“Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” – Why I HATE This Question

Like many people, I currently find myself unemployed and that means it’s interview time, again. And with the way the last few years have been, it feels like this has been the season of interviews in my life. From being laid off with only a year left on Oahu, to trying to settle back into life in California, and now COVID, I should be a pro when it comes to interviews and job hunting. In many ways I guess I kind of am. Not to say I’m good at interviews, but very rarely am I surprised by a question or the flow of an interview. I’m so used to hearing the standard questions –

“Tell me about yourself.”

“Why do you want to work here?”

“What attracted you to this role?”

“What strengths do you have to offer?”

And, “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”

The last one makes my skin crawl.

Now don’t get me wrong, I fully understand why all these questions are standard in interviews. Every company that you will ever interview with doesn’t just by coincidence land on these standard questions. They are standard for a reason and give important insight into you as a person and as an employee.

That being said, I dread being asked where I see myself in five years. Just like all the other questions, I understand why this is important. Employers want to see what your long term goals are, what sort of ambition you have, and/or if you are worth investing the time and effort on. Do you have larger goals that they can help you reach? Will you be an asset that will grow with the company? The list goes on and on, but you get the picture.

I understand all this, but I’ve never liked that question. I worked in HR. I’ve been on a ton of interviews and worked at vastly different companies. I can figure out pretty accurately the type of answer an employer wants to hear, but I’ve honestly always struggled to be the type of person that just gives the answer employers want to hear, to both my advantage and disadvantage, especially when it comes to questions like this. Questions that really speak to a person’s core. That’s become an even bigger problem after spending nearly six months in quarantine with nothing but myself, my thoughts, and my priorities.

Where do I see myself in five years? That’s always been a daunting question to me. And given the decade I’ve had I know it’s nearly impossible to even know where I’m going to be in a year, let alone five years.

Plans change. Priorities shift. Companies shut down. People get sick.

Let’s start back in high school. That’s around the time it seems kids/adults/beings trying to survive, first start to get asked this question. (I’ve spent the last few days surviving a crazy SoCal heat wave watching cheesy Rom-Coms so please see the above clip for The Kissing Booth 2 as a fun reference and a pretty good example of how I want to handle the five year question.) Six months before my high school graduation, I was in a relationship, had a really close group of friends and I knew I would be going to Mt. SAC before transferring to a University. I was obsessed with photography and was researching the top photography programs in the country. I thought I was going to be an underwater photographer.

Fast forward six months and my dad was in the hospital fighting for his life. I spent my summer before college by his bedside, learning how to say goodbye. My days were filled with doctors, nurses, and friends. My dad’s friends. I got to meet new people and hear amazing stories about my dad’s life, while I watched my dad’s body melt away to nothing. Never saw that coming.

My first day of college was my dad’s 59th birthday and his first day of an aggressive new chemo treatment. August 24, 2009. That day will forever be embedded in my brain.

My first semester of college was filled with homework and studying and driving back and forth from hospitals and home.







Fast forward a few more months and my dad was gone. I had to say goodbye to my rock and my inspiration all before my first semester of college had even ended.

I kept it together on the surface, but from that moment my world started to shift and change at a rate I couldn’t comprehend. I still can’t. And for a good part of this decade, it has been on that same sort of progression.

Life moves fast. Things change even faster. Every day something life shattering or inspiring can happen and forever change your course. You just don’t know.

Fast forward another year and my long term high school relationship had ended, badly. But I was in a new relationship with my now husband. I had lost nearly probably half, if not more of the group of friends I had and I realized I hate art (at least making art, with the exception of photography). I was in the process of changing to an English major, with no clue what I would do with that. All I knew was that I loved books and writing. My home life was something I tried to avoid at all costs and I was starting to work for the first time. Life looked nothing like it had a year prior.

Fast forward another year and a half and I’m leaving Mt. SAC to study communications at Cal State Fullerton. Another thing I never saw coming. I had always dreamed of going far away for college, but somewhere along the line things changed. Something inside me changed. I got into other schools. Schools farther away, but my acceptance to Cal State Fullerton was the only one that made me cry.

Student and professor at wedding
Mrs. P and I at my wedding

Unrelated to picking schools; I had spent the last year meeting the most amazing people in both ACES and journalism. It took me over two years, but I had found my people at Mt.SAC. I found something I was talented at, journalism and a support system I still turn to today, ACES.

(Right here I would like to pause and say I love you Mrs. P! I know you sometimes read my work and I don’t want you to feel left out. Mrs. P was my English professor my freshman year. And she not only helped me through my dad’s death but continued to stand by my side the entire way. She even came to my wedding and we still keep in touch today.)

As I started at CSUF I figured I would study Entertainment and Tourism, that was my concentration, in order to become a better A&E writer. Fast forward a year and once again my life flipped upside down (in a less dramatic way).

As I entered my senior year of college, I realized I had made a huge mistake in majors, had no idea what I really wanted in life, and thanks to limited funds and financial aid that was about to run out, absolutely nothing I could do except move ahead full steam. So, I latched on to event planning, which isn’t what I ended up doing, but provided me with the skills that have made me successful today. (I also made some really great friends and memories.) To top all that off, my now husband was getting ready to leave for boot camp. I would spend the last half of my college experience with no solid plan for the future and for the most part alone.

