Jeremy Côté

Dreams and Reality

I just wish I could do that job all day long. I know that I would love it.

This is probably wrong.

The problem isn’t that you won’t like the job. It’s that you are basing your judgement on an idea. You think the job will be great because you are imagining it to be so.

When we first encounter something novel, we are overloaded with new experiences and interesting possibilities. This gets us excited, and makes us imagine that everything about this work is fun to do.

But we never notice the bad side of things, at least at first. We don’t think about how there are a bunch of undesirable parts to a job. Instead, we look at a person enjoying their work and think, “Yeah, I could do that.”

You probably could. The good parts of a job aren’t difficult to get behind. Rather, it’s the mundane and difficult parts which people don’t want to sign up for.

Is being a writer fun? Sure, but it also involves spending many days at the keyboard, struggling to craft a sentence in just the right way so that it sings. Is being a scientist fun? Yes, but it means spending long days on calculations or problems that have you wanting to tear your hair out.

Whatever kind of work you do, there will be some fun parts and some bad parts. That’s not something you can get rid of. A more realistic goal is finding the right balance between frustrations and successes. Are you willing to deal with the bad parts in order to enjoy the work?

The process won’t always be fun. Worse, it will seem like other activities are a bunch of fun. But that’s a siren’s call. In reality, the other activity is posing. It will not be like this all the time. Just like your present activity, there will be good and bad parts. This means you shouldn’t base your decision over what to do on how “fun” an activity appears, particularly when you are struggling.

It’s important to adjust your perspective when thinking about what you should do. I can think of several different activities off the top of my head that sound amazing. I can imagine them in my mind and they seem fantastic. Yet, I know that this is mostly an illusion. The truth is that every activity has its positive and negative aspects. The trick is to find the activity whose negatives you can handle the best. After all, the positives won’t be a problem. It’s being able to weather the storm of a negative time which is difficult.

Dreaming about other activities can fill us with fantasies of amazing lives. It’s useful for figuring out what to focus on. However, we need to keep in mind that most of the time an activity appears more fun than it is. It’s the doing which is tricky. I can imagine how great it would feel to publish a book, but sitting down and working through the painful process of putting words down on the page isn’t as easy. That’s what you should be thinking about when deciding to start an activity.

A little naïveté can be useful when beginning, but too much means you will switch more than you should. Don’t just switch to an activity because it seems more fun than what you are doing. Chances are, that’s an illusion. Focus on enjoying the process and forget about jumping to the next shiny thing as soon as struggles come up.