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Why the Dream Job Isn’t Always the Dream

Why the Dream Job Isn't Always the Dream | How to be strategic + intentional in your career - Spruce Rd.

Why the Dream Job Isn’t Always the Dream | How to be strategic + intentional in your career – Spruce Rd.

It was that first year out of college, 2010 (gasp… has it been that long?!?). The economy was pretty shot, but slowly inching itself out of the slump. I was recently married, and my husband and I decided to just go for it and move to Austin, and hopefully find jobs quickly! I applied to numerous graphic design studios, whether they were hiring or not, and had a handful of interviews. That first year is a very tough, yet defining year for new graduates. I was determined to get a graphic design job, and gave myself a deadline before I would lower my expectations to just taking a job anywhere.

I was very blessed to get a job as a graphic designer working full-time at a church I adored in Austin. I am so grateful God placed me there with such amazing + supportive work friends, where I was able to hone my craft as a designer. Was it the job I dreamed of, right out of college? No. However, it did allow me to get experience working in the graphic design industry.

An Interview at my Dream Company

I was content with my church graphic designer position, and felt creatively challenged while I was there. I wasn’t actively seeking another job, however I always did have my eye out for a position at my dream company: Fossil. Fossil is a clothing, watches + accessories store with immaculate color palettes, and quality materials + designs. If you aren’t familiar with their graphic design work, run to pinterest right now and have a look! You can also check out Dustin Wallace and Brent Couchman who were designers/illustrators for Fossil. I always kept an eye out for an open position because they are based in Dallas, which is where I am from, and their design aesthetic resonated with me: modern vintage. I always was drawn to working as an in-house designer for a brand that I could get behind.

I digress. As I was over a year into my job at the church, I saw a posting for a position I felt qualified for and applied just for the heck of it. Fossil employs people from all over, so I knew competition would be pretty stiff. Somehow, I made it through and they actually interviewed me for two positions, in different departments! I felt like such a fangirl walking through their newly renovated office that was HUGE, sunlit and so well styled. As I walked to one of the conference rooms, I passed a few photo-shoots, and felt like a little girl at an amusement park… excited beyond belief. Was I really here?

I had such great interviews for both positions, and was pretty amped about the whole experience. At this point, you are probably thinking what I was at the time — of course I would jump at the opportunity if they asked to have me on board! Surprisingly, we would both be wrong.

That time I turned down a job at my dream company

I was back in Austin, and eagerly waiting for the phone call to see if I got offered a job. Prior to this, my husband and I had the whole 3.5 hour trip back to Austin to weigh the pros + cons of the job at Fossil. The job I interviewed for would essentially be a stepping stone, to propel me forward within the Fossil brand. If I accepted, I would be designing web banners for Fossil as well as placing them on various sites. The job sounded so awful to me, but I knew that I could most likely move up after putting in some time at the low-level position.

I contrasted this job, with my current one at the church where I had complete creative freedom + trust. I wasn’t solely doing production work, I was designing logos, t-shirts, publications, event banners and sermon graphics. I loved the variety of work, and design aesthetics for each branch of the church: women, children, missions, etc. I later received the phone call, and they offered me a job with great pay and benefits, including 50% off their items! After giving it a lot of thought, I turned down the job offer at Fossil. I realized that the dream job, just isn’t always the dream.

Recognize your long-term goals

Prior to this decision, I had to take a step back and evaluate what my long term goals were, and ultimately decided that within the next 5 years I wanted to start my own business (yay, I did it!). If I worked at Fossil, trying to move up the ladder, I would not have had the best preparation for starting my studio. I wanted to work in an environment where I felt both creatively challenged, as well as constantly learning. This set me on the path to be very particular about the jobs I accepted, as well as many other “dream jobs” that I actually turned down.

When you have a direction in mind for your career, you have to be strategic in the jobs you accept. After I worked at the church, my husband got a job that required us to move so I had to find another job. I ended up at a university, where I was able to really stretch myself in client interaction, and learned SO much about print design. Following the university, my husband went back to school to pursue a graduate degree so we had to move yet again! I learned so much at the university, but it was a great time for me to transition as I felt maxed out in my growth there.

