Adults tell kids a lot of lies in the name of getting them to do things. They tell them Santa will bring them presents if they’re good. My mom used to tell me if I cleaned up my toys, they’d come to life. Her mom used to tell her that if she ate the crusts on her bread, her hair would turn curly. And of course, everyone tells kids that if they work hard and get good grades, they can be whatever they want when they grow up.
So maybe the last one is not always a lie, but with the high cost of education, the tricky economy, and the fact that the world isn’t actually a strict meritocracy, sometimes hard work and good grades don't yield success and fulfillment. And then there are those occasions when your chosen profession, the one for which you've been striving and achieving and pinning all your dreams, ceases to exist.
I spent the majority of my childhood wanting to be an astronaut, but I had that dream during a time when the Space Shuttle was still in service and there was talk of actually sending astronauts back to the moon. Yes, you can still apply to be an astronaut, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be leaving the planet anytime soon, or ever coming back if you do. So sometimes it’s not that our chosen professions don’t exist — it's that what it means to do that job is no longer what you’d envisioned.
I’m not sure if little kids ever dreamed of being telephone operators or travel agents or video store workers, but these aren’t really things you can do anymore. Between Outlook and Siri, I’ll be somewhat surprised if administrative assistants don’t eventually go the way of the dinosaur, and I don't doubt that the list of professions phased out of existence by technology will only continue to grow. So what do you do when your dream is something that can’t be achieved anymore?
Figure out the why behind the what.
If your chosen profession is off the table, think about why you were drawn to it in the first place. I wanted to be an astronaut. For some people, the driving force behind this might be a love of adventure, or the desire to explore the unknown, or flying. There are other pursuits that might fulfill these passions, like being a skydiving instructor, or a deep sea researcher, or an airline pilot, or a passenger on a one-way trip to Mars. For me, the motivation was a passion for space exploration, which is why I work in the aerospace industry. I’m still working toward the same goal, even if I’m not personally doing the exploring.
Accept that things might not look the way you originally imagined.
Back in the day, aspiring journalists and writers used to dream of seeing their name and words in print. Now, with newspaper circulation declining and the average person unable to remember the last time they read an actual hard copy book, you may not see your writing on actual paper — but that doesn't mean there aren't blogs and websites and ebooks and plenty of other ways to get your words out there. Technology is constantly changing jobs and what they look like, so be willing to adapt accordingly.
Make it happen.
If you’ve got a real dream and an entrepreneurial spirit, then make your dream job exist. This might not work as well if your goal was to work for a certain company, but if you just wanted to have a certain job function that’s no longer particularly common (I’m looking at you, aspiring art gallery curators), then consider starting a business where you’ll actually have the opportunity to do that job.
Rethink things entirely.
Rare is the person who’s actually interested in only one job. Think about your other interests. Consider whether your hobbies might actually be something that could lead to full time employment. Do that thing where you think about what you'd do all day if you didn't have to worry about money, and find a way to get paid to do it. Seriously, there are people out there tasting ice cream and choosing wines and travelling the world as their jobs, why not let that person be you?