“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Ever get that question? I often wonder what would happen if you gave an oddly specific answer in response, like “Five years from today, I’ll be sitting at lunch with Bob eating a tuna sandwich, wearing my blue tie, etc..
Well, most people can’t give specific answers like that, if they’re able to give an answer at all. Because, though we try our best to plan and reverse engineer our lives there’s always that aspect of sheer unpredictability. What if I got hit by a bus tomorrow? How does that correlate to my grand plan?
How I Think About The Future
Goals and plans are important, don’t get me wrong. There’s a great sailing quote that says, “Without a destination, any wind is the wrong wind.” So knowing your general direction definitely helps, but you have to also account for the unpredictable. Setting your dial to autopilot and stepping back from the controls might require less energy initially, but you won’t learn to adjust your course along the way.
“Be like water,” says martial artist, Bruce Lee. Life’s a series of improvisations, ever changing and throwing new challenges at us. If our thinking becomes too rigid, we’re subject to fragility. Learning to be more fluid and flexible with the future is a wonderful skill that’s helped me accomplish some of the more difficult things in my life.
Why One Day At A Time?
Can you write a book? That’s a question I’ve asked myself. Initially, I didn't feel qualified or capable. But then if you ask something like, can I write a blog post? The answer is, of course. That’s not so bad. Well, if you can write a blog post every day for one hundred days, you’ll have a book. See where this is going?
Today's culture is OBSESSED with results. We track everything we can: money in the bank, degrees, steps per day, calories, and so on. Data driven decisions help, but at what cost? Remarkable results take time. It’s part of what makes them good. For example, I’ve never had a better eating experience cooking with minute rice, than a freshly-cooked meal from scratch. The unretrievable time and love we invest is the essential ingredient.
On Starting Small
You don’t train for a marathon by running a marathon right away. You start with a few miles, slowly working your way up. Our bodies must be conditioned before they can endure the physical requirements of 26 miles. And this holds true for any large task. The magic of finishing complicated projects is in mastering the fundamentals.
Yes, but I just want to skip right to the good stuff! Where’s that part? I struggle with this all the time, and then I catch myself. What if your favorite movie did that? What if they showed you the climactic scene in the first two minutes? It’d ruin the movie, right? Well, it’s the same deal with skills, or large goals. Without starting small, the build-up of anticipation, getting to the juicy stuff just feels meaningless.
Applying This Philosophy
Don’t ask yourself where you’ll be in five years. Do it if it helps, but I still think there are better questions. One would be, “what can I do today? Because you can’t control what the next thousand days might bring, but I feel confident for the next few hours. And if I just make today a good day, and then the next, and the next, I’ll eventually have a book of good days.
It’s not rocket science. It’s just stupidly hard to discipline our inner-three-year-old who wants to play with all the toys now. Living more presently helps me focus on what’s actually in front of me instead of worrying about the past, and all the things I wish I could do differently. You need not fear the future, because by taking care of everything in the present, you can be sure the future will be better.
My honest answer to where I see myself in five years is, I don’t know. I have my fuzzy little outline, but I can’t predict things that far out and if I did give a clear answer, I’d be lying. Unless, I suddenly inherit super-human fortune-telling super powers! Nope, not happening. Instead I’ve armed myself with skills and goals to work on today. If I can do those, I’ll be alright. As boring as it sounds, completing those mundane tasks is actually what builds up to the “good stuff”.
Urgency is different than cutting corners. The only rush I’m in is to take my sweet time, one mindful step after the other.