Quickly, I found a job at a local design studio where I could work from home and what I thought would be more of a direction I wanted to go. I only worked there for about a half-year, as unfortunately I felt uncomfortable with some of the business practices. I won’t go into detail, but if you ever find yourself compromising your integrity for your employer, get the heck out. Yes, this might look bad to work such a short time, but I don’t regret it for a second.

My initial goal to launch Spruce Rd. was the beginning of 2016: You know when my husband would have graduated, I would have been able to transition a bit smoother, and everything was perfect. But you know what? Life doesn’t always work out that way, and I am okay with that. I am so thrilled I launched a year earlier than my goal, and felt equipped to do so through my experiences over the past 4.5 years in the design profession.

Understand your Passion

To all of those recently graduated, or about to graduate, designers out there! I know it is May, and some of you are about to start the process of applying for jobs. My advice to you is to understand what you are passionate about, and pursue that first. The *dream job* to most designers seems to be at a trendy design studio. At one point, I considered this route as well, however acknowledged that it wasn’t the best fit for me. I have a pretty firm work/life balance and as a newly wed I wasn’t ready to give that up! Call it lazy if you want, I call it self-awareness. I didn’t want to be up endless hours at a design studio, getting burnt out.

Find out what you are passionate about, and align that with your goals. Do you love working within a certain design aesthetic only? Try finding an in-house design job that has a similar aesthetic. If you can’t find one right off the bat, find an in-house job somewhere else and put in the time there to become familiar with branding from that perspective. After you have a bit of experience, try to transition to a job that is a better fit aesthetically. If you want to eventually freelance on your own, try getting jobs that push you creatively, as well as opportunities that allow you one-on-one interaction with clients. Test the waters and see how you like dealing with clients, before making that leap!

Sometimes, we don’t get our dream job in the early years of our careers. It is the journey that helps us to get there, and prepares us for that next step. I wrote this post to not be discouraging, but to shed light on being strategic in your career. I think so many new graduates miss this aspect of getting a job. Don’t rush it if you don’t have to, and instead embrace the chance to evaluate what your goals are, and set milestones to help get you there!

[Tweet “Sometimes, the *dream job* isn’t always the dream.”]

Have you had a similar realization when you applied for jobs? Are you searching for jobs right now, that align with your long-term goals? I would LOVE to hear your stories in the comments below! Let’s get to know each other.


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  1. Gigi

    At this point and time, I’m applying to every job.
    I have a plethora of analytic and creative talents under the marketing umbrella, and have had excellent interviews at various organizations – I even did mock interviews with my ex-HR friend to sharpen it before the interviews – but alas, I keep getting called “too edgy” ONLY after they look at my website where the bulk of my marketing experience comes from.
    I created the platform to use as a conduit for my marketing experiments and content creation.
    They see the word ‘body painting’ and they get scared. That’s what one recruiter ACTUALLY told me.

    My dream employers are ‘scared’ of me and they’re calling me ‘too edgy’? As if I’d walk in on the first day with a blue mohawk and piercings across each of my eyebrows. :c/
    I wish.
    Sigh. What a disappointment.

    I agree with being strategic. After so many failed attempts, with many ‘dream job’ positions, that would have been a FANTASTIC growing experience, I think I’m going to have to flip this and approach this in a different manner.
    All this time, I thought I had to show them how creative and methodical I can be. Perhaps I should tone ALL OF THAT down.
    I hate to dull myself, but professionally that may be necessary. I can sharpen my blade after hours.

    Sorry for the rant. I stumbled across this on Pinterest. This was a good post that struck a cord. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Nadeena

    Isn’t it funny how life works out? I’m so happy to see that you followed your heart and KNEW what was right for you. Sometimes it’s so easy to just take whatever opportunities that pop up, not realizing that we should stop and step back and figure out where we want to be in the long term and THEN intentionally plan our next step. But then again…like you said in your post. Life has it’s own plans. I can’t wait ti see how you move forward with everything :).

