I’m in the middle of interviewing for jobs at the moment, which means I’m often asked my least favorite question on the face of the earth: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I can’t precisely point to when I began hating this question with the fire of a thousand suns, but I’m fairly certain it was somewhere around my junior year of college. Halfway through that year, I changed my major from Biochemistry to English and decided once and for all that I was not going to med school. Whatever plan I’d had up until that point—course requirements, MCATs, applications, med school, internship, residency, and so forth—disintegrated.
By the time I graduated and was thrust into the “real world” (deep in a recession I couldn’t understand), that question could send me into a panic attack. Not only did I not know, I couldn’t even fathom knowing. There were no jobs to be had, my boyfriend of three years had dumped me, and I had a degree that didn’t exactly lend itself to a clear career path.
When I went back to grad school for my Masters, I thought maybe I could begin to piece together a plan. Five years was a long way away, but I could get my PhD and that would put me on a track with specific steps I could follow and ambitions to shoot for. But again, the Universe rained on my parade. Of the programs I applied for, I was only accepted to my last choice school. Though the program was one of the highest ranking for my specialization, when I got real with myself, I knew there was no way I could live in the tiny nowhere town the school was located in for the next five to seven years. So I didn’t go.
By the time I moved to Atlanta and began working in advertising, that inevitable question no longer made me panic. But I did have to restrain myself from laughing and replying, “Fuck if I know!” Five years ago, I was pretty convinced I would never live anywhere but New York. Five years ago, my parents were still married. Five years ago, I was planning a career in academia. Five years ago, I wasn’t a cat person and I wasn’t sure I wanted to get married or have kids. All no longer true five years later.
Five years is a long time, especially in your twenties. And by now, I know better than to try to predict the twists and turns my life will take. The real story is probably far better and more incredible than I could predict anyway.