About a month ago I was at a job interview—which went well, but not great—and when I was asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” I didn’t have an answer.
“I—I don’t know,” I began, before adding, very stupidly, “I want a life.”
Later I told Ben—my boyfriend—about how the question had rendered me speechless.
“Millennials don’t have the luxury of a five year plan,” I texted, with a vicious tone inside my head, “Like—there’s no professional way for me to tell them that my education and talents aren’t lucrative, and I can’t afford another twelve hundred dollar migraine. I can’t even see myself with good health insurance in five years. Whatever is my plan!”
He responded, “That question is a trap. If you tell them you see yourself working for them, you seem unambitious. If you tell them you’re going to go to grad school, or find a career in your degree, they’ll act like you’re a bad investment. It’s a lazy thing to ask.”
Sometimes I wish I could just level with people: “Look, I can read and write and show up on time and do whatever you say—but no. Most of what you have to offer—this office, this store, this company—will never ever be my top priority or passion. This isn’t what I want to be doing, but I’ll do it—and I’ll do it well, regardless—because I need money. I don’t have time to worry about five years from now when I’m already worried, right now.”
But it’s not acceptable. Admitting that you don’t know what you’re doing, or are going to be doing, and that you’re still trying to figure it out.
“Yeah,” Ben said—on the subject of five year plans, once more—two weeks later, “Never answer that question honestly.”
It’s not that I’m completely out of touch with what I want, and I definitely have a better sense of that than I did—say—three years ago. However, I have no satisfactory answer for where I see myself in five years. In fact, it’s already been long and arduous enough—just getting myself to a place where I don’t worry about not having the future figured out; where I can allow myself the patience to take things day by day. (Why is a forward-thinking individual—someone who’s experiencing life as a series of checkboxes—more valid, or reliable—in the professional sense—than a present minded individual? What difference does it make, where I see myself in five years, if I’m willing and capable of doing the job now?)
I guess, what I’m trying to say is: with the new year approaching, I can get so down on myself about this year’s failures. (I didn’t get into grad school; I submitted five essays for publication and the majority were declined, with the remaining two left in limbo; I haven’t finished any of the fiction pieces I started; I’m still not making enough money to be financially independent from my parents; I’ve accrued credit card debt; I don’t have health insurance in spite of working 40+ hours a week; I lost my best friend; I didn’t get a call back after the job interview, etc.)
For the past three months, I’ve sat around, torturing myself, thinking about how I don’t try hard enough, or that I don’t do enough.
I flicked through dated issues of Nylon magazine—publication dates ranging from 2010 to 2013—and scoffed when I came to a photo of Lena Dunham—aged 23—being featured as an established writer and director. (I remember bitterly thinking in the spirit of ho-hum: “I could be a ‘director’ too—if only I had rich poet-parents who sent me to a special creative-kid middle school.”)
It came as a sort of panic, flipping through those dated magazines and seeing so many successful people that were, also, so wildly young: What have I been doing with all of my time?
It’s not that 2018 has been a bad year so much as turning 26 has been hard. (My ex boyfriend used to always say, “Something about turning 26 is really hard.” And I’d dismiss him, thinking it was a ploy to delegitimize my own experience and opinion—considering he’s only 11 months older than me. Now that I’m actually 26, I realize what he meant.)
It’s like—from ages 21 to 25—everyone is constantly reminding you how young you are, and how much time you have. And then—out of left field—26 hits and, overnight, you start gaining weight in ways you never did before, and your brow wrinkles don’t totally disappear at the completion of an expression, and all your peers start joining pyramid schemes, and your ironic T-shirts don’t look so ironic anymore, etc.
It’s the identity crisis of ages, basically. And—without as much external confirmation that there is “still time”—I’ve had to continuously ground myself: Do I really believe I’ve accomplished nothing? Or am I just judging myself based on how I’d look on paper? (My answer to the former is always no. My answer to the latter is always yes.)
I’ve had to remind myself that I, at least, applied to grad school; that I even submitted pieces for publication, in the first place; that I’ve started writing fiction, at all; that I—finally—moved out of my parent’s house; that I left a bad work environment the moment I realized it was bad; that I set a boundary, and stuck to it—remained true to a promise I made to myself, at the close of 2017.
I don’t minimize, or invalidate, my own feelings and perceptions anymore—especially not for the comfort of other people. (Something I decided I wanted to unlearn, back in 2016, after a weekend where I took a bunch of drugs and wound up at the ER with a psychiatrist in my face, like, “So, are you trying to kill yourself?”) And, through this slow unlearning, I’m finally in a place where I feel healthy enough—mentally and emotionally—to begin turning my potential energy into kinetic, regardless of whether I feel “ready” or not.
It might seem as if no time is ever going to be a “good” time, but—more often than not—I think we’re where we need to be, doing what we need to be doing, in spite of how lost we might appear.
Here’s to another year of trying, for better or worse.
Happy New Year!
(Featured Image Credit: Ambivalently Yours, 2018, @ambivalentlyyours)