Where do you see yourself in five years?

The college course catalog fascinated me—hundreds of courses in dozens of subjects from amazing teachers. I wanted to take them all! Choosing four or five course from them was wonderful torture. Choosing which to take wasn’t nearly as hard as choosing which not to. I used to think, “I’ll take these two courses … which will set me up for this major … which will set me up for this job … which will set me up for this career …” and in a few hours I’d plan out my life’s next few decades.

The next semester I’d find other courses and plan a new and different several decades.

By graduate school I learned to plan only a couple years ahead. Who knew what experiment I could work on or what papers I could publish?

Starting my first company came out of the blue. Since I couldn’t have predicted what became one of my great passions, what else that I couldn’t predict might come around? Besides, business was so much more dynamic than anything I’d practiced before, I found I had to reduce how far I thought I could predict my future. I’d plan maybe a year. You have to project at least two years of your company’s finances for potential investors, but everyone knew their assumptions wouldn’t hold that long.

Now I hardly plan beyond a week or two beyond putting friends’ and relatives’ weddings and other big events on my calendar.

In other words, I live more in the moment. Instead of planning years or even months or weeks out, I develop skills and experience to handle challenges to steer them to make them work for me. I generally have one main project I plan to see through and I deliver what I promise to others, such as teaching my semester-long courses, but I’m prepared for large changes should they come.

I find this way I get more done with less effort and more enjoyment, learning, and emotional reward.

People ask the question “Where do you see yourself or your company in five years?” in interviews. Sometimes I answer something like the above. I find it reveals a lack of insight on their part.

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