“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

I am sure, nearly everybody heard this question already in a job interview, in an annual review discussion or just in a private chat with a friend: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”. At least during the last twenty years, I always had a bit of a problem with this question and even more with a good answer. These days I saw a post on LinkedIn which said:

So in retrospect, in 2015, not a single person got the answer right to “Where do you see yourself in 5 years from now?”

I would maybe not subscribe the term “not a single person”, because I heard several scientists forecasting this type of scenario we face now with Covid-19. Also Bill Gates already talked five years ago about something similar. Now he even gets blamed for that by some people, who believe that all this is a big conspiracy. But in general this LinkedIn-post describes in a pretty good way, why I have a problem with the question in the headline. Sure, others might have made a different experience. Some people might be more focused and determined than me. They potentially are already, where they saw themselves five or even more years ago. My honest respect for that!

Plans are changing rapidly

When I was a teenager, I also made twenty-year plans about what I would like to achieve. That is probably normal, when you still have everything in front of you, but little or no life experience. Already after I left university, my plans started to change on a yearly basis. At first, German military decided that they still urgently need me for fifteen months before I can start to work in my first job. Then my first employer went bankrupt after a year, which led me to steer my career in a different direction. The “wall” came down, Europe opened up to the East. This opened new opportunities and again I found myself on a path I could not have imagined only a few months before, leave alone five years earlier. Last but not least, also on the private side there were always some changes happening, to the good and the bad, which led me to adjust plans.

Long-term plans are all over with

I am not sure whether fifty or sixty years back times were more predictable, but I have the feeling that at least in the last twenty years it was pretty impossible to forecast anything mid- or even long-term. Maybe it has to do with the technological development, which never ran at a pace like this. Probably there is also a general mental or social change happening. Years ago young people, when starting their first job, already worried about their retirement, signing contracts for a supplementary pension insurance. I get the feeling that a lot of young people today do not know at all yet what to do after they finished school. To potentially find that out, they rather plan on doing a one-year backpack trip through South America first. Ask them, where they see themselves in five years.

Driving on sight

In these days of the Corona crisis I am hearing very often that “we need to drive on sight”. For myself I can say, that I am driving on sight already for many years. But “sight” is a very open term. Sometimes, like during this crisis, it is very foggy and you can only see a few meters in front of you. It is important that you move forward slowly and carefully, being prepared to change course quickly in order to adjust to the situation. Sometimes the weather is sunny and you can see miles ahead. You are able to plan ahead, you see roadblocks or icebergs early enough to decide how to surround them and get back on course. But you never will be able to look beyond the horizon. At sea you might know the right direction looking at the stars, but the stars do not tell you whom or what you will meet on the way. And you can only use the stars for directions, you will never reach them.

Strike the right balance

I learned something in Brazil, when I lived there for several years. A lot of Brazilians always drive on very short sight, no matter whether the weather is good or bad. And just to avoid any preconceptions, this not necessarily always depends on their personal financial situation. In the extreme case I have seen people, who did not know how to pay their bills tomorrow, but threw a party today as it would be their last day on earth. According to the motto “tomorrow is another day and I will figure it out then”. I am trying to find my way somewhere between the Brazilian approach and the five-year plan. This helps me to avoid disappointments, on the other hand it leaves me with the chance to grab new opportunities as they appear.

We should all use this current crisis to do some course corrections and even more grab the opportunities it provides. Good luck to all of us with that!           

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