dream.jpgI’ve been glum this week thanks to a survey showing job satisfaction among Americans is at a 20-year low. More than half of you hate what you do.

“While one in 10 Americans is now unemployed, their working compatriots of all ages and incomes continue to grow increasingly unhappy,” said Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Center of The Conference Board, the organization that conducted the poll. “Through both economic boom and bust during the past two decades, our job satisfaction numbers have shown a consistent downward trend.”

In addition, the survey at the right of this post is showing that most of you are staying in gigs you don’t really like because you can’t figure out what else to do.

It’s a career malaise and it’s making me depressed. What the hell do you need a career writer for if many of you can’t get out of your own career funk?

OK, maybe I’m being hard on you guys. Some of us are lucky to know early on what our dream careers are, but others struggle for years trying to figure that out. And sometimes you spend so many years doing something you hate you end up unable to get out of it because you forgot where your passions were.

I’m going to shake off my gloom and doom and offer you some things to think about this morning.

Time to make some lists.

One should include things you like to do on one side and things you don’t like to do on the other. Then, make a list of your best traits. Don’t hold back. Sing your own praises and fine-tune what you think are your strongest suits.

Finally, make a list of your dream jobs, whether that be working for someone or starting your own venture.

When you’re done, take a long hard look at what you’ve written down. Do your strongest traits and things you like to do jive with your dream careers?

With this information I think you’re probably ready to take a personality test, to help back up what you’re seeing on paper.

One critical point, none of the experts I spoke with would endorse any free online tests and I can’t either, so take the results with a grain of salt.

That said, Ben Dattner, a New York based management consultant and adjunct professor at New York University, pointed me to an online version of the International Personality Item Pool and to a site called CareerDNA.

Keep in mind some free test sites online often lead to a request to put in your credit card number, says Darrel M. Keesee, president of ACS Group Inc., a career consulting firm. “There is no free ride for most career changers,” he notes.

One non-online source Keesee mentioned, that I used many years back when I was trying to figure out my career, was a great book called “What Color is Your Parachute,” by Richard Nelson Bolles.

I also recently wrote a column for MSNBC.com and being realistic about your dream job.

Paula Caligiuri, human resource management professor and director of the Center for Human Resource Strategy, Rutgers University, said dreaming helps individuals discover things about themselves. Too often, she believes we force kids too early to find something “practical or live in the real world.”

“It’s absolutely, 100 percent, OK to dream,” she said.

She offered three questions you can ask yourself for determining whether you’re likely to make dreams a reality:

1. What is the nature of the career dream with respect to underlying abilities? Some career dreams are bound by natural ability or can be achieved as a function of raw motivation. “Becoming a professional athlete” is an example of the former. “Becoming a millionaire” is an example of the latter. In some cases, there really is a natural limit for the given career. Healthy self-awareness and a track record often suggest that the person possesses the raw talent to make a career dream come true.

2. Does he or she have the strength of character to overcome doubters and naysayers? The self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play when people are told that their dreams are unrealistic (especially when the words are uttered by those who are trusted). It is not surprising that many people lose their ability to dream about careers somewhere between the late teens or early twenties, the time when the dominant message is that one should “get serious about one’s future.” At this age, many young people often have a less-developed sense of self and listen to the advice.

3. Is he or she realistic about the process? Outside of Hollywood, dream careers do not happen overnight. When a person has set well-articulated, reasonable, and measurable goals to guide his or her path to the dream career, then the dream career becomes a more realistic career.

Come on, what’s your dream? Be a kid for a few moments and start with astronaut, or ballerina.

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