One could attribute it to lack of imagination, setting the bar low or “anchoring”, the term referring to the place people start and never move far from. One could chalk it up to rationalizing your plight.
But, maybe people simply like what they do and aren’t, as some management would have you believe, asking for too much — just the elimination of a small but disproportionately powerful amount of office inanity.
That may be one reason why two-thirds of Americans would take the same job again “without hesitation” and why 90% of Americans are at least somewhat satisfied with their jobs, according to a Gallup Poll.
The matters that routinely rank high on a satisfaction scale don’t relate to money but “work as a means for demonstrating some sort of responsibility and achievement,” says Barry Staw, professor of leadership and communication at University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “Pay — even when it’s important, it’s not for what you can buy, it’s a validation of your work and approval.”
So, money doesn’t interest Elizabeth Gray as much as a level-playing field. “I like what I do,” says the city project manager who once witnessed former colleagues award a contractor, paid for work he never completed, with the title of “Contractor of the Year”.
Thus: “My dream job would be one free of politics,” she says. “All advancement would be based on merit. The people who really did the work would be the ones who received the credit.”
Frank Gastner has a similar ideal: “VP (vice-president) in charge of destroying inane policies.” Over the years, he’s had to hassle with the simplest of design flaws that would cost virtually nothing to fix were it not for the bureaucracies that entrenched them. So, the retired manufacturer’s representative says he would address product and process problems with the attitude, “It’s not right; let’s fix it now without a committee meeting.”
Monique Huston actually has her dream job — and many tell her it’s theirs, too. She’s general manager of a pub in Omaha, the Dundee Dell, which boasts 650 single-malt scotches on its menu. She visits bars, country clubs, people’s homes and Scotland for whisky tastings. “I stumbled on my passion in life,” she says.
Still, some nights she doesn’t feel like drinking — or smiling. “Your face hurts,” she complains. And when you have your dream job, you wonder what in the world you’ll do next.
One of the big appeals of a dream job is dreaming about it. Last year, George Reinhart saw an ad for a managing director of the privately owned island of Mustique in the West Indies.
He was lured by the salary ($1 million, around Rs4 crore) and a climate that beat the one enjoyed by his Boston suburb. A documentary he saw about Mustique chronicled the posh playground for the likes of Mick Jagger and Princess Margaret. He reread Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival, about a publicity agent who leaves his New York job and buys an island hotel. In April of last year, he applied for the job.
He heard nothing. So, last May, he wrote another letter: “I wanted to thank you for providing the impetus for so much thought and fun.” He didn’t get the job but, he says, he takes comfort that the job hasn’t been filled. “So, I can still dream,” he adds.
I told him the job had been filled by someone — but only after he said, “I need to know, because then I can begin to dream of his failure.”
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