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Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

“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

About Roo Mulligan

Roo Mulligan is a certified fitness specialist and a Wellness Life Coach with a Master's in Counseling. She specializes in incorporating fun into our health to increase our energy and bring joy into our lives. Learn more about Roo on her website, www.healthylivingisfun.com.

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  • Lv2terp

    This is a wonderful blog….a perfect reminder, thank you!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Karlaengelmolnar

    Beautiful!  You’re exactly right.  Thank you for helping me remember that right now is beautiful, important, and all I have.  🙂

  • laura

    Roo, thank you. Reminds me of something Thich Nhat Hanh wrote –
    Waking up this morning, I smile.
    Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
    I vow to live fully in each moment
    and to look at all beings with the eyes of love.

  • Praxis22

    I got asked that question, I said I wanted kids 🙂

  • Louis

    Roo, sounds like you have been blessed with an interesting/challenging life. Congratulations on how you have accepted it and what you are making of it. That is the gift realized, is it not?

  • Tasha

    I couldn’t agree with you more… That ‘ambition’ culture is omnipresent, not just in the US. I live in the UK; I’m 28, am just about finishing my MA but its taken me 7 yrs of school to get to this point. People the same age as me have managerial roles, they completed their education around the same time as I started mine, and I often catch myself thinking, I’m on the back foot here. But I had a meeting with a careers advisor last week who told me I had more experience than people twice or three times my age, and she was sure I’d find a job doing what I wanted soon. It’s refreshing when people acknowledge that the usual routes aren’t the only ones, that they’re not necessarily the best ones.

    I’ve learnt a lot in the past 8 years, and though I do worry that I’m not ‘where I ought to be’, I wouldn’t change my journey for the world.

  • Sarah

    As I said to Lori, this post was very helpful to me today … WHO do I want to be in five years?  Thank you, Roo!  Very beautiful post ♥

  • wanderer

    Thanks so much for the perspective Roo. As a young adult living in America, there is certainly an abundant amount of pressure to succeed academically and financially-to create security for yourself/your family. Particularly if your parents are first generation immigrants. I am proud of who I am, and I do not need a high salary and a luxurious appartment to prove that 🙂

  • I’ve recently had a similar realization. If someone had told me two years ago that, in the near-ish future, I’d be back in my hometown, dating an old friend from childhood, and was happy with my life, I’d have thought them crazy.

    In my past, I could never have predicted my present. And that’s enough evidence for me that I won’t get it spot on about the future either.

    Now I practice relinquishing my angst about not having control. I know that I can’t control what happens to me, but I can master my own way of moving through the world. 

  • Sanewing

    I love this! Thank you for sharing. In 5 years I want to be happy with my life, and the only person who can make that happen is me, it does matter what’s going on our there. 🙂

  • I don’t think I even know where I want to be in 5 weeks let alone 5 years! Those kind of interview questions drive me nuts! I do like the ‘who do you want to be in 5 years’ bit – never thought of it like that .. 

  • Roo

    Thank you Laura.  I love Thich Nhat Hanh and find this quote very inspiring.  Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Roo

    It is a hard thing to do Jenna but something we learn over and over.  We can’t control our future, only our response to it.  Sounds like you are doing a good job living in the moment.

  • Roo

    Used to drive me crazy too Andy 🙂

  • Roo

    I want to be happy too Sanewing!  I am sure you will succeed. You have a great attitude.

  • Roo

    Thank you Sarah 🙂

  • Roo

    Sounds like you have the right attitude.  Thanks for your comment 🙂

  • Roo

    we get to where we are through our journey Tasha.  You have worked so hard for your MA and learned so much.  Congratulations!  Thank you for sharing.

  • Roo

    Thank you Louis.

  • Roo

    Ha ha, how did they respond?  Hope you have as many kids as you want in 5 years.

  • Roo

    Thank you!

  • Roo

    Thank you for reading it!  I’m glad you enjoyed 🙂

  • Tinarose29

    amazing!!!!

  • Melisa

    I have never been able to answer that question in interviews. I can’t think that far in the future. 
    In the past weeks I’ve been re-examining my life, my job, what I want. And all I’m really sure about is what I don’t want. I guess that’s a start too. 
    There are signs everywhere, I was thinking about this things and decided to come to the site and read about stuff…and there it is on the front page, this article.

    I love Tiny Buddha! Thanks for the great article. Each day I’m more convinced that we are all connected, is just amazing how I can find something related to my situation each time I come here. It can’t be a coincidence.

  • I say that every morning after my daily meditation.  I love it! 🙂

  • Roo

    I’m glad the article was just what you were looking for Melisa. 

  • I would
    never have predicted where I stand today. And more importantly: I could never
    have predicted who I am today.

    With some
    help of a few true friends I’ve learned to live in the moment and appreciate what
    comes my way.

    I also
    learned to see the positive side of the so called bad things that happen to us
    in life. In this case it’s just a perception: how good is good and how bad is
    bad.

    This makes
    it also possible to, instead of chasing the wrong things, let the right things
    catch you.

  • Roo

    what a great thing to ask yourself everyday!

