Wow, how cool I did that then!

By Sudeep Chauhan |
Wow, how cool I did that then!

In the last few weeks, the power of long term thinking has been consistently on my mind. This post is dedicated to long term thinking / actions, and an attempt to answer the age old interview question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”.

Interviews and Goosebumps

Over the course of time, I have given a lot of interviews for different positions. Every single time, no matter how many interviews I have given or aced until that point, I still get goosebumps.

One age old question: “Where do you see yourself in X years” keeps coming up either in interviews or during preparation. The purpose of this question is to know the aspirations of the candidate and see how the given position will fit in their grand vision of their life.

I have always hated this question. Hate is a very strong emotional word, and I’m aware of this. There are few reasons why I am so passionately against this question:

Interviewer: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

(honest responses in my head)

  • Should I say what I really think, or should I say what you want to hear?
  • I would like to live like James Bond, travel the world, drive fancy cars and look cool. Just kidding (I’m not).
  • Do you have nothing else left to ask but this old question?
  • I want to run my own company. Oh wait, how is this job going to help me get there? 5 years… isn’t that too long to start my own thing? I should do it sooner. Why am I here again? Oh I need a job to pay my bills.
  • There are too many things I want to do. Which one should I say? I’m still figuring life out.
  • If my ambitions are bigger than yours, how do I know your ego won’t reject me?
  • I want to make XYZ amount of money, life standard, position. But that’s an outcome, which isn’t necessarily in my hands
  • pay off the loans. Take care of my parents. Travel a lot! Will I be judged now? How is this answer going to increase my odds of selection?
  • To be honest, this is a very personal question. You’re asking me my dreams. They are close to me, and heavily protected. I’m afraid I can’t answer this as I barely know you. How about, where I see myself in next 6 months?

I have been asked this question a few times. The time that I remember well, my response was a well rounded diplomatic one. Something on the lines of becoming capable and deserving of doing something big.

I got that job.

Clock of the Long Now

Few years ago, I read in news that Jeff Bezos is spending millions of dollars to make a clock devoted to long term thinking. I really liked the concept and idea of this. It’s an expensive clock, but it carries an important message. It’s also one of the very few monuments that our generation is building that could potentially stand out in future.

10,000 hour clock prototype

In most of his interviews, Jeff Bezos talks about power of long term thinking. Not only him, but most leaders keep iterating the same phrase over and over again. Sundar Pichai in his investor calls often repeats: “we are investing heavily in long term bets”.

While I’ve always really liked and believed in the concept of long term thinking, as years are passing by, my understanding of this concept is growing deeper. Mostly because now I have some personal decisions I took in the past that have visible impact on my life now. Some of which I say “Wow, I did this then”, and also those that make me say: “I wish I had done this then”.

The feelings of joy and regret on past actions get more intense with every passing year. Jeff Bezos must feel this even more intensely; so much that he decided to spend time and energy into devoting a heavily engineered clock into it.

Long term thinking is real. You’re not alone feeling this way Mr. Bezos.

How about a more meaningful question Interviewer?

Where I see myself in X years has lot of caveats and real world variables involved. I can’t really say something that I haven’t decided or am unaware of its existence. I also can’t say something that isn’t completely in my hands. As an intelligent being applying for this job, I definitely shouldn’t say any of this as I might come across undecisive, and as honest + meaningful this comment may look in this post, it won’t get me the job which requires “proactive, decisive self starters”.

What I want to do in X years has much to do with those X years, as they have the power to shape my aspirations.

But what if we asked a slightly different question?

What are the X things that you’re doing today, that you will see results of in 5 years?

Well, there are many! I am

  • working out every other day, so I’ll be stronger, healthier and more attractive.
  • giving this interview, and hopefully I’ll have a more secure immediate future. If not I’ll apply to other places and depending on what I learn my career would take shape.
  • learning xyz instrument so I should be able to play at least few songs :)
  • writing a list of all the places I want to see in the world. Just applied for my passport… let’s see how far I get.
  • listening to pod cast on habits, and becoming better version of me. I’ll have a greater personality in 5 years.
  • reading a lot about investing and becoming rich.
  • improving my communication skills.
  • writing on medium, reddit and twitter / creating youtube videos, perhaps I’ll have a side income in 5 years

Most humans are not static states, but more like dynamic stages of evolution. We simply aren’t; we are becoming. There’s value in asking what we are becoming, not what our present self thinks what we want to be.

We simply aren’t; we are becoming.

That’s awesome but how in the world is this question going to help me review the candidature?

Well, for one you’re asking a more meaningful question, so you can expect a more meaningful and honest response. There are few things you can get out of this question:

  • Learning more about the candidate, how they spend their time and what’s important to them.
  • Actions today show what I’m really interested in. If someone wants to be social media marketer, but hasn’t even tried uploading a video on Youtube, or on any other social media platform, it’s highly unlikely they will lead that path.
  • Leadership inherits long term vision. If I’m spending time doing something consistently, I must be internally motivated to do it. Motivation to do something for long term can only be due to a larger goal, a vision. This is an important leadership trait.
  • Determine passion: it doesn’t matter if it’s collecting old song records, or listening to audiobooks everyday. This question indirectly shows what the person is passionate about, or if they are even passionate about something at all.

Depending on the profile, the question can be tuned, but it definitely opens up the conversation into a more meaningful, less defensive and more productive time spend.

Mango Seed Whistles

I grew in northern India and as a child, I used to look forward to mangoes every summer. When I was little, my mom showed me how to make whistles with Mango seedlings. If you’re curious what Mango seed whistles look like, I found this video on Youtube for you:

Part of creating this whistle requires that the Mango seed to be sowed into the soil for a day or two, while waiting for it to germinate. As I used to eat lots of mangoes, I would put all of them in soil in our little backyard.

This one time, I forgot to take one of the seeds out of the soil and it started growing into a plant. My parents didn’t remove the plant, and it kept growing bigger.

As I grew up, so did the mango tree. By the time I was a teenager, the tree started giving mangoes. The mangoes were smaller than market bought mangoes probably because we never fed the tree anything except what the soil already had, yet they were delicious. There’s another concept called grafting, which I would learn about later, but I digress.

Mango tree from internet

The mango tree I grew as a little boy unbeknownstly was an investment.

What could happen if I plant trees knowingly, constantly and consistently? What seeds am I sowing today that I can reap in 1, 2, 5, 20 and 50 years from now? As time is progressing, I keep wondering about these questions and scratching my head thinking what I should be investing in now.

The future would be amazing if I look back and only have to say: “Wow, how cool I did that then”.