It was scary. It was stressful. It was challenging. And a major time of growth and learning that I never anticipated.

Students at the NBFF
During my senior year of college, I got to work with the Newport Beach Film Festival. It was something I never imagined doing but was one of the best professional and educational experiences of my life. Plus, I got to work with the best people.

College graduation, for me that was five years after high school graduation. Another time that you start getting asked a lot, “What’s your five year plan?” My boyfriend was a Marine and he was getting sent to the East Coast for a year of training. I was graduating with a degree I knew was wrong for me, with no plans for the future. All I had was $10k in student loans and essentially two event based internships. I went out into the world blind.

My five year reality wasn’t even recognizable to the five year plan, outlook, whatever you want to call I had my senior year of high school. My dad was dead. I was in a relationship with a man that would be living on the East Coast for the next year. It took me a year longer than I thought it would have to graduate college. I wasn’t a photographer. I hadn’t left my hometown. And I had no idea what I was going to do.

I could break down how crazy the next five years were, but part of them are already documented on this blog and I’ve already made you read a lot of rambling so I’ll just sum it up for you.

The next five years consisted of me landing a dream internship, that I didn’t even realize I wanted or needed, that would finally set me on a path that I could at least see ahead of me.

My mom and I lost our house. I was semi-homeless for a bit.

I moved to Utah and began rebuilding a relationship with my mom. A relationship that had really suffered over the last five years.

I worked at Dairy Queen and made some of the best friends ever.

I flew on a plane for the first time.

I moved to Hawaii with only enough money to last 6 weeks and absolutely no plan. And I survived. I not only survived, I thrived. I made new friends and built myself a community that I felt safe in.

I worked some great jobs. I worked some crap jobs. I started writing again. I learned I could freelance and I learned I like HR.

I started going to therapy.

I got married.

I lost my way from family and found my way back to family. I learned (somewhat) how to ask for and accept help.

My mom had a stroke. And another stroke. And she lost her ability to speak.

I moved back to California. I moved in with my in-laws and quickly moved out.

When I was asked where I see myself in five years, at those interviews I went on after college, I have no idea what I said, but I can guarantee that I wouldn’t have been able to guess even a fraction of what the following five years had in store. Hell, I couldn’t even have guessed what the following year had in store.

I moved to Hawaii without any money or any plan. Who does that!?

Girl standing on the top of Koko Head on Oahu in the wind
Photo taken my second day on Oahu at the top of what would become my favorite hike.

My point of this whole long rambling post is that this past decade, so two rounds of five years, has been so full of things I never could have imagined in my wildest dreams. Both good and bad things. Sometimes I tried to have a plan, most of the time those plans didn’t pan out. Would things have been better if I had a plan? Maybe, but I actually think not.

I think it’s good to have a plan. Good to have dreams. Good to know what you’re working towards, but you’ve got to be flexible.

I like to call this past decade, a beautiful decade in hell. The decade was one of the most challenging, crushing, life changing decades ever and I wouldn’t wish a lot of it on my worst enemies. That being said though, it also gave me some of my most cherished memories and experiences. It made me who I am and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

But I digress. Back to my point. I hate being asked where do I see myself in five years because I know for a fact that I have no clue where I will be in five years. Thanks to COVID and this time to reflect and reset, different priorities of mine are rising to the surface. I’m able to look back at where I’ve been and contemplate where I might be going. I’m realizing what I want in life and what matters to me.

COVID. The economy and job market. My career. Politics. Social change. The planet. Right now is a major time of change, not just for me, but for society as a whole. This past five years, past decade was a crazy roller coaster for me and things were nowhere near as chaotic as they are right now. But even then I could have never predicted how it turned out, so how can I do that now?

I have no idea where I see myself in five years. Maybe I’ll still be working in the same field I am now, maybe not. Maybe something I haven’t even thought of will present itself. Will I be in California? Will I be in a different state? Maybe I’ll be a nomad. The point is, I don’t know.

I don’t know where I will be in five years in the sense of an employment question, but I do know what I want out of the next five years. I want to be happy.

That’s all I want.

I want to be happy in whatever I am doing, where ever I am doing it. The past five years, the past decade, has been a lot of surviving and reacting on my part. It’s been a lot of making the best out what I have in front of me and running with it. And I’ve made the best out of it, but I want the next five years to have purpose. I want to work on things I care about. I want to work with people I care about. I want to do things that matter. And I just want to be happy in whatever shape or form that might take.

Now whether that is a good or bad approach that’s what I’ve been telling people, in not those exact words, but you get the point. I know that’s not what they want to hear, but it’s the best I’ve got and I hope that my future employer can appreciate that. I don’t know where I’ll be in five years. I don’t even know where I’d want to be in five years. And with the way life has been, life currently is, and the way life seems to be headed, I don’t want to pretend that I do.

When I’m asked where I see myself in five years all I can guarantee is that I’m going to be doing my best and trying my hardest wherever I am, whatever I’m doing.

Students at their High School graduation
Photo from my High School graduation. Class of 09!

*Cover photo was taken exactly five years ago today, September 16, 2015. It was my last day in Utah with my mom. The following day I would leave back to California and a week after that I would be on a plane to Hawaii. The girl I am in that graduation photo wouldn’t even recognize the girl on the cover and neither of them would recognize who I am today.


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