Are Canadians living the dream?

Here’s what we wanted to be when we grew up, what we’re doing now, and how our dream jobs have changed

One third of Canadians say they are in their dream jobs – for the rest, it’s a work in progress. Workopolis asked: “What was your dream job when you were a child, and are you doing it now?”

We were curious to know what our fellow Canadians wanted to be when they grew up, whether they actually achieved those career goals, and how much those dream jobs may have changed over the years. We received detailed responses from 670 participants.

So, are Canadians living the dream? It turns out that some of us are, though not necessarily our childhood dreams.

What did most Canadians want to grow up to become when they were children? Teachers and healers.

It’s heartwarming to find that so many children’s goals were to help other people for a living. Of course, doctors and teachers are some of the first professionals we encounter as children. So, it makes sense that they top the list. Most six year olds haven’t heard of a market analyst or a claims adjudicator.

These were the five most popular responses to “What was your dream job when you were child?”

  • Teacher
  • Doctor
  • Pilot
  • Nurse
  • Veterinarian

Aside from pilot, the more typical jobs we associate with childhood dreams were lower down on the list.

Ballerina; performer of some other kind, including singer, actor, and model; astronaut; and firefighters were all present but in smaller numbers.

But most of us didn’t grow up into our childhood dream jobs.

Of all the respondents, only 19 per cent ever actually worked at their childhood dream job. These included teachers, nurses, and even pilots. But no one who wanted to be a firefighter (#15 on the list) become one. And, perhaps less surprisingly, while astronaut was the 6th most popular dream job, not one survey respondent actually became an astronaut. Only 6 per cent of those who wanted to become doctors did so.

Further, only 4 per cent of those surveyed were still working at their childhood dream job. The number one job for those who are currently working in their childhood dream job? Engineer.

So, what are the rest of Canadians doing as adults?

We asked “What is your job now?” These are the top five most common job titles of survey respondents.

  • Manager
  • Administrator
  • Assistant
  • Accountant
  • Analyst

Of those who listed “manager” or “administrator” as their job, the specifics were across the board. These included but weren’t limited to: resource, IT, support, retail, and office managers; and healthcare, payroll, medical, and business administrators. Analysts, meanwhile, were in such things as business, software, and data.

Dream jobs have also changed as Canadians have grown up.

Asked “What is your dream job now?” The top five responses were:

  • Retirement
  • Writer
  • Designer
  • Manager
  • Doctor

The most popular answer, “retirement” was especially prevalent amongst respondents age 46-65+, and appeared virtually not at all in the younger half of the demographic of respondents.

The good news? One third of us (29 per cent) are now working at our current dream job. (Up 10 per cent over those who achieved their childhood ambition.)

The demographic most likely to be working in a job closely aligned with their dream job is 36-45 year olds (37 per cent), and there is quite a drop off in whether people were working in their dream jobs with age. Twelve per cent fewer people age 56-65+ (25 per cent) were working in their dream job. (Of course, as we noted, many people in this demographic are mostly looking forward to retirement.)

The evolution of ambition

There seems to be two causes for the increase in people working in their current dream job vs. their childhood ambition.

One of these is that our dream jobs are limited to those things that we can conceive of. This is seen as among the most popular dream jobs of children are those that they would have interacted with: teachers, doctors, nurses, etc.

As people enter the working world, they become exposed to many more kinds of jobs and realize that there are roles that they would love to find themselves in that they weren’t exposed to as a child.

The key lesson here is: keep your eyes open. You may not even know where you want your career path to lead when you are just starting out – but by constantly learning and being open to change, you can discover great and unforeseen opportunities.

The other cause for a revision of dream jobs is that people become more realistic with age. While top childhood dream jobs of Canadians feature astronauts, athletes and rock stars, most working people adapt their ambitions to roles that are attainable within their career paths.

We see a similar adjustment of expectations in the Workopolis resume database. Resumes that are posted with zero to two years of experience are more likely list six figure salary expectations than those with three to five years of experience. People learn to adjust their expectations to what is available on the job market.

You can still earn the enviable salary that you’re dreaming of – just not necessarily in your first few years of working.

And if you want to be an astronaut, study math or engineering, become a pilot, and apply for jobs at The Canadian Space Agency. Your chances of going up into space are still (dare I say) astronomical, but at least you’ll be working towards your dream.

And that’s what a career is: a progression – not a job title. Make sure every step along the way is a step in the right direction. And be prepared to change course when new and unexpected opportunity presents itself. As we saw from our survey respondents who actually achieved their childhood dream jobs – most of them still moved on from those roles to do something else with their careers.

View the infographic summary of this report.

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