I have been to a few interviews lately. Like many, caught in the grips of the coronavirus and global recessions, I have been unemployed for several months. Since December 2019 to be precise.
At every single one of these recent interviews, I have been asked the following question; “Tell me, what is your dream job?”
Like the good interviewee that I aspire to be, I have responded truthfully.
I have said: “Well, my dream job is to be an author, to publish my own books someday.” The response from my interviewers has been the same every single time. Laughter. Good-hearted laughter, yes. And perhaps a little condescending. As if the interviewer on the other side of the table is thinking to herself: “What is this young woman? Twelve? Will she grow up already? Author? That’s hilarious. Did she understand the question?”
In order to soothe and bring the interviewer back on track I will laugh along, wave a hand dismissively in the air and say something along the lines of: “I know, I know, it’s quite unrealistic. And there’s not exactly a lot of money involved in it either!”
Internally, I almost instantly regret adding those next lines. Because, in truth, all I did was answer the question I had been asked. What is your dream job?
But, it seems that one is supposed to deal with that question the way one is expected to deal with everything as an adult; in a rational manner. One is not expected to blurt out childhood dreams at interviews. It is unprofessional. Those unrealistic dreams should by now be well buried in the graveyard of youthful ambitions. I don’t know quite what these interviewers expect me to answer when given the question What is your dream job? But, I suppose, considering I have a Masters in Creative Writing, it should be something along the lines of copywriter for a highly respected law firm, or perhaps content creator for an innovative and thriving advertisement company, or I want to work in publishing. Now, there is nothing wrong with any of those jobs. But, none of them is my dream job is all. And I was simply attempting to answer the question they gave me.
If you are going to ask me what my dream job is, then I am going to tell you what my fucking dream job is. If, what you really mean by your question, is: “What is your preferred realistic occupation of choice?”, then I suggest you re-phrase your question. I ask you, dear reader and to-be interviewers, if we cannot be free to dream and imagine uninhibitedly, then what is the purpose of our lives? Are even our dreams to be dictated by the realistic outcomes and limitations of capitalist society? The mind is supposedly free. And so, I will continue to stand by my answer.
Life, for the most part, is not fair. Some of us are statistically more likely to “succeed” than others, due to our race, class, gender and so on. I am in most ways, among the fortunate ones. I started the race of life with a well-dealt hand of cards. I am a white, middle-class, cis-gender, able-bodied woman. Yet, I am still getting laughed in the face when honestly telling interviewers what I dream of one day becoming. But our dreams (and opportunities) should not be dictated by who we are. Our dreams, regardless of our socio-economic backgrounds, should be our free havens, a place we can turn to for hope, aspiration, and the will to keep going.
I have always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a child. I remember vividly a particular day during my teens. I must have been fourteen or fifteen. The whole year at my school went to a “study and work convention”. A huge hall full of stands and little, white tents, where us teenagers could walk around and consider various future studies and occupations.
I remember stopping at one of the stands along with three or four other classmates. The man at the stand smiled warmly down at us and proceeded to hand us white sheets of paper. They were some sort of fill-out form with a bunch of questions on them, supposed to give us an indication as to what we should be studying in the future, based on our interests and goals. The final question was: What is your dream job?
I boldly scribbled down my answer, and I can tell you with certainty, I didn’t do many things boldly back then. But, of this I was sure. No hesitation. I want to be an author.
When we were all done filling out our forms, the man smiled down at us and held out his hands like some good-willed preacher, asking for the papers back. With a dazzling smile on his face, he flicked through the forms, looking at what we had responded to the final question. I remember him reading one answer up at a time, beaming down at us one by one. Doctor? Yes, yes, very good. Engineer. Oh, excellent choice! Lawyer. Bravo! Then he came to my sheet. I stood there, for once, with absolute confidence and pride, waiting for this stranger’s approval of my dream occupation. Instead his enthusiastic smile froze momentarily in its tracks when he read my reply. He didn’t say anything, but hurriedly stacked the forms away and then proceeded to usher us on to the next stall, towards our bright, brilliant futures.
I remember at first feeling humiliated. Why had this grown man quietly dismissed my answer? Then realisation and embarrassment dawned on me. Because my answer had been childish and unrealistic. I should have written down something else. I wasn’t taking this convention seriously. I wasn’t ten years old anymore, and couldn’t keep running around telling people I wanted to write stories for a living. For the rest of the day I walked around the remaining stalls, and tried to display great interest in career opportunities I felt no connection to.
Now, some twelve years later, I have returned to the adolescent in me. The girl who, despite being insecure and timid, so boldly wrote down her answer on a white sheet of paper, handed to her by a grown man she didn’t even know. When asked now, across the table from other strangers what my dream job is, I return to that fifteen-year-old, gangly, shy girl, and I answer truthfully.
“I want to be an author,” I say. I will otherwise follow the protocol. I will dress appropriately for my interview. I will meet up with a friendly, professional aura and I will display the right amount of drive, commitment, and can-do attitude. But, when asked what my dream job is, I will not compensate. Because if I cannot be true to myself even in my dreams anymore, then I frankly don’t know what I am doing here, in life, at all.