Where do you see yourself in five years?
How many times has this question been asked of you? How many more times have you asked it of yourself? I’ve never really loved it, mostly on the grounds that the future is impossible to predict. Our situations can change dramatically within weeks, sometimes even days. It seems unfair to expect that we’ll know what we want in a single year, let alone five.
But there’s an even more compelling reason to hold this question lightly and perhaps let it go altogether.
By focusing us on an imagined future, this question implicitly assumes that the present moment is somehow lacking.
It invites us to consider everything we want rather than everything we have. It draws our attention to the difference between where we are now and where we would like to be and treats it as a kind of deficiency, in need of fixing. A mountain to be scaled. A mountain that must be scaled if we ever want to be happy and successful.
For many of us, this kind of thinking leads quickly to self-doubt and fear. Instead of noticing how far we’ve come, we notice how tall and imposing that mountain seems. We compare ourselves to others who seem to be farther up the mountain than we are, and we feel inferior. Sometimes, we begin to believe we aren’t good enough to climb the mountain at all.
This mountain represents everything we want to be.
Just beyond the summit, our future self waves to us, and she is happy and fulfilled and successful, freed from all the deficiencies and insecurities that plague the unworthy present.
Where do you see yourself in five years, indeed?
Have you climbed the mountain? Have you achieved whatever successes you believed you needed to be happy? Have you earned the just reward of all that hard work, which is to be, at last, fulfilled?
No, no, always no. Because the mountain moves. As soon as we believe we’ve reached the top, a new summit appears, beckoning to us with a new siren song toward which to yearn.
I’ll tell you a secret: there is no mountain.
The mountain is a fantasy. It exists only in our minds, a symbol of whatever we believe stands in the way of our future happiness. We are the only thing standing in our way.
I wonder what would happen if we turned this question–where do you see yourself in five years?–on its head. How might our perspective change if we focused on how far we have already come and how much we already have?
A new question might read something like this:
What good things are more present in your life now than they were five years ago?
Perhaps you are wiser. Perhaps you are tougher. Perhaps you have made more room in your life for things that bring you joy, or perhaps you have learned a great deal about things that bring you grief and sorrow. Perhaps you have regrets, and they have softened you. Perhaps you have been hurt, and you survived. Perhaps you have failed at something, and this failure has helped you see that the world is mostly shades of gray.
Whatever your path, try gazing on where it has led you now instead of where you wish it would lead you tomorrow.
It just might change everything.