I went on a job interview at the beginning of this year and the last question my prospective employer posed to me was, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
I answered it as best as I could, though I definitely flubbed it a bit (I had come to the conclusion that I didn’t want the job two questions into the interview, so it didn’t matter how I responded anyway). Later that day, when I was on my way home, I realized that I only had the vaguest ideas of what I saw for myself in five years’ time. When it came down to the specifics, I really had no idea what it was that I wanted.
When I was 23, I wrote out a “25 Before 25” list. I even posted about it here, and for a while I made notes about the progress and updates I was making on the list. It had things like “run a 5K” and “travel solo” and “go apple picking” on there — a mix of things that could either be easily achieved or only accomplished through a combination of hard work and determination. After a while, I didn’t keep up with the list; 25 came and went without it being completed. Even now, when I take a look at what I set out to do, I have only done 18 of the 25 things I told myself I’d do before I turned 25.
And that’s okay. When I was 23, I had no idea what 25 would look like. Now, several days before I turn 27, I can tell you that I have no idea what any future years look like either, whether it’s 29 or 25 or 40 or beyond. I know what I hope they look like; I hope my future years are filled with happiness and love and stability and satisfaction. But whether or not they will hold these things, I don’t know the answer. What I do know, however, is that any list I come up with that contain an arbitrary list of goals to check off don’t contain the answer to what my future has in store for me.
I have always been wary of making big, overarching life goals on any given timeline. While I hold nothing against people who plan their lives that way, I learned at an early age that it wasn’t a feasible way for me to plan things. One never plans to lose their father at age 5. One never plans to move across the world three times by the age of 15. One never stays in a city for five years and counting after they plan to go. Life, as it always does, happens while plans are made. As much as it aches my planner-loving heart, I learned a long time ago that it would be foolish for me to make immovable, inflexible plans far into the future because more often than not, I’d be asking for fate to make changes to what I thought would happen.
So in many ways it’s hard for me to understand things like bucket lists or “x before x” lists because they don’t work for me, and never have. But what if life changes?! I always want to ask. Because it will, it always does. And I think that part of the beauty of getting older for me is realizing that I am getting better at rolling with the punches life gives me. That movement isn’t necessarily a mark of success, that knowing what’s best for you and what you want sometimes means staying put. Or that opportunities that you couldn’t dream of sometimes appear, that possibilities that weren’t possible before now are and all of the planning in the world couldn’t have told me that would happen.
If you had asked me at age 23 what I had in mind for me at age 27, I likely would have answered something along the lines of “living abroad, married (or at least engaged) to my college boyfriend, and working at a global PR firm.”
A response to which nearly-27-year-old-me can do nothing but laugh so hard until she cries, because none of that happened, none of that even came close to happening, AND THANK GOD FOR THAT.
And it’s funny, because the life I have now? It’s better than anything I ever dared dream I would have at age 23, and yet it wasn’t anything that I had in mind for myself at the time. So this week — the week of my 27th birthday — I am going to put aside any thought of dream mapping and goal setting and bucket lists and instead, just make a birthday wish that I’ll continue doing what feels right for me, when it feels right for me, because that’s the only way I’ll have confidence that things will work out the way that they are meant to.