What did you dream about doing for work when you were a kid? Perhaps it was an astronaut or a video game player or even a dinosaur bone hunter. It turns out that our childhood dream jobs aren’t that far off from what some adults choose for their careers. 

A new survey by ResumeLab polled 1000+ employees about their dream jobs and had some surprising results. Here are just a few stats that drew my attention:

  • 84% of respondents achieved one of the jobs they had on their childhood dream list. 
  • 87% currently work in a profession they dreamed of as a child.
  • 76% of dream job non-achievers have taken steps in the past to pursue that career.
  • 72% of those who haven’t achieved their dream jobs regret it. 
A Polyanna View

As a career coach, I have a different perspective on dream job achievements. People come to JMA every day because they aren’t satisfied with their current career, and they are looking for a different path. ResumeLab’s survey also shows 86% of respondents say they are satisfied with their current work. That number is a lot lower than Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 Report which shows 23% of the world’s employees were engaged at work in 2022. That said, employee engagement is trending upward again after a decline during the pandemic. 

But there’s still a long way to go. In addition to those 23% who are thriving at work, 59% are considered quiet quitting by only putting in the minimum effort required and the other 18% are actively disengaged. 

Childhood Memories

For those people not living out their childhood career fantasies, is there still hope? During our discovery process during career coaching, one of the homework questionnaires poses a question asking the client what they fantasized about as a child. I often get answers such as teacher, pilot, doctor, or firefighter. ResumeLab’s survey list these as the top 10 childhood dream jobs:

  1. Business owner
  2. Astronaut
  3. Programmer/IT Specialist
  4. Doctor
  5. Teacher
  6. Architect
  7. Dancer
  8. Actor
  9. Athlete/Sportsmen
  10. Lawyer

These childhood dream jobs can influence our decisions even later in life. When I work with coaching clients, we talk about what they daydream about. I’m working with a gentleman right now who daydreams about helping people with their finances. That’s significant in terms of where his mind is going in those quiet moments. So, he’s now pursuing a career as a financial advisor. 

For others, they know exactly what they want to do. For example, another client had a successful career in medical device sales but wanted to do something different to personally help more people. She’s now working with couples as a genetic counselor. 

And there are others who still haven’t quite figured out their path in life. So, we work on what elements attract them to a specific role or industry. If you loved space as a kid, perhaps you still love adventure. Those building blocks often stay the same throughout life. 

But sometimes, we grow out of our dreams. If you wanted a career full of travel in your twenties, you may have outgrown that level of adventure in your life when you turn fifty.

What’s Stopping You?

The ResumeLab survey lists the top three career dream killers as:

  • Family reasons (53%)
  • Financial reasons (52%) 
  • Lack of active pursuit of the career (39%)

I often find that a lack of belief in self is another reason why people don’t go after their dream jobs. They don’t have the confidence to put their dream out there. I think some people are afraid that if they announce their dream aloud it could jinx them or that I will hold them to it. 

If someone has acted toward achieving their dream job but didn’t achieve it, we would do a holistic exploration where we look at interests, strengths, skills, aptitudes, values, and goals. The idea is to find the best career fit within all those different areas of our lives. 

For a lot of people, the timing just isn’t right. And with that becomes a belief of “If I can’t do it now, I can’t do it ever.” That’s a very black and white view of the situation so I try to encourage these clients to find the gray areas. If your career can’t look exactly like this particular job right now, what are some short term goals to work toward a longer term career change? 

Or can you scratch your itch in other ways? If you can’t be a screenwriter, are there other opportunities to write or have that collaboration you desire with other people? It’s important to try to find other outlets for your creativity that may satisfy you. 

Related: Considering a Career Change? 9 Questions to Ask Yourself

Work-Life Balance Continues to Be Top

We’ve talked a lot about work-life balance since the pandemic so it’s much more of a present term today, but the truth is that people have been searching for this combination forever. It’s also the number one reason that makes a dream job, according to ResumeLab’s survey. 

I recently had a client change jobs because of work-life balance, but the tricky part is that it was her dream job. Ann (not her real name) was the chief meteorologist at a prominent news station. She had worked hard right out of college, making all the right moves, gradually moving her way up to a top television market. Ann was doing what she loved, combining her science geek with her performance artist with her compassionate spirit to help keep people safe in times of severe weather. But as a single mom, Ann faced a conundrum. Once her daughter was old enough to go to school, Ann knew she had to make a decision: keep her dream job and it’s 2pm to 11pm schedule and never see her daughter after school or make a career change. Ann decided work-life balance and her daughter trumped that career and is now working in marketing. It’s not as exciting as working in weather, but it was the right move for her at that time in her life. 

Think of Life as a Jungle Gym

I think everyone realizes that the path from childhood to adulthood is not a straight line, and I talk about this with my clients. There’s a distinction between the career ladder being very rigid, linear and one way. You won’t always ascend the career ladder at every point in your life. So instead, I tell clients to think of it as a jungle gym. Sometimes you go up, sometimes you go sideways and sometimes you go underneath. Your path will go in all different directions, but it’s always connected. 

Clients often wonder how to tell their stories so that they make sense. How does going from a meteorologist to a public relations professional relate? Even though it may not be obvious on the surface, all points of our lives are connected. The onus is on you to describe how your experience relates to the current role or graduate program you are applying for. We find those connectors in coaching, identify the threads through the different careers and determine how it all makes sense. I help them tell their story in a more organized way! 

Learn more about career coaching

Read the full ResumeLab survey here