Skip to the content.

It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future - Niels Bohr

Just because “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” sounds clichéd doesn’t mean it’s a bad question.

We can learn interesting and surprising things by envisioning a detailed, imaginary answer. We can settle for a narrow, career-centric answer like “I see myself as assistant regional manager”, or we can go wide and imagine where we’re living, with whom we’re socializing, what kind of clothes we’re wearing, what hobbies we’re pursuing, what degrees and certifications we’ve earned, what flavor of gum we’re chewing, and so on.

I sometimes approach the question from a reverse perspective. It’s a year from now, I imagine, and I’m someplace, doing something, with some person or group of people.

What, in that very moment, do I wish I had at my disposal?

If it’s fluency in some language, I should start learning it now.

If it’s the ability to run a 5k in 25 minutes, I should put on my running shoes right now.

If it’s a fresh ripe peach from my own tree, I should plant a peach tree today.

If it’s an answer to whether P=NP, well, maybe I should imagine a more realistic future.

We’ll never accurately predict our situation a year from now, much less five or ten. But from imagining a future in detail, we can engineer an action plan to execute right now, rather than waiting for events to arrive as they may.