  • Sky

    This article hit home for me. Always being pressured to succeed externally and do better instead of being humble and appreciating the simple things and the more important things in life. Especially the question about your 5 year plan versus who you want to be in five years. Maybe I’ll use that in my next interview… 🙂 

  • Juniper

    Beautiful post, thank you.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what to do with my career and whether to go to school.  I still have a lot to think about but I’m working on making myself happy every day regardless of the outcome with schooling and jobs.

  • Courtney

    Thanks you for bringing things back into perspective, Roo, Love flipping the question to “Who do you want to be in 5 years?.”

  • Great blog. Congratulations. So good to read and learn here. Keep up the good work guys.

  • This is a wonderful article.  How often we occupy our minds thinking about our future leaving the current moment unnoticed. All spiritual teachings and religions hence always focus on being here right now…..

  • What a beautiful post. I’m guilty of wondering at the future too much sometimes; I’m such a dreamer. But this post was a wonderful reminder to stay present – when you’re looking with the right perspective, it can be just as beautiful as dreams of the future. 🙂  Thanks for sharing, Roo!

  • Pingback: “What If” myths and the power of reframing « A Rebalanced Life()

  • Ginsbergchick77

    I just now came across this lovely website, and while looking through the blog your post caught my eye. Three years ago I was graduating from college and thought I knew exactly what I was going to do with my life. Two months after graduating, however, I was struck with an illness which turned out to be an incurable chronic pain condition. Your story really resonates with me, because the main lesson I have learned from my experiences is that peace and happiness aren’t things you plan for. They must be discovered and cultivated in the here and now. I LOVE your distinction between where you see yourself and who you want to be in the future. Thank you for sharing your wisdom through your story.

  • Ahmet

    Beautiful! I ran straight upstairs and hugged my kids after reading it….I gave them the deepest hug ever! Thank you!

  • In my twenties and until my mid-thirties my life was not about what I did for a living. I was active in local issues, had a great bunch of friends, and worked largely to fund my life outside work.  I remember one colleague once saying “you should be using your degree”, i.e have a higher paid, more high status job.  She could not understand my different choices. I then decided to move into state health care work, having retrained, and became more conventional in my approach  – until last year when my sense that this was not ‘me’ (at least not all of me) resurfaced, and I made yet another choice – to bring together all the parts into a whole life including rewarding work as a coach and a focus on family and friends, as well as a more spiritul connection.  We all have our own paths.  I really rate goal-setting – when it is to help a person connect more with their own life, rather than to take them into someone else’s version of it.

  • this post is beautiful. No other way to explain it to give this article justice.

  • beautiful poem

  • smart stuff Sally. Congratulations on the realizations

  • Kismet in action! I soooooooooooo needed to read this now. After interviewing for the last two weeks (and probably surely losing opportunities) and not having a true answer to that question that resonated with me and who i am now, I am happy and relieved to know that I am not alone in my thinking. Thank YOU! 

  • Caro

    I can totally relate to this post. I finally got a job after being unemployed for a yr. It pays way less than I would like but I am super excited about it. I’ve been on countless interviews where I’ve been asked the 5 yr question over & over. At first I’d respond w/what I thought the interviewer would want to hear, but that response was not really me & to the surprise of some interviewers o started replying “Wherever life takes me as long as I am happy.” In the past year I got laid off, totaled my car and have to do a short sale on my condo b/c I cannot afford it anymore. Among other losses it’s been a really rough year but I believe things happen for a reason…I think life brings difficult changes to teach you lessons about what really counts.

  • Miguel Saturno

    Una experiencia sacada de la vida de cada día.
    En la intimidad plena del presente está la vivencia de ESO. No hay dónde ir, ni dónde querer estar, ni qué querer ser.

  • Vanessa

    Thank you so much for writing this post!! It is beautiful and spot on! John Lennon once said that “life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”. All you have to do is turn to a blog on a site such as this one or read someone’s life story to find that one of the main lessons learned is the ability to truly live in the moment. There’s a reason for that. Be present. Its no use trying to live in more than one place at a time.

  • Steve

    Hi Roo.. How cool is this site ..  I will keep on reading and keep on learning ,Everyday ..Thanks

  • Great post. I changed my question a few years ago to “Who do I want to be.” instead of basing it on “where do see my self in ___ years.” I agree life happens that can really alter where we desire to be.

    I expected to be at a certain place, earning a certain amount of money and going to places I wanted to visit. I never would have thought in a million years that in less than 11 months I would experience: my son being born 3 months premature and spending 2 months in the hospital, wife sick for 10 months, lost my job 2 wks after baby came home, both cars needed major work, exhaust savings and retirement accounts and my father suddenly passed away. There were also several other things that happened.

    But, this situation taught me to change my focus from the external to the internal man. Even through all of those events we grew stronger as a couple and family. Sometimes we need the challenges that life bring to give us the right perspective. Who I have become can keep me if things are going great or if things are not great. 

  • Roo

    gracias Miguel 🙂

  • Thank you for sharing such an insightful post. What a wonderful rephrase of a common question to get people thinking about the truly important parts of life rather than the more egotistical ones that drive most people. 

  • Rodolfo Nascimento

    Thanks for share ! It helps me in a journey to start making my personal strategic planning.