“Begin at once to live and count each separate day as a separate life.” ~Seneca
“Where do you envision yourself in five years?”
This is a common interview question. Managers like to find employees who set goals for themselves. They think it is a sign of a person who is motivated and wants to get ahead in life.
I used to believe this too. I constantly badgered myself, “You should be further along in your career.” “Everyone else your age is in management positions, why aren’t you?” “Maybe I should get an MA so I can get a better job and be more qualified.”
There was constant pressure on me to be more, to achieve more, to do better, to be better than what I was right then. I put that pressure on myself. American society idealizes the upwardly mobile, outwardly wealthy, ambitious person.
When I was in my 30s I had a Director position with a good company, a husband, two kids, and a nice house in Florida. I was living the American dream. If asked my five-year plan in an interview I would have said to continue to move up in the company, to earn a higher salary, go back to school to get my Master’s Degree, send my kids to the best schools, and build an extension on my house.
All my goals were exterior driven—to do, strive, angst and work, work, work, work harder. But life happens and you can’t control or predict what will be thrown your way.
In the next five years the economy tanked, and my husband was in danger of losing his job, so he wisely found another—in Indiana. We moved to the Midwest where I had never even had the slightest inkling of desire to live.
My father had a heart attack and had to have a quadruple bypass. I became a vegetarian overnight.
My mother went to have knee replacement surgery, developed MRSA, and was in the hospital for six months. She was wheelchair bound after she got out.
Her husband lost his job in Florida and moved her out to Washington State. She was ill, living in a pIace she hated, and thousands of miles away from me.
I could not find equivalent work in Indiana and wound up in a part-time secretarial position. None of these momentous events would have even occurred to me five years before.
My point in telling you all this is that life happens regardless of our plans. When we strive and struggle to constantly be somewhere “better” or “further along,” we miss out on what we have now.
I look back to those times before my mom was sick when she could come to the beach with us, drive her car, and walk in the park, and while I had fun, I was not fully present—always worrying about some future event, like what to make for dinner or what I needed to do at work the next day.
I would give anything to have those days back so I could revel in the feel of the sand between my toes and the sight of my mom walking along the beach collecting shells with my kids.
So, a better question than, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Would be, “Who do you want to be in five years?”
Our circumstances and outward events are completely out of our control. The only thing we can control is our internal world. How will we respond to events? What will we focus on? Where will we place our attention?
If you focus on being the best version of you that you can be, your future can be even better than you imagined. You can’t get there by acquiring and doing; you get to your best future by appreciating what you have and choosing what you give your attention to.
My job now may not be as prestigious and the place we live may not be as beautiful to me as Florida, but I still have my husband, my children, and a nice home.
When I hug my child goodnight I choose to really feel the hug, listen to her heart beat, smell her hair, and know that I am living my best life. I choose to be loving and to put my attention on what I do have, not on what I lack.
What does it mean for you to live your best life, right now—and who do you want to be in five years?
Photo by Eddie van W