When Your Dream Job Might Be a Nightmare

"And then you also have to watch dogs," Johnston added.

For 20 minutes or so, I was in dog-watching heaven, petting and cooing at and throwing the ball for each of Johnston's canine charges, each one sweeter and goofier than the next. And despite the fact that I can count on one hand the times I've cleaned my bathtub, I told myself that bleaching and mopping and scooping up poop in the backyard would be a welcome change from my usual sedentary life.

But I knew I was kidding myself -- even before Johnston told me she spent her first two years working 12-hour days because she couldn't afford employees yet. Even before my eyes started to water and my nose started to run and I remembered that I was prone to sneezing violently when occupying a small room with more than one or two dogs in it.

The Beauty of Trying Before You Buy

Truth was, the most interesting part of my day was mining Johnston and Zorah, one of her employees, for details about their jobs and the business of boarding dogs and thinking about how I'd tell their story later when I sat down at my keyboard. Like a fickle 3-year-old with a new toy on Christmas morning, I was bored with the dogs themselves in less than an hour.

I tried to hang on for the much-ballyhooed puppy behavior class scheduled to occur the last hour of my stay. But after half a day in tail-wagging wonderland, I pleaded deadline, grabbed some more tissues for the car ride home and high-tailed it out of there.

I don't consider my foray into the world of dog daycare a loss, though. Sure, I realized that my dream job stinks (literally). But I'm glad I got that dose of reality -- even if it came wrapped in a pungent plastic sack -- before I took any concrete steps toward pursuing my less-than-dreamy fantasy job.

Of course, you don't need to spend $1,000 to sample a job you're interested in exploring hands-on. Internships and volunteer gigs often can serve the same purpose. So can calling a professional you admire and asking if they'll let you observe them at work for a morning in exchange for breakfast. If you're still in school or recently graduated, your career center likely can help you set up such gigs.

And while they're no replacement for seeing a job in action, classes and blogs can help you gauge whether a job that's piqued your curiosity is something you want to explore further.

As for me, I'm back in the writing saddle and couldn't be happier. One day of sending my career to the dogs was all I needed to realize that I'd been barking up the wrong tree.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist, author and former cubicle dweller. Her books — "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube" -- offer an irreverent take on the traditional career guide. More tips on career change, flex work and the freelance life can be found on her blog, Anti9to5Guide.com.

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