Stop asking people where they see themselves in 5–10 years


Photo by petr sidorov on Unsplash

I’ve always hated the question of where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years. I’m not exaggerating, it’s a waste of a question that lacks practicality and it’s unrealistic. Okay, maybe exaggerating a bit, but planning for a future you don’t know in an environment where there’s changes that can alter or drastically change your life isn’t worth thinking about.

I believe it’s more important to focus on consistent actions than to forecast who you’ll be in 5 or 10 years. Simply because what you do becomes what you think and it ultimately becomes who you are. It’s a better or more consistent metric of who you want to be.

Focus on skills and habits

Ten years ago, if you ask me that question, I’d tell you that I wanted to work in human resources management, and focus on of my time on climbing the ladder. Three years into it, I was miserable and opted for a career change that would leave me happier in all aspects.

As much as we want our life planning to be linear, it’s often not. Something gets in the way, or we find out that we don’t like the work that we’re doing. If you ask a child what they wanted to be when they grow up, you’ll come to expect outlandish goals. As they age, those goals will change because of the people they interact with, the things they learn, and the experiences that shape them. It’s similar for adults because we also go through those same things. Now whether it’s a debilitating blow or an encouraging pivot towards something else, it usually comes down to consistent habits and skills that carry you towards your next goals.

You’ll probably change jobs throughout your life, but there are some some skills that are transferable no matter what you do. In fact, if you get proficient at these skills, it’ll increase your chances of landing the job and succeeding at your new job. One of these is the ability to be persuasive i your speech. You could also classify being able to effectively communicate as another great skill to have.

One of the skills they first taught us in human resources was how to interview for jobs. We did so many mock interviews that it became ingrained in us on how to properly answer a question. The format was simple: 1. explain what happened, 2. What you did, 3. how it affected the outcome/why you did it, and 4. tie it all back together to the question you were asked.

A basic question you’ll get ask is tell me about a time you had a conflict with at work and what was the outcome. So following the format:

  1. We were working on a multi million dollar project that required precised values and instructions in order to build xyz. I was in charge of A, and John was in charge of B. My job was to abc, and John’s job was abc, and it required the collaboration of John and myself to move the project forward. when I came into the office one day, a team member informed me we ordered the wrong set of abc, and there wasn’t a way to cancel the order and fix it immediately. John came in fuming and started to yell at all of our staff for not recognizing that error.
  2. I knew the emotions in the room was coming to it’s boiling point so I excused everybody from the room with the exceptions of John, myself, and Kim, the three people that could make the necessary changes. I assured everyone we were okay, and told John to help me look through the numbers instead of getting angry at something that has already happened.
  3. After a few hours of looking through all of our notes and lines of data, we found the error. It was John’s fault for adding a decimal in the wrong place. I could see the shock in his eyes and the regret he had for yelling at staff, so I told him that we all make mistakes and next time, we will have someone double check the work so we won’t have the same mistake. I advised John to apologize to the staff in private and to mend the relationship.
  4. I gathered everyone back in the room and debrief on what happened. It was a chance to show everyone a learning opportunity to prevent future mishaps. We had a slight set back in schedule, but moving forward the team communicated more, especially John, and we all learned as a team through this conflict.

This story was made up, but the point was having interviewing skills is important if you want the job in the first place. But in your current work place, it’s a good idea to start thinking of some ways you can develop skills that can help you in any industry.

One of my friends saw this firsthand when he entered his first job out of college. There was a manager that well liked by everyone, and it wasn’t because he was the best at his job. His ability to connect with another person was top notch. He could sit down with another stranger and within an hour, you’d think they were friends for years.

Coincidentally, he saw that everybody came to him for something throughout the day. He made everybody feel good every time they talked to him. As a result of this, he got a chance to be involved in many interesting projects and decision making meetings — which increased his skill set further. It was basically a flywheel of gains.

Is this an easy skill to develop? It may depend on your personality, but it’s definitely worth working hard to build some kind of social skills to help you develop it so you can build and connect with others.

When to focus on 5 or 10 year plans?

I believe 5 or 10 year planning can work if you put it under the context of the habits and actions you’re currently doing. It can still be difficult to forecast if it’ll change your life but most are straight forward enough for you to decide if you want to keep doing it.

If you ask yourself how would I be if I kept *Blank* for the next 5 or 10 years, simply fill in something you’re doing now and reason with yourself. Look at the cons and the pros, and be as objective as you can. If you decide that if you kept eating junk food, you probably won’t be healthy and fit in the next 5 or 10 years. You might develop health issues from taking in all of the trans fat that’s used in fast food cooking. You might also spend more money from buying fast food instead of cooking for yourself. Continual actions can give you an outline of what life will be.

Luckily you can use this to your advantage as you ponder on what habits to add for a positive 5 or 10 years. Perhaps it’s to start writing about your day — what you did wrong, right, and what can improve. Your thinking will become sharper because you’re force to start reevaluating your actions and behavior. Perhaps you’ll start to generate ideas on what to do if you’re in a certain situation or how to improve on aspects of your life. Maybe even meet like-minded people and start to build a writing community around you.

The inverse is true as you can start to think about what your 5 or 10 year self would be like if you eliminated certain habits or actions. If you got 8 hours of sleep everyday instead 6 hours, how would you be in 10 years. I’d guess you’ll feel much better and look better.

My only gripe with 5 or 10 years plans questions from interviews is the assumption of linear ascension, without the ever changing factors of internal and external forces.

Perhaps a better way to look at it is 5 or 10 years of actions and habits, then maybe it becomes a clearer picture to forecast. It’s no coincident that when you do difficult things, and focus on long-term thinking and actions, the pay off is usually better.

Is it certain? Perhaps not, but I’ll let you know in 5, maybe 10 years down the road.

*Check out my last article on Why do we road rage?*

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The Kontent - Scott Nguyen

I write to get better at writing and to learn. IG: stayingkonnected Podcast: Staying Konnected