It’s a standard interview question. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Most people have a well thought out response that they trot out, because unless you can see the future, no one actually knows. In my interview for my first teaching job, I said ‘be a head of department, specialise in developing a curriculum specifically for SEN and EAL pupils and teach some French’. Gold star for me, I actually did all of those things in the 5 year period.
Rather than 5 years, people often have life goals they want to have achieved before milestone birthdays. When I was 21, a group of friends who were all closer to 30 than they were 20 were discussing the key characteristics for a husband and what they wanted to have achieved by the time they were 30. I remember thinking a) this is stupid- who can seriously plan out their lives like that? and b) how boring. Are you allowed to deviate from the plan at all? By the time they were 30, none of them had married yet, their partners were pretty much the exact opposite of what they’d been discussing and they hadn’t had babies, like they’d all said they would. Most of them were doing well in their careers though, which also came up. Does that mean they failed? What was the point in the discussion at that time?
It was for show. They were all friends so it wasn’t consciously malicious, but it was an example of how we as society think we need to be on the same path as everyone else, and if we’re not, we’re failing at life. It’s particularly noticeable in women because we’re still made to feel like we have to choose between being successful in a career OR having a family.
But the only true goal that we’re all born with in life, regardless of your demographic or upbringing, is that we all want to live for as long as possible. The rest of it isn’t a given: not everyone will get married, have children, buy a house or be successful in their careers, despite what we think or aim for in the western world. Some people face famine, civil war and domestic violence before their 30th birthdays. In comparison, not having married your dream husband doesn’t seem too bad! But we all want to live for as long as we can, our bodies are programmed to survive.
We live in a world of statistics. There’s a statistic for almost everything seen as ‘life changing’. In the UK, 1 in 2 people born after 1960 will receive a diagnosis of cancer of some sort. 9 in 10 people won’t survive a cardiac arrest outside of hospital. 1 in 4 women will miscarry or lose a baby. I didn’t make those up by the way, they’re real from authentic sources. So we do everything we can to fight against the statistic or support people who become one of those statistics. But it’s the things that there aren’t significant statistics for which we should be paying attention to. People who become paralysed after a car accident. Patients diagnosed with rare illnesses or illnesses where there’s no research or funding (I partially mean me, you’ll see why in a minute). Unreported crime, like domestic violence towards males. I can’t give statistics for those because I can’t just type into Google like I did with the first lot, it would actually involve research. These things are still life changing, but there’s less support in society for those people.
It’s not nice being any statistic, but it’s doubly not nice being a minority statistic. While it’s clearly nowhere near the same as being involved in a Civil War, it equally doesn’t always feel like you ‘fit’ in the world of people setting society appropriate milestones or being supported through something that’s statistically ‘life changing’ before getting back on the ‘right path’. Why does society put pressure on us to get back on the right path, why can’t we make a new one? What’s the point in having a statistic to inform us of something and label us, if we’re just going to insist on people returning to ‘normal’ after they’ve been through it? What if you don’t fit into a statistic? Or, what if you are one of those statistics I mentioned and you don’t want to be labelled like that?
At the last interview I went to a few years ago, the 5 years question was phrased slightly differently: ‘Where do you see yourself in the future?’ No time frame. No emphasis on supposed greatness or career. I liked the question, although it surprised me. So I said ‘being the best version of myself I can be’. It came out without thinking, but I think it’s a good answer (even if I do say so myself!). By the time I’m 30, I won’t have achieved society’s version of life milestones, except for having got married. I won’t be a recognised statistic. But I do hope that I’ll still be alive and trying to be the best version of what I can be. And, thinking about it, I might end up being happier than those people who feel they have to live up to society’s expectations.