The mythological creature we imagine as a horse with a narwhal horn is to me not the symbol of the inexistent, but rather the undefined. This clarification will probably not do much in terms of calming the discomfort caused by the title metaphor.
Deep down every person believes they know what the perfect job looks like, even if they temporarily have to call their lost naivety into action, and furthermore allow themselves to occasionally dream of it. Let’s all be naive for a moment. What is this perfect job? Surely it must involve minimal or no effort required to obtain a pay large enough to fund even the most ridiculous desires. Basically, being paid without actually doing anything. And the less you do, the more you get paid.
I believe this is not actually what anyone wants. The rest of this article deals with figuring out what it is then that one could reasonably expect from their dream job.
- Power. Commanding people without having to offer them reward or threatening punishment is what real power is about. Few things come to mind as granting such power: love, worship, loyalty. Employees working without pay (monetary or otherwise) or fear of redundancy still work in fear. It’s just that it’s not their leader who they fear. The perfect job will not bring you power.
- Prestige. Having people believe you have the power, even if you don’t, is what prestige is about. No job exists in a vacuum: you lead a company, you own it, you work for the best company, you are the best in your company, field, etc. Respect people have for you is never unity. You always have to share it with something or someone else. The perfect job will not bring you undivided respect.
- Achievement. Seeing your actions as the direct and sole cause for a successful outcome brings a sense of achievement. We have a contender. The perfect job could bring you such a feeling. It would make sense to desire it.
- Entertainment. Never underestimate the devastating effect saturation can have on the mind. Saturation causes exhaustion, boredom, and losing motivation. The saturated mind is like a speeding car without a running engine. Any number of factors could prevent this threshold being achieved: progress, variety, challenge, practical limits (the avid skydiver doesn’t get bored because there is only so many times they can jump out of the plane in one day; or their adrenal glands give up before they do). It would be sensible to ask for your perfect job to be entertaining.
- Companionship. I am probably stretching the use of this term. Not everyone wants human presence, even less so when working. What I mean is that ‘company’, even if only that of your own thoughts, is what brings out the sense of purpose in your work. I can imagine Sisyphus would have had to find this ‘company’ while rolling the boulder up eternally in the classical myth. It makes sense to ask for your dream job not to leave you feeling estranged.
- Purpose. Finding a sense of purpose is as much as you can expect from your job, or life for that matter. You can make your life and work meaningful, but don’t expect to find its purpose. Real purpose does not exist.
- Meaning. Following from entry 6, meaning certaintly should make the list of perfect job virtues. The perfect job has meaning and helps create meaning.
- Independence. Some people just don’t like being told what to do. Better said, they don’t consider the authority figure competent in their role. Whether this judgment is correct depends on the situation. It is anyway irrelevant for our analysis because complete independence does not exist. The perfect job would offer you such independence only if it was in no way needed and could cause no harm. This contradicts point 7, which makes independence a no go.
What should you hope for in the perfect job, if there is such a thing? According to me it is: achievement, entertainment, companionship, and meaning. Is the perfect job still a unicorn? Yes! Because there is no such thing as perfect.
If there is any situation of a perfect job existing, I think it is the one depicted in the title picture (illustrated by yours truly). The unicorn pushing the boulder back down after Sisyphus had rolled it up the hill fits the description. Each of them has guaranteed achievement (that’s how myths get set up). Every turn makes them feel like they are making progress on a never-ending job. We have entertainment. They have each other for companionship. And as mythological entities both of them find meaning in passing the ball to the other side.