“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

My dad is a financial advisor, meaning he’s a pro at goal-setting and scheduling. How many clients he has, how often he meets with them, and how much he earns in a year are all, essentially, up to him. Although he’s been leaving motivational leaflets on my desk since middle school, he still doesn’t comprehend that my mind doesn’t work the same way his does. Honestly, his sort of “5-year business plan” goal-setting method stresses me into paralysis. (Also, from my perspective, his life seems almost entirely structured around his professional goals, which also terrifies me. No, thank you.)

Regardless, with graduation just around the corner, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” has become his favorite question. He’s taken to hounding me for specific answers to questions like, “Exactly how much of your student loans will you have paid off? Where will you work? How much money would you like to make?” or, worst of all, “What steps will you take right now to accomplish these goals?”, and I’ve taken to avoiding his questions in every manner I can think of.

Probably to his dismay, my answers are much vaguer than he’d like. Mostly, when I’m 26, I’d just like to be involved in a women’s church ministry, have at least half my student loans paid off, be working in science communication, and, if the stars align and the wind blows from the right direction, be married. It’s not that I’m not striving for higher than that – for example, my professional dream is to have a Master’s degree and work for NASA, Boeing, or Lockheed Martin – but the things on my list are the things I’ve learned matter the most to me.

If college has taught me anything, it’s that I am more than my academics or professional goals. It’s not that these things are unimportant or not worth giving attention to, but they aren’t the entirety of who I am. If I wanted to please my dad, I could probably give him a list of acceptable salaries, companies, graduate school programs, and locations, as these are things I’ve thought about extensively (and that are helpful for, y’know, responsible adult living), but they aren’t reflective of the person I want to be in 2021. I don’t want “where I am in five years” to solely be defined by my professional life – a concept that seems nearly out of the question for him.

Though my dad and I have talked about my specific professional goals, where I’ve mentioned many of these things, I still stubbornly continue to avoid questions about “where I see myself”. Maybe I’m just being silly. Maybe I’m too conscious of how much I don’t want my life to be “breakfast, work 9-5, dinner, TV, sleep, repeat.”

Regardless, I imagine “Where do you see yourself in five years?” has been at least a small topic of conversation in the lives of most graduating seniors. What do you think? Do you think about this question solely in terms of professional life, personal life, or a mix of both? If you’re feeling adventurous, where do you see yourself in five years? Alternatively, where don’t you want to be?

…and if these kind of questions drive you entirely up a wall, here’s a fun Internet game to take your mind off things.

Alexis Stempien

An aspiring science writer studying biopsychology, cognition, and neuroscience with minors in writing and general shenanigans. In my spare time, I make YouTube videos at http://www.youtube.com/theseneonhearts.

2 thoughts to ““Where do you see yourself in 5 years?””

  1. Hi Alexis,

    I identify completely with what you are saying. I don’t have a clue what I want to do in terms of a profession and, thus, have no idea where I will be in five years. At this point, I’m just trying to find something…ANYTHING. The details of the job position don’t really matter to me – I don’t think I’m going to find a dream job immediately out of college anyway. Everyone has to pay their dues. What matters to me is where the job is – Is it close to my family (who are all finally living in the same state)? Is it away from my family but in a place, like Chicago, where I know some of my friends will be? Is it away from both my family and friends but in a vibrant city where I can meet new people? I guess the biggest factor in choosing a job is my fear of loneliness. I’m not exactly sure why I’m so afraid of being alone…I’ve been effectively living on my own since I was 14. I’m from Massachusetts but went to a boarding school for high school. I then applied to mostly Massachusetts colleges but ended up here in Michigan. And in each of these places, I’ve done well; I’ve made friends, I’ve had great experiences, and I’ve grieved at the prospect of leaving. I think I’m just tired of being so far from the most important people in my life. I don’t want to stay in Massachusetts forever. But, for a little while at least, I want to go home.

  2. Alexis,

    First of all, 0h h1 is excellent, and I spent the first fifteen minutes I had allotted for this assignment to letting my brain relax with those blue and red tiles. Thank you for the mental break; I hadn’t realized that I needed it!

    Up until about a couple of months ago, I had no idea where I saw myself in five years—professionally, personally, or otherwise. It was (and is still) much easier for me to think about where I want to be in twenty or thirty years. At that point, it’d make sense for me to have a steady job, a rich family life, and a dog. Actually, at every point in my future, it makes sense for me to have a dog. That’s the one thing I know for sure, both five months, five years, and fifty years from now: I plan on having a dog.

    Besides the dog, I really didn’t have much figured out up until a couple of months ago, like I said earlier. However, thanks to a couple of emotionally honest meltdowns and a few informational interviews with people who know much more than I do about what chemical engineers can do with their degrees, I have a fuzzy picture of what the next decade might look like for me. I do know now that it’ll make the most sense for me to graduate UM in April, find a job by June or August, and start working at that company for the next three to five years. At that point, it’ll make sense for me to start looking at masters or graduate degree programs, and then, after that, I’ll be able to launch in the second phase of my career. After that, the picture starts to get too fuzzy for me to let myself stress over trying to make it out.

    This, of course, is all a professional idea of where I see myself—or rather, where it makes sense that I would see myself. That situation requires everything making sense, which might not happen—this is the possibility that I’m in need of preparing myself for. Personally, I know I would like to see myself meeting each challenge as it comes. More than that sounds cliché for me.

    Also, shoutout to Christina for talking about wanting to go home. I’m from the San Francisco Bay Area of northern California, and I yearn for that bay with such a strong homesickness. I, too, want to live close to the people I care most about, but, for me, I’m hoping to start wherever I land and then let the opportunities I seek lead me back to my family, wherever they end up.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post; this is the first time I’ve actually written all of this out and explained it to anyone. Best of luck to the both of you as you start working on the next five years!


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