I’ve never been very good at answering the classic interview question: “Where do you see yourself five years from now?” Growing up in eight different homes in four states and ten different schools (not included three undergraduate colleges and three graduate universities) made me hesitant about future planning. I never knew when life-altering change might come despite my best-laid plans, and I grew adept at riding the tide that carried me from coast to coast.
“The only thing certain is change” became one motto, later joined by “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (the more it changes the more it stays the same).” One of the best pieces of advice I received as a new mother was “whatever behavior you’re seeing (good or bad), don’t get used to it.” For better or for worse, things change. Babies cry and then get over it. Toddlers push the limits and then learn to respect firmly held boundaries. Children develop an obsession and then replace it with something new. I’ll keep you posted on the teenage version (from a parental point of view).
When I look at myself at this point in my life, I’m surprised by how stable my environment has been. I’ve lived in my apartment for six years (a lifetime record!) and worked at my school for over eight, which was inconceivable a decade ago after industry-hopping several times. My daughter is still sports- and animal-obsessed, as she has been for years. The only thing unstable is my relationship status, but that’s something I’ve gotten used to (as strange as that may sound to many of my friends). The man I love is far away for a semester, and I’m doing the long-distance thing for the first time since freshman year in college — which didn’t work out so well. But as you can see, time is still measured in academic terms (some things don’t change much).
Recent disruptions in my work life — as well as too much time at home in a sick bed — have thrown me into a self-reflective mode of wondering what will come next. Usually I throw up my hands and answer this question with: “Who knows? I’m sure I’ll figure something out.” Relying on my reactive wits and flexibility remains a dominant ideology, and yet, I wonder if perhaps, just maybe, I could take a bit more control of the course of my life and plan more for the future.
I have been known to accuse politicians of being short-sighted in their responses to the crisis of the day: High oil prices? Drill, baby, drill! High unemployment? Give corporations and the rich tax breaks! Welfare fraud? Cut everyone off from entitlements! Gun violence? Arm our teachers! “How can they not see where this will lead?” I cry, befuddled from my armchair. And yet I don’t examine my own life through the same long-term lens, fully expecting that any plan would be disrupted by some unforeseen monkey-wrench.
The truth is that change will happen, and most of the time it will be unpredictable, at least in the specific details. We know climate change is real (well, at least those who believe in science), yet who could have foreseen the effects of Hurricane Sandy? I’m guessing some Wall St. insiders knew the risks they were taking in the housing market, but could they have predicted the catastrophic result of their folly? Yet that does not give us an excuse to avoid looking ahead. We should make wise choices based on what we think (often without certainty) to be true. We know more people will die if a loony gunman has an semi-automatic weapon instead of a two-barrel shotgun. Why can’t we make the distinction and legislate accordingly? We know from experience that women will die from illegal abortions if the medical procedure is outlawed. What right do we have to dictate a woman’s personal healthcare decisions? We’ve seen how the more we try to control Fundamentalist Islamic regimes, the more their hatred of us grows and the more violence is perpetrated against us. Is a show of force and imposed political ideology (however right we think we are) always the best response?
I can predict that I will probably not be able to continue working in the status quo (or necessarily want to, given my life path). Eventually something might change, and I may be pounding the pavement to keep my small family in macaroni and cheese. Should I sit idly by and wait for the ax to fall? After all, it’s not just my well-being the relies on my wits and flexibility. My daughter is dependent on me, at least for another decade. Thus I’m beginning to think again about continuing education, professional development, dusting off my résumé, and honing my other skills for a potential career change.
So I’m resolved to plan more for our future. Yet I still can’t answer the question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But I’m sure when I get there, I’ll be just fine. Some things never change.