Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?

“So, where do you see yourself in five years?” You’ve been there, right? Sitting in a job interview with an executive across the desk who asks the question with feigned interest in the answer. Or, perhaps sincere interest, if that person believes in the purported meaning of the lie you’re about to tell. And, we all lie here.

Again and again, we get coached on this question. Career coaches and HR bloggers advise us how not to seem like a flight risk. Or, better yet, that we have a burning interest in (insert corporate-speak here; I like “proactive problem solving”). Or that we find our self-worth in how many titles we can accumulate over the next five years. Or that the size and location of our office will command the respect of the multitudes we hand our gold-embossed business card to.

“Well, I see myself learning a lot about the company in that time and finding a niche in the organization where I can bring the most value. I’d like to become the right-hand of the VP I work for. In five years, I see myself being groomed for a department director, and eventually move into an executive role with the company.”

There, I just wrote your li(f)e for you.

Honesty is the Best Policy?

I always squirmed in my chair when I was asked this question. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I could never honestly answer it. Either I was too young and had no idea what my life would look like in five years, or I was old enough to know an honest answer would make me come across as a sea gypsy, world nomad wanna-be, with situational depression caused by incarceration in a cubicle.

“I want to sail around the world in five years, write a blog about it, and inspire others to cast off their dock lines and live their crazy dream!”

“Sweet. When do you start? How’s a hundred and thirty thousand sound as a starting salary?”

Just kidding. That would never happen. The VP would just lean back in his chair and point at the door.

What Do You Really Value?

The point is we all lie when someone asks us that question. Unless, you do gain your self-worth from climbing the corporate ladder, providing ROI, exercising your core competencies, increasing (someone else’s) bottom line, and collecting ever higher titles until you’re finally allowed to order the gold-embossed business card, then more power to ya!

At least I admit I lied.

Well, that’s a lie too. Because I lied to myself more than any employer.

I really thought I wanted a career and corporate existence. I busted my ass getting a BFA so I could continue working in the only place that matters: Corporate America. Turns out that an advertising curriculum also teaches conceptual thinking and I started seeing the little old man behind every curtain.

So, I got a reality check along with my diploma. I find more value in it than the fancy certificate that is still in the paper mailer it came in 2007 and now lives in a box with my photo albums in my mother-in-law’s air-conditioned closet, a thousand miles from me and my boat.

Yep. I believed I wanted to be a “career woman” until I realized I had been depressed for a decade. That bright sunlight on my face could make me burst into tears. That I drank away my road rage. That I was wholeheartedly disappointed that “financial independence” did not equate to “freedom”. (Feel free to re-read that sentence.) That my morning mantra walking into work, down the long, gray hall was, “I’m sad…I’m sad…I’m sad.” I’m not even kidding.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Now that I’ve entered my 42nd year, I see what a nonsense, BS question that is. I never, ever, in a hundred thousand years would have seen myself as a yacht broker in five years. You know why I accepted the job? Because the idea of it made my heart do a little back flip. Because it aligns with what I value. Because it made me excited about the prospect of going to work for the first time in a long time. Because it would put me in a fantastic position to help other people “live their crazy dream”.

A Better Approach to Future Planning

Since I have written off the question – at least from a corporate perspective – as a banal exercise in performative ladder climbing, it got me thinking about the questions that we should start asking ourselves that do ring true.

When do I experience joy, flow, a sense of lightness in my work?

What problems do I want to solve?

When do I feel excited?

When do I feel at home in my own skin?

What do I want to help others with?

What do I value?

Use these types of questions to inform the “five years” question. Then, even if you do tell the big five-year lie in the interview, you can whisper the truth to yourself in your own mind and know where you are really headed.