Real estate agent. Flight attendant. The jobs everyone wants right now are fantasies born of COVID fatigue

February 10, 2022, 7:23 PM UTC

New data released by Google Trends this week reveals which job roles received the most “how to become” searches in 2021. The top 10 jobs are:

  1. Real estate agent
  2. Flight attendant
  3. Notary
  4. Therapist
  5. Pilot
  6. Firefighter
  7. Personal trainer
  8. Psychiatrist
  9. Physical therapist
  10. Electrician

And one might reasonably wonder, really?

Take the top two searches. People most want to be real estate agents, but there are almost no houses for sale right now. The U.S. is experiencing one of the most competitive housing markets ever and has hit several record-low inventories. 

Then “flight attendant” is surging in popularity, even though unruly passengers have become a major facet of pandemic travel; 2021 was the worst year for bad travel behavior on record.

And two of the top 10 most searched-for jobs on Google are also in the top 15 Kids’ Dream Jobs—pilot and firefighter, as reported by the Balance Careers, a job site.  

What seems to be happening is not so much about which careers are truly desirable, but how much Americans are suffering from COVID fatigue. Their dream careers are fantasies that don’t correspond with the actual job market.

Dreaming through the burnout

As the pandemic stretches into its third year, many Americans are experiencing COVID fatigue—tired of wearing face masks and feeling emotionally exhausted. 

Nearly half of Americans think the country should “learn to live with” the coronavirus “and get back to normal,” while just 43% think “we need to do more to vaccinate, wear masks, and test,” according to a recent Yahoo News/YouGov survey

Burnout rates have also spiked during the pandemic among all kinds of careers. Around 89% of workers cited feeling burned out or unappreciated as a reason for quitting, according to a January 2022 survey from Cengage Group. And only 7% of Americans say they are in their dream career, and 19% of Americans admitted to being unhappy in their current role, according to an August 2021 survey from MoneyPenny.  

Looking for more autonomy 

Many of the most searched-for careers in 2021 have one thing in common: autonomy. 

Whether employees are daydreaming about becoming real estate agents, notaries, or personal trainers, there seems to be an overarching desire to exercise individual agency in their career roles

A real estate agent doesn’t have a traditional boss to report to and often spends much of the workday autonomously showing houses to potential clients. Personal trainers are often freelancers who make their own hours. And although they work in a hierarchy, firefighters don’t work desk jobs and have more task variance in their day-to-day operations.

Job autonomy is positively linked  to employees’ physical and mental health and reduces burnout and the desire to change jobs, according to a recent study from Current Psychology. The study found “when employees have some degree of job autonomy, especially work scheduling autonomy and decision-making autonomy, the negative effects of long working hours can be mitigated.” 

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