    1. Jamie

      Agreed! It is easy to passively let opportunities dictate your path, when it might not be the best for you long term! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Jessica

    I can absolutely relate! I graduated with honors two years ago and got an internship at a studio that I thought would be perfect for me and my dreams. Turns out I didn’t like being there (although I suspect it’s partly also because of little compensation and the culture at the office where we were encouraged to come in to work overnight, on weekends, holidays, and even during typhoons). I quit shortly and ended up in a sort of quarter life crisis because I thought I knew exactly what I wanted and I worked so hard to get it and it turns out it wasn’t it.So I got a job at a different company (still within the same industry) and lasted about 9 months but I quit partly because I really wanted to be able to do my own projects. I’m still in the process discovering what it is I truly want to do and right now I feel like being a freelancer/creative entrepreneur might be for me 🙂

    1. Jamie

      Hi Jessica! Sorry I just saw this comment! Thanks for sharing your story, and I am sure anyone who has worked at a design studio can relate to the late nights + long hours. Some people love that environment, but it is important to realize if that person is not you… and it is okay! So glad you are in a more fitting lifestyle now 🙂

  4. Amy

    Such a great blog post! I’m sharing it with my sister who will be graduating next May. I think we all want to find the perfect job right out of college, but sometimes there’s a journey we have to take and the end result is better than we could have originally asked for!

    1. Jamie

      That makes me so happy you are sharing this with your sister! I hope my journey encourages her, and helps her be intentional when applying to jobs! You said it better than I did, sometimes the end result is better than we could have originally asked for!

  5. Alysa

    Ah Jamie! We have similar beginnings in design careers (for ministries). So fun to hop over from the Savvy FB group and hear more of your story. Love that you wrote about turning down good opportunities in order to reach better long term goals — sound advice we need to hear — and applicable no matter how long we’ve been working!

    1. Jamie

      Small world! The more I share my story, I keep finding people with similar paths! Yes! It is so hard to see it when you are in the daily grind, but holding out for more fitting opportunities pays of in the long run!

  6. Monica GAlvan

    I can definitely empathize with this post, I actually had the opportunity to interview with what I thought was my “dream job” too. It did not go well and at the time I was crushed but I learned a lot of valuable lessons from it and I’m glad it happened because it turned me on to what I really want to pursue in my creative career.

    1. Jamie

      Thanks for being honest and sharing about your experience! I love looking back also, and seeing how what we were once defeated by, has helped propel us toward the direction we want to go. So glad you found your passion in your creative career!

  7. jasmine

    i’m glad someone else can understand this, i got my dream job in a magazine but it doesn’t mean more creative work, in fact i had a lot of limits and the last months i made only banners ’cause this is what matters, only sales and the design its not so important or its something for discuss later; after that i applied for another magazine and they offered me the same job making banners, so after 4 years i want to try my real goal that’s a personal studio.

    1. Jamie

      How funny – that is SO similar to my job offer at Fossil! Glad you are on the path to pursuing your long-term goal of a personal studio. Best of luck!

  8. Julie Wylie

    I commend you for taking the leap to start your own business before you were totally ready. I’ll bet it was pretty scary (I know all about it 😉 ), but you are such a true talent + it is clear you have found where you belong! Good for you for saying no to your dream when you realized that just wasn’t the case anymore!

    1. Jamie

      YES – it was definitely a bit scary! If I had a bit more time to prepare, I am not sure I would be much better off though! Sometimes you just gotta go for it and learn as you go. Thanks for your encouraging words, friend!

  9. Katie

    Thank you so much for sharing this Jamie! I really enjoyed getting to read your story to get to know you better, and I’m sure any future grads will benefit from reading it as well. My story and how I ended up launching my own freelance business is a little different. When I graduated in 2010, I worked at a very small design studio (making very little money) and I loved it. Then, I was recruited by a large corporation to work in-house in their packaging department (which was an absolute dream for me). It was a difficult decision, but I ended up accepting the in-house position. At first, it was great, I had a really wonderful manager and team, and while it was extremely fast-paced, I was learning a lot, and I enjoyed the challenge. Fast forward three years and I was unhappy, burnt-out and un-inspired. So, I took a leap and officially started my freelance business in October of 2014, and I’m so glad I did. I don’t regret any of the decisions I made in my career, because it made me who I am as a designer and as a business owner. I think it’s interesting how two different paths landed in the same place, so I thought I’d share 🙂

    1. Jamie

      Ahh your path sounds like many designer’s dreams! I would have LOVED to work in a packaging department… so fun! It is a good reminder that even though it sounds super fun, it can easily lead to burnout. Congrats on launching your studio! I can’t wait to see the website once it is live! Thanks for sharing your story! I’m loving getting to know you guys a bit better as well!

