11. Accepting Your Reality Is Important, Especially for Job Seekers

Some “food for thought” when it comes to syncing your reality with your job search.

Years ago, a defining moment for me occurred at 2:30 AM on a Friday morning in Times Square. A few minutes earlier, it had stopped raining. My friend was trying to hail a taxi to get us back to Hackensack, New Jersey. I took out a cigarette and then realized I didn’t have a lighter. So, I asked a hunched-over man walking by for a light. He produced a Zippo. I commented on the beauty of the neon lights reflecting off the wet pavement. My new friend snapped shut his Zippo. As he walked away, he said, “For every lightbulb on Broadway, there are a thousand broken hearts.”

BOOM! a hit of reality—most people never realize their dream and move onto their plan B or C, assuming they had a plan B or C.

The fact is most of us will never live our dreams—not entirely. At some point, you’ll have to conclude “it is what it is” and either make the best of it or move on.

The popular advice is you should always follow your dreams and passions. In a world (I’m thinking globally.) where most people are just looking to survive to the next day, we’re privileged to think of “follow your dream” as “career advice.” The self-help industry pushes this advice, as do career coaches. Marketing capitalizes on people pursuing their dreams, which created the Western cultural belief that anyone can achieve anything they desire if they work hard enough.

“Follow your dream” advice is sticky because it implies that if you don’t follow your dream, you’re settling (God forbid) for less.

Never is the advice to make peace with your reality. 

  • She’s not in love with you.
  • The world doesn’t need another juggling mime.
  • Everyone is vying for the one (keyword) corner office.
  • You don’t have what it takes to make it in Hollywood.
  • Only a handful of people make a living as a snowboarder.

In my experience, much of life is characterized by, “It is what it is!” and the greatest source of unhappiness is unrealistic expectations.

Putting your hopes on landing a job you have at best a slim chance of landing is a disservice to your job search and happiness. At 47, will you be able to pivot from being an accountant to becoming a sought-after fashion designer? Sometimes I’ll ask a candidate, “When you were in high school, what were you hoping to become?” Most of the time, I hear the cliché “a rockstar,” “a hockey player,” “a police officer.” I’m looking for insight into how the candidate saw themselves in their youth. Then I ask, “So what happened?” to see if they tend to blame others instead of themselves. 

Once a candidate, who I’d say was in their late 30s, told me his dream was to make a living as a comedian. As much as possible, he’d do open mic nights, hoping to get discovered. I hired this person and went to several of his open mics. Some people are naturally funny; most people aren’t. While I give him kudos for his determination, he was most people.

Clint Eastwood, as “Dirty Harry” Callahan, in Magnum Force (1973), gave what I consider to be sage advice: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” 

Sometimes you need to say to yourself, “I’m not cut out for being a (whatever).” I’ve said this to myself more than once. When it’s in your best interest, there’s no shame in quitting and trying something else.

Often job seekers reach for jobs they’re told by well-meaning family members and friends to go after. Or they have friends whose jobs they wish they had because these “friends” present themselves as being successful. They believe having the title of “Manager,” or “Junior VP,” or “Senior Operation Manager” will define them as being successful, or at least make them appear successful.

Straight talk: All jobs (“What is it you do?”) are a means to an end—an income. In today’s expanding/contracting economic climate, it’s foolish to have your identity dependent on your job, which you’ve seen can vanish in an instant.

Today, many people are miserable and job search frustrated. They’re pursuing “dream jobs,” they think will make them happy and show the world they’re successful. Even though it may seem counter-intuitive, waking up from the fantasy world of “the dream job” will benefit you and your job hunt in many ways.