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The “Five Year” Lie We’ve All Told

The “Five Year” Lie We’ve All Told

“So, where do you see yourself in five years?” You’ve been there, right? Sitting in a job interview with an executive across the desk that asks the question with feigned interest in the answer. Or, perhaps sincere interest, if that person believes in the purported meaning of the lie you’re about to tell. And, we all lie here. We’ve been coached on this question and want to give the impression that we aren’t a flight risk. Or, that we’re honestly interested in {insert corporate-speak here; I like “proactive”}. Or that we find our self-worth in how many titles we can accumulate over the next five years. Or that the size and location of our office will command the respect of the multitudes we hand our gold-embossed business card to.

“Well, I see myself learning a lot about the company in that time and finding a niche in the organization where I can bring the most value. I’d like to become the right-hand of the VP I work for. In five years, I see myself being groomed for department director, and eventually move into an executive roll with the company.”

There, I just wrote your li(f)e for you.

I always squirmed in my chair when I was asked this question. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I could never honestly answer it. Either I was too young and had no idea what my life would look like in five years, or I was old enough to know an honest answer would make me come across as a sea gypsy, world nomad wanna-be, with situational depression caused by incarceration in a cubicle.

“I want to sail around the world in five years, write a blog about it, and inspire others to cast of their dock lines and live their crazy dream!”

“Sweet. When do you start? How’s a hundred and thirty thousand sound as a starting salary?”

Just kidding. That would never happen. The VP would just lean back in his chair and point at the door.

The point is we all lie when asked that question. Unless, you do gain your self-worth from climbing the corporate ladder, providing ROI, exercising your core competencies, moving the needle of the bottom line, and collecting ever higher titles until you can get the gold embossed business card, then more power to ya.

At least I admit I lied.

Well, that’s a lie too. Because I lied to myself more than any employer.

I really thought I wanted the career and the corporate existence. I busted my ass getting a BFA so I could continue working in the only place that matters: Corporate America. Turns out that an advertising curriculum also teaches conceptual thinking and I started seeing the little old man behind every curtain. So, I got a reality check along with my diploma. I find more value in it than the fancy certificate that is still in the paper mailer it came in 2007 and now lives in a box with my photo albums in my mother-in-law’s air conditioned closet, a thousand miles from me and my boat.

Yep. I believed I wanted to be a “career woman” until I realized I had been depressed for a decade. That bright sunlight on my face could make me burst into tears. That I drank away my road rage. That I was wholeheartedly disappointed that “financial independence” did not equate to “freedom”. (Feel free to re-read that sentence.) That my morning mantra walking into work, down the long, gray hall was, “I’m sad…I’m sad…I’m sad.” I’m not even kidding.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Now that I’ve entered my 42nd year, I see what a nonsense, BS question that is. I never, ever, in a hundred thousand years would have seen myself as a yacht broker in five years. You know why I accepted the job? Because the idea of it made my heart do a little back flip. Because it aligns with what I value. Because it made me excited about the prospect of going to work for the first time in a long time. Because it would put me in a fantastic position to help other people “live their crazy dream”. I guess it’s true that the secret to life, the Universe, and everything is 42!

So, of course, I pounded this out in conversations with a couple of women in my life. My lovely girlfriend, Kim, agreed the asking of this question generates more lies than truth. Her, quite excellent, point was, “If you believe that what you speak is your truth, then perhaps you should keep that mouth shut and not inform your future self of a bad plan based on a known lie.”

Damn, she’s good.

I do believe in the power of “I am” statements. More powerful than any abracadabra, shazam, or bibbity-bobbity-boo. “I am” is programming language for your subconscious. Beware of the words that follow “I am”. (See above: “I’m sad”.)

The other was an awesome Aussie lady that I had just match-made a Beneteau with. Her take on this question is that it’s much more honest, not to mention emotionally healthy to just respond with, “Happy. I see myself in five years being happy.”

Damn, she’s good.

Anyway. Despite my obviously good taste in friends, this got me thinking about the questions that we should start asking ourselves that ring in more truth than “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

When do I experience lightness?

What problems do I want to solve?

When do I feel excitement?

When do I feel at home in my own skin?

What do I want to help others with?

What do I value?

Use these types of questions to inform the “five years” question. Then, even if you do tell the big lie in the interview, you can whisper the truth to yourself in your own mind.