As the New Year dawns, urban dwellers in San Francisco once again experience the familiar pressure for self-improvement that seems to lurk around every corner in January. You can see him lurking, that pressure for self-improvement, right outside Burger King on Market, selling you not just body oil and crack but visions of a better future in a creatively fulfilling, challenging career with the possibility of health benefits and stock options. Perhaps, he insidiously suggests, this should be the year that you finally produce that Tony Award–winning musical, write that Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, receive that National Endowment for the Arts grant to complete your experimental sound collage, or get discovered for your unique brand of slapstick comedy on YouTube.
So many of us have big dreams, and yet so many of us still work inside that Burger King, sadly cleaning the deep fryer and staring out the window at that twitchy peddler selling his promises of well-moisturized success to the masses.
Given these circumstances, it can be hard to keep focused on future career prospects. The cost of rent, cigarettes, and unlimited text messaging alone are enough to drive any professionally ambitious resident of San Francisco into a frenzy of panicked text messaging and compulsive chain smoking.
Fortunately, in this democratic land of plenty, that nagging feeling of dissatisfaction and career inadequacy is available to everybody. Every last one of us can share in the sense that even though we're well fed and have a roof over our heads, life might feel even better if we were well fed on something other than salted peanuts and cold coffee, and if our roof didn't serve as a floor for the aspiring psychedelic-metal band upstairs.
In the spirit of encouraging all of our readers to follow their ambitions in 2008, I've created a short guide to navigating the slippery world of dream jobs.
The Dream Attitude
Maybe you see yourself as a performance artist, or an advice columnist, or a fashion designer, since you work part-time at Chevys or sell language-learning software at a kiosk in the Metreon shopping center.
If you can believe the motivational speakers I listen to and read obsessively to stave off a gnawing feeling of professional failure, it's essential to keep a positive attitude about life, even while you're devoting an outrageous percentage of it to customer service. It's crucial to keep a can-do attitude, even if what you can do is bring another round of margaritas to table six.
Humiliating customer service jobs are, after all, generally understood as stepping stones on the way to loftier dream jobs. They are, in effect, part of the dream, and while they may be the part where you wake up in a terrified cold sweat and then go back to sleep for a few hours before getting up for your opening shift as a Starbucks barista, they are part of the dream nonetheless.
It's best to keep a good attitude about them, since you'll want to have a smile on your face when you are discovered by a big Hollywood director while working at the Macy's perfume counter.
Your Dream Résumé
If you're like me, your résumé, much like your relationship history, lists a handful of odd jobs that lasted a few months at most and ended in formal dismissals, changes of address, and years of tax evasion. While it's slightly helpful to communicate your professional experience in a résumé, it's more important to look upon this crucial document as an opportunity to indulge your creative side.
We are, after all, talking about dream jobs here, and a dream job is just a real job tempered by a questionably large dose of fantasy. Why not apply a similar technique to make what you've already done sound more appealing than it actually was? I've taken creative license on all of my résumés, and look at me now, giving you career advice.
So, for example, if you're applying for a job as an oyster shucker at Zuni Cafe and you've never shucked an oyster in your life, it's fairly unlikely that the manager will trouble to check your references at a nonexistent tapas bar in rural Spain, and the only real experience you need to do the job is one good night at home with a bucket of shellfish and a laptop. In other words, don't let something as insignificant as professional prerequisites hold you back from achieving your dreams. If you want the job badly enough, you'll shuck enough oysters and tell enough lies to get your foot in the door.
Dressing for the Dream
Another pearl of wisdom often passed around the circles of the idle and jobless is to dress for the job you want. Although the uniforms for a government official, a hedge-fund analyst, and a drug dealer are essentially the same, this is really a matter of projecting yourself into a fantasy and imagining how you might dress if you were a successful interior designer or a transgressive filmmaker.
Always remember, however, to separate the act of wearing from the act of truly becoming. For example, I've spent the last two weeks lying on the floor of my apartment, chain smoking in a finely tailored Brooks Brothers suit, and I'm still waiting for a phone call from a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C. You have to take your fantasy out into the streets, where potential employers can see it.