You know that feeling when you’re in an interview and the spiffy looking professional on the other side of the table folds her hands, leans forward, and asks you a question you haven’t a bloody clue how to answer?
You do? Great!, because that’s where this story starts.
“Tell me about where you see yourself in ten years.”
A number of answers ran through my head. Answers such as:
b.) “I have no idea.”
c.) “I don’t think that far ahead.”
d.) “Successful enough to never have to be in an interview like this again.”
The idea machine in my brain was laying a minefield. So many unsayable answers to pick from! In the end, I improvised some riff about starting my own company, but admitted that (c) was pretty close to the truth– I have no detailed vision of my life that far ahead.
The interviewer was not impressed. “Not impressed” to the tune of “Don’t come to our grad school”. And that’s fine. I would’ve loved to go, but as I can only speak inarticulate truths or inarticulate lies, I had to choose the former. I don’t mind suffering for honesty every once and a while. It’s a nice reminder that I’m alive.
But here’s the important bit: I really don’t think that far ahead about most things, and I don’t believe most people do.
And I have no problem with that.
* * *
Much more important than knowing where you’re going is trusting how you will get there. How do you do that? Build confidence, set the right habits, and focus on now. Make goals, but know that goals are for you, not the other way around.
It’s a subtle distinction. Don’t focus on later. Focus on now, but give later the stink eye.
Trust how you’re getting to your unknown destination. This is applicable, I believe, to everything.
For starters, business. Will I have started my own business in the next decade and be my own boss just like I guessed in the interview?
The answer: who knows! I sure don’t.
But here’s what’s cool. I’m confident of how I’m getting to that decision. I reflect daily on what I’m learning and doing in work. Is this the place for me? I talk shop with big-corp underlings like myself and also entrepreneurs who are already out there in the wild. I’m setting aside money for when my dream requires some cash to push it along. Push has not come to shove, but when it does, I will be as prepared as possible to make big choices right.
Another example: I want to publish a book. Can I do this before I die?
The best I can say is I hope so. Lord knows I’m trying.
And that’s true. I write every day. I put my stuff out there and get feedback. I’m constantly trying to improve. Reading up on publishing. I don’t expect to have anything on shelves in the next twelve months, but you better believe I am arcing in that direction.
One more example: love. Will I have met the love of my life and gotten married in ten years?
Again, no clue.
But you know what? I trusthow I’m getting there. I trust that I can charm the pants off a girl when I need to (figuratively speaking– let’s keep things PG here), and I trust that I can muster up the social skills necessary to have a good conversation when that time comes. My previous girlfriends may swear otherwise, but joke’s on them– they dated me.
* * *
Aw, this is such crap! You’re just trying to rationalize that you haven’t started a business yet. Enjoy your books and conversations, loser! But you know what? I’m not warning you against trying to achieve your goals. I’m warning you against the belief that you should or even can know where you’ll be in 10 years, and trying to use that sort of unicorns-and-fairies future as a useful vision.
Honestly, I’m the last person to tell you not to make goals. I tell people to set goals and shut up and achieve them pretty often… about weekly, just counting a blog I write about accomplishing your life goals. And of all the questions I get about my writing there, one of the most common is: “If you didn’t finish your bucket list before you kicked the bucket, would you be regretful?”. In short: no way. That’s what I’m trying to say here. The goals we set for ourselves aren’t the purpose of life, they’re ways to help us grow along the way. If I’m on my deathbed without “author” after my name, I’m not going to be lamenting the fact. I’m going to be thankful that I got to do so many of the other things this planet has to offer.
But in the meanwhile, I’m going to be trying like a maniac to accomplish those things– and trusting that whether I do or do not achieve them, and whether my future is exactly like I could dream or nothing like I could dream, I’m doing the right things right now.
Because that’s all I can do.