  10. Tennsn

    I’ve had many “dream jobs” and in all of them I was always seeking more freedom and creativity. Although I have a degree and business, and love it, I also love design and the two world can be difficult to combine in the corporate world. In many of my jobs I had to follow very strict guidelines and things were checked over with a fine tooth comb, leaving no room for my free-spirited mind and heart to be creative. Nonetheless, when I became a mom I knew I wanted to stay at home and take care of my son, so I took that opportunity to start my design business. I actually have a post up on my site today speaking to this a little, so its ironic that I ran across your post. In all, I’m so happy with what I’m doing, but still learning everyday how to run a business even better than the day before. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Jamie

      That is so great you were able to start your own design business! I definitely understand following very strict guidelines… that can become an issue with in-house design! A great reminder that those “dream jobs” don’t always equate to more freedom + creativity. I read a bit of your blog post, and it totally resonates with me. I don’t have kids, but I understand wanting the freedom that comes with being an entrepreneur, once you become a mom. Thanks for sharing, Tennsn!

  11. Kercia

    Oh, Jamie, I loved getting to know more about your design career and how it brought you to freelancing! Also, I think it’s so awesome that you had the clarity and strength to turn down what you thought was your dream job! Sometimes I get wrapped up in thinking that it would be a dream to work at fill-in-the-blank studio but truly it’s my dream to freelance, so this was a great reminder to stay focused and that the jobs that lead up to freelancing are important and part of my journey. Thanks so much for this post, Jamie!

    1. Jamie

      It was definitely a little scary to share, but I had fun writing this post! YES! I used to get wrapped up in that notion that it would be better to work at a certain studio, however you just gotta stay focused on your goal! You are going to go so far once you make that leap, I just know it! Even if you aren’t at your dream job now, you are likely learning something that will help with freelancing. Interacting with clients, dealing with difficult people, or even recognizing the type of work/clients you want to work with. It is a refining process! Eager to see your journey unfold, Kercia!

  12. Meg S

    I see a lot of similarities in our job wants/future goals, and even companies worked/potentially-worked for. I had recently graduated with my MFA and working in a high-end photogrpahy studio. I wanted to leap out into the world and let everyone see my work. At the time, a big decision in taking a job VERY similar it seems to the one at Fossil (ahem, handbag company) was something that I needed to do in order to pay my loans off from grad school. There was really only one reason that taking a position there rather than a similar company was worth it – in my case. I was able to produce and write and be involved in a lot more of the art direction than most larger companies would allow. My friends and family saw me taking that experience and moving up the chain, maybe to NYC to a larger similar company. I still don’t think any of them understand why portfolio is better by working with them as well as then stepping away from the in-house design position! Thanks for talking about it, it’s a hard thing for non-independent like-minded “Boss Ladies” to understand 🙂

    1. Jamie

      We are very similar indeed! That is so great that you were able to be more involved in the art direction. That is ultimately why I selected the jobs I did, because I love design too much to only do production. Larger companies are great, however sometimes can be limiting to what you can provide for the design. That totally resonates with me! I love being a one-woman “boss lady”, where I am able to touch every aspect of the project. I had the same experience with family + friends, not understanding why I would pass up on a few opportunities. All about that end-game! Love your site and work! Looks like you ended up where you want to be :). Thanks for sharing your story!

  13. Ally

    I can relate to this! In the past couple of months, I’ve been coming to terms with realizing that what I thought I wanted to do with my career isn’t at all what I REALLY want to do. I recently was offered a position here that at any other point in my life I would have eagerly accepted in a heartbeat. However, now that my career goals have completely changed, I had to turn them down. It was tough as I loved the work environment and the people there, but I knew that this kind of work wasn’t what I was after anymore. Thanks for sharing your story – loved reading it!

    1. Jamie

      It is such a weird, yet defining, moment when you turn down a job that previously you would have jumped at! I think it shows that you are really coming into your own, and understanding what direction you want to go. People may think you are nuts, but stick to your guns! I love that you had the courage to turn it down, and confidence that you will excel in a more fitting direction. Thanks for sharing!

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