“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” And Other Impossible Questions to Answer

It’s the actual worst question you could ask. Seriously. And yet, it’s proven that it’s a question that’s staying in job interviews, grad school applications, and get-to-know-you questions. This is a question that people are curious about almost as much as what you do for a living. We’re all wondering where we are heading, and we are hoping to get there with great certainty of how it’s going to all happen.

And I’m guilty. I’ve asked this question for years to students at universities, or at least in some similar form of the question. Working in career services, I’m excited and eager to find out where people are headed and their plan of action for getting there. It’s something that fills my days with more excitement and anticipation than it maybe should, and for those of you that are reading this and know me well, you know that your life successes have been met with maybe more excitement than is expected for something that really has nothing to do with me.

I’m certainly a planner and a future thinker, so what that means is that I can tell you exactly how I’m going to structure my days. I bet I can tell you exactly what days I’ll be traveling this year, even before I book the tickets. I know who has to be there and how everything has to work out for the perfect, beautiful storm to happen.

…until it doesn’t happen. Because, if you haven’t noticed, life isn’t a one size fits all, stick it into the equation and it’ll work out just fine kind of experience. In fact, if you ask any twentysomething about their 5-, 10-, 20- year plan, you’ll be met by one of two people: either the anxious one or the liar. The truth is, none of us can truly articulate exactly where we’re headed, and the question that everyone loves to ask isn’t helping our situation.

This is why:

While it’s not wrong at all to have goals or aspirations, sometimes I’m curious if our head down, don’t look around posture to life is actually killing our sense of wonder. Think about it. If I was sitting here with my perfect plan, knowing exactly how it’s all going to work out to make it to my end goal, I could be and likely am passing by opportunities for something greater to happen, something so outside of my box of comfort and security that could actually get me to the exact right place I’m supposed to be. I’m sure you can think of so many times in your own life that something unexpected happened so you reacted in the best way you knew how, and it actually got you to a place you wouldn’t trade for the world at this point in life.

Here’s why I’m saying all of this:

If you would have asked me even 2 years ago what my 5-year plan was, my idea would have sounded a little something like this. At this point, I would have been days away from graduating from grad school at the university that was my very first choice to attend. Then I would have told you that I’m going to work in this super innovative job in a really fast-paced office in this lovely little mountain-esque college town in Colorado. I would have told you that I’m going to live and work here for the foreseeable future, maybe forever. My anthem would have been that I was single and thrilled with how my life was looking, loving the people I was meeting, the places I was going, and the things I was doing. And I would have said I would like to keep it that way for a good while before any part of my relationship status changed. I was going to kill it in my career, finding places around this same university to grow and learn and contribute. My role here would be one of a convener of friends and friends who are more like family, and I was going to happily be a steady person in a place of so much transition.

Then something happened the middle of last year that kind of messed that up. And what’s happening now is much different and much grander than that calculated, safe plan I had set up for myself.

If you would have asked me at the end of grad school just 2 years ago if I would meet the kindest, gentlest, most adventurous man, then marry him after just a handful of months of dating, I would have laughed at you. If you would have told me that I was going to leave this amazing college town I now call home to move not only to another city or state, but to the other side of the world, I would think you were crazy. “Me?” Highly unlikely. If you would have said to me that my time in my cushy job at my cushy university was coming to an end after many years of investing here, I maybe would have started to cry.

But here I am. Getting married. Moving to Scotland. Taking a new direction in my career. Saying goodbye to life as I know it.

And the wildest part is that although I could have never planned this out more ideally myself, I know I’m moving in the exact right direction that I’m supposed to be right now.

Instead of answering that dreaded five-year question with a planned answer of the American Dream (whatever that really is anyway), what if the answer was that we were going to spend the next five years stepping out in faith in our daily decisions? Making the best choice with the information we have? Experiencing life in a posture of wonder and curiosity instead of one of certainty and normality?

And then, what if we were all a people who supported one another in living life in that posture, encouraging one another to take the risk that’s best for them? Because what I know for sure is that when we are truly living in step with what we are supposed to do – the race mapped out for us – we experience life fully alive, hearts open to the possibility of the seemingly impossible.

What we don’t know and can never be certain of is how all the details will fit together. I consistently try to defy that, and time and time again I learn that all of my striving and proving is often wasted effort to control and limit and contain my life. But at some point we take the next step, knowing just enough that it’s a step in the direction set out for us.

So that’s my five-year plan. It’s taking the next step in faith with what I know now, in the spirit of curiosity and wonder.

Will you join me?

I would love to hear from you!