I don’t know about you, but I find this the hardest question in interviews, and it always feels like one of the daftest, even though it isn’t. When an interviewer asks where I expect to see myself in five or ten years the response in my head is usually “I have no bloody idea, what a stupid question”. Of course, it’s not a stupid question at all, they’re just trying to find out if you’re committed to that place of work and will work hard, you respond along the lines of standard progression in that job. Highly ambitious people will aim higher than others. I am not one of those people, I’m just trying to be happy.
The reason I find it a stupid question is because I’ve experienced quite how dramatic the curve balls in life can be. Yes, we might have plans, but so often life doesn’t care about our plans and events will happen to knock us sideways and cause a re-evaluation of what actually matters to us, where we want to be, and what we want to be doing.
I think it’s safe to say that my life has not developed in accordance with the plan I had aged 19. Or indeed, at age 28.
Ten years ago I was working in a school, I was a regular member of a wind band and had recently started what turned out to be a relatively dramatic relationship with a guy after breaking up with a long term ex the year before. I wasn’t doing what I thought I would be doing, but I was happy with the path I had at that point. I’d had to make changes but that was OK. If you had told me then that in ten years’ time I would be a mum, not with this guy, living a couple of hundred miles away and doing really well in a job that was more advanced that the one I had, plus be a published author I’d have laughed at you. That didn’t fit with what I ‘knew’ to be the case at the time.
Fast-forward a couple of years and the school I worked at had turned into a small nightmare, I was being headhunted for jobs in colleges I really didn’t want to work in, the relationship had been through so many ups and downs I’d lost count, and it hadn’t worked out. I still loved playing in the wind band but that was about it for where I was. I was very unhappy and wanted out of where I was. It was not what I planned, and it was definitely not what I wanted.
Fast-forward another year and I was in hospital recovering from complications from a miscarriage, and had decided that I was probably never going to have kids. I was preparing to move to another part of the country where I’d managed to get a great job as far away as I could manage from the dramatic relationship I’d had (and I was never going to speak to him, or see him, again; never, ever, ever…you can see where that one is going can’t you…).
Fast-forward to five years ago and I was in a new relationship, had a good job and was pregnant. But after my daughter arrived the guy left. This was not the plan. Never in my plans was I intending to be a single mum, much as I love my mum I never wanted to emulate her in that respect. I have never been fussed about getting married, it would take something pretty amazing for me to do that, but I did want a family. I’ve just had to mentally redesign what my family looks like.
Now, I’m a single mum (and kicking ass at it thank you very much!), I’m sort of back in touch with that guy I was never going to talk to, or see, again (it was always going to happen, at least for a while) and I’m still in the same great job I got while running away from him, and doing pretty well at it. With the exception of being a mum, nothing in my life is as I planned back when I was 19, or 28.
If you had told me this story when I was 19 and going off to university I’d had laughed, because obviously I was going to marry the boyfriend I had at the time. My life was going to be exciting in a good way, it was never going to, at times, rival Eastenders plotlines.
Life does not do what we expect. There are all sorts of factors which might have altered my path through life. But here I am. I live in a different part of the country than I expected to end up. I have a different job that I expected to have. I am a single mum, which I didn’t plan for, or want. My life now is not what I pictured, or wanted ten years ago. But my choices led me here, and so there is little regret that can be associated with it. There was certainly no way to predict it. My life is the result of a series of choices I made, based on options I had at the time.
My life looks nothing like it did five or ten years ago. And yet we still get asked where we expect to see ourselves in five or ten years. It just isn’t possible to predict these things. The honest answer to the question is “I don’t know”. I genuinely don’t know where I will be in five or ten years and there is no way for me to predict the future. Doesn’t matter what area of life we talk about, I just don’t know.
Yes, there are things I want and I’ll definitely aim for them, I do have plans after all. But am I going to follow these goals blindly? No. Am I going to get upset that there are currently things I can’t have? No. I don’t know what the future holds. I can’t have some things now, but I have no idea what is around the corner, no idea at all. Anything can happen. I could change my mind about all the things I want right now. It’s also entirely possible I’ll achieve/obtain some of the things I currently want in the future.
Some people might say that things happen as they’re meant to. That’s rather more belief in fate than I have, as a scientist and atheist I prefer being master of my own destiny. Our choices are in our control, but they interact with the choices of others whether we like it or not. To me, life seems to be like a massive game of chess; we none of us know what others are going to do, we just make decisions based on the selection of choices we have available to us at a particular time. I’ve made choices about big events in my life based on the situations I was in and the choices I had available at the time. We have control over our life, not anyone else’s; but we are affected by the decisions others make, which is, I think, where people can get knocked about a bit.
We don’t like being restricted by the choices of others, we don’t like others’ lives impacting negatively on us. Well, in a society where we live and associate with others through choice and necessity, this is to be expected. We live in a community, and each person we get close to in our chosen tribe will influence the selection of choices available to us at any given time, simply by virtue of them thinking their own thoughts and making their own choices. But before we get too concerned by this, we need to remember that their choices and decisions are impacted by the choices and decisions we make as well. The process is circular, not one-way, and is a feature of living in a society.
Now in job interviews we always have to focus on the job at hand, always give responses that are in line with the job role and we shouldn’t include personal goals in our answers. Because employers do not like to hear that your personal life will impact your professional life. Even though it will. With bells on in my case. Most of my big decisions in life have been the result of an emotional situation, with those situations acting either as a catalyst or as a road block.
Ten years ago I was aiming for a teaching certificate and I was happy to be a teacher. I wanted nothing more than to be with that guy, keep playing music and to have a family. Now I’m working in a university, I’m a single mum several hundred miles away from where I used to live, and my choices revolve around my daughter and my thoughts are elsewhere when it comes to men.
Life changes and we none of us have any idea what is around the corner for us. We live in a giant game of chess, making the best choices we can with the selection available to us, the options constantly changing based on what others decide to do. We’re all capable of being ambitious, but our ambitions are all different. My dream was never to have an amazing career, but apparently a great career is what I have. And that’s OK by me, it’s pretty damn good to be in the position I am. I wanted a family more than anything, well I have a daughter and so I have a family of two (three if you include the cat). It’s still my family, and I still achieved this dream, it’s just not the picture I had in my head when I was younger. Does that matter? No, it doesn’t.
Do I know where I’ll be in five or ten years? No, I do not. Do I know what I want to happen next with the various situations in my life? Sure, of course I do. Only time will tell if events go the way I’d like, I’m going to guess not though, very little in my life has been predictable, I’m going to follow this giant game of chess I appear to be playing. I’ll make a move when there is a move to make. My choices are impacted by the decisions of others – just as their choices are impacted by my decisions. It’s all circular.
And so no, I don’t know where I’ll be in five or ten years. Do you?