You hear the interviewer ask you this question and your mind turns blank. All the well-rehearsed answers you’ve worked on disappear as visions fill your head. Dreams of what life could be like in five years. You’ll be rich, married, and successful at your job—and most certainly not job searching. The endless cover letter writing, resume updating, phone and in-person interviews will have come to an end. You’ll finally have established yourself in your field (or fields as in my case) and won’t have to go through the painful process of starting off your professional career.
This question can make your palms sweat and a lump form in your throat. As you look at the interviewer, you feel fear. Not the fear of impressing your future employer and making sure you’re selling yourself the best you can. No, this is a different kind of fear, the fear of the unknown. Where will you be in five years? Will things be different? The same? Is it really possible to predict what you’ll want in the future?
It’s a difficult question for a recent grad to answer. Often we will stumble inadvertently upon something we enjoy. One position will lead to another, and we will end up in a place we could never have predicted. There’s no certainty of what will happen, and most likely our dreams won’t come close to the reality.
Of course your interviewer does not want to hear that you hope in five years you’ll be able to go on that exotic vacation with your cute Jewish boyfriend soaking in the ocean breeze, drinking fruity cocktails, and relaxing without work on the mind. They want to hear your commitment to their organization, how you’re going to work hard to be successful at your job and move up in the organization while making the company look good and be glad they decided to hire you.
But you need to answer this question for yourself. So, to re-phrase the question and answer it for myself…
What do I want to have in 5 years?
- To have a successful job that provides an income that will keep me comfortable and not always stressing about a budget
- To have traveled more (particularly to Australia, New Zealand, and the parts of the UK and Europe I have not been to yet)
- To be surrounded by loving friends and family
- To be healthy and able to do all that I want to do
- To be happy and not just content
These five goals are pretty basic, and I’m sure shared by most people. These are five wishes I have for the next year, five years, ten, and so on. But overall, the main thing I worry about in the future is being myself. Now you’re probably thinking, what the heck does that mean? Well, I want to make sure that through any job changes or detours on my career path I still retain who I am. We all know that Americans overwork themselves. In our minds, working longer means working harder which means working our way up the corporate ladder, and I’m really no different in thinking the same thing. I’m very driven and competitive, and I often lose myself in my work. I define myself by my successes and failures.
But, if we define ourselves by our jobs, we could lose sight of what makes us, us. For example, when you’re at a party, do you go around introducing yourself as a twenty-something year old Jew who likes to write, drink coffee, and take long walks on the beach? No, you say something more like, “Hi, my name is Deborah and I’m a writer. I write for Oy!Chicago and…” And what if you could no longer be a writer or a lawyer or a doctor? Would you fall apart in some sort of existential crisis? That’s why it’s important to me to connect to other Jews and keep up with my other interests. Being Jewish and belonging to a synagogue provides a community that is there no matter what your occupation and it’s my hobbies and quirks that make me different from all the other people who will have the same job as me.
I may not know where my career path will lead me over the next five years, but I know one thing for sure—I’ll still be me. As for what I will be doing, ask me again in five years.