While preparing for job interviews in my senior year of college, I made a daily practice of vetting commonly asked interview questions.
There was one question, however, that always stumped me.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Five years was a long time. What would they care to hear? Did they want me to sign a ten year allegiance to the company? Did they expect people to quit? Go to business school? What kind of job or position could I yearn for to make myself sound ambitious? Did they actually even give a shit?
One day, I stopped thinking about how to sound impressive in an interview context and carefully thought about where I would see my career. I thought back to five years before my senior year of college — as a high school senior, I wanted to study history, writing, and foreign languages with the possibility of being a diplomat or teacher. What changed from then to now?
In the five years after I had established those goals, I saw myself change. My need for challenge grew. New inventions, industries, and opportunities presenting themselves in unique ways. I learned what I hated. My insecurities came to life. I realized what bored me, what captivated me, what made me laugh, and what drove my intellectual curiosity. I learned how to interact with people, how to empathize with different types of personalities, and how to build trust from scratch.
Ironically, if you asked me in high school where I would see myself in five years, I would likely mention an occupation or trade. I would have mentioned nothing about the personal, social, or intellectual growth.
You always see yourself in the lens of a position or industry focus. You rarely see yourself as the type of person you’d want to embody.
Arianna Huffington, the Founder of the Huffington Post, talks about redefining success beyond money and power to include well-being, wisdom and our ability to wonder and to give. In this piece, Huffington questions whether the greater plurality of our world is living their legacy via a resume or a eulogy.
“ No matter how much a person spends his or her life burning the candle at both ends, chasing a toxic definition of success and generally missing out on life, the eulogy is always about the other stuff: what they gave, how they connected, how much they meant to the lives of the real people around them, small kindnesses, lifelong passions and what made them laugh.”
In President Obama’s eulogy of longtime senator Ted Kennedy, a small fraction of the speech was focused on his legislative accomplishments. Instead, it was filled with anecdotes like this:
In the days after September 11th, Teddy made it a point to personally call each one of the 177 families of this state who lost a loved one in the attack.
[He] was the friend and colleague who was always the first to pick up the phone and say, “I’m sorry for your loss,” or “I hope you feel better,” or “What can I do to help?”
When they tossed him off a boat because he didn’t know what a jib was, six-year-old Teddy got back in and learned to sail.
While this certainly meliorated his legacy as one of the greatest legislators of our time, it also gave a new perspective on his humanity.
When I now consider that five year question, I frame it in a different way:
What Will Others Say About You in 5 Years?
Maybe they will reference success or movement in business. Maybe they will reference propensity for entrepreneurship. But does it matter when you are a successful partner if you’re insufferable to work with or butt heads at every corner? Does it matter if you stay up late crunching numbers if it comes at the expense of meaningful relationships? Does it matter if you’re a successful entrepreneur if your friends haven’t seen you in months?
In addition to setting goals for where I want to be or where I want to go in 2021, I want to consider what type of person I’d want to be.
When I think about my metric of success, I consider new promotions, positions, and accolades in the way they frame my professional career. I also consider personal growth outside of my career — whether any of these accomplishments continue to help me be a better student, colleague, friend, and human being.
The truth is, it’s messy. Nobody likes to think about this fuzzy metric. Why should the idea that well-being, wisdom and our ability to give also drive our success? It’s ambiguous. It’s lazy. It’s not as easy to measure as dollars raised or books read. Yet, it’s our most enduring metric.
How do you even measure curiosity, happiness, and giving?
Think about what type of people you admire and why you admire them. Think about your best friends and why you appreciate them. Think about your favorite colleague or your most influential mentor — what was significant in way they approached your relationship?
Think about what makes you curious — what draws you into the dark recesses of the internet when you need to be focused on work? What sort of areas do you find yourself craving to be an authority in? Where do you maximize your potential in teaching others?
Think about what makes you happy, well-rested, and able to build upon your relationships. How many hours of sleep work best for you? What gives you goosebumps? What makes you smile?
You don’t have to find these today or tomorrow. But every day, you can reflect on the gap between the person you are and the person you’d love to be in more ways than your career ladder.
Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
What Will Others Say About You in 5 Years?
Kushaan is an IBM Consultant based out of Washington D.C. His interests are rooted in strategy consulting, entrepreneurship, social media, and the intersection of technology with social impact. He enjoys blogging about life, career insights, social technology, and hacking the corporate environment. If you liked this post, follow him on twitter: @kushaanshah or click “Follow” at the top for more posts on Medium.
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