Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

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by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

I have never considered myself especially anticipatory. It would, for example, attach unwarranted credit to my forward-thinking skills to suggest I ever really knew what I would be doing 10 years hence. Likewise, it is strictly charitable to suggest I was being cautious. I don’t think I even thought about the future much beyond the end of my nose. I just did what had to be done from day to day and let the rest take care of itself.  This isn’t to say I was completely mindless but rather that I responded to appetites more than apparitions.  Mine was a visceral existence.

My personal disregard of this mind-numbing puzzle is apparently not universal.  Only recently while watching “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” host Jerry Seinfeld parenthetically asked a café server, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”  The pointed mockery of the – perhaps rhetorical – question was certainly not lost on me though the young male server seemed content to answer in earnest that he anticipated being a teacher. Seinfeld jokingly wished him well with that but clearly, he wasn’t convinced.

This brief but acidic exchange got me thinking about the topic though I am quick to add that my inquisitiveness is strictly philosophic. It’s obviously too late in my life for me to waste time answering such an enquiry. But it amuses me to ponder at least whether I should have done so or whether there is any value in encouraging others (such as my younger nieces) to do so. There is such an unmistakeable feature of foresight inherent in the riddle. Otherwise, I’m not certain the probe is even material. For one thing, ten years from now is a long way off. One has to wonder what if anything it has to do with what transpires this morning or this afternoon.  And even if we’re working towards a goal which will consume 10 years to reach, that still doesn’t provide much assurance about where we’ll will be when that happens. The business about the wild card of luck chills my gusto.

Even if one argues that the campaign for a better future somehow elevates you from the comparative drudgery of the present, I still don’t see how persuasive that is about where you will be in 10 years.  At best it is hopeful ejaculation. What I am getting at is this, is there really any point trying to live anywhere other than in the present?  And I don’t mean that as a trite scientific question. I mean really, what’s the point trying to live outside the waking hours? Burnishing the project is at best cosmetic. A ten-year margin on any exploit is so far-fetched as to be unthinkable.

In spite of that qualification, people and governments continue to make plans, to build roads and airports, to do research, to set up partnerships and companies, to go to the moon.  People get married. There is clearly no end to the prospective opportunities of life.  Nor is it uncommon that people imagine those opportunities either surviving or coming to fruition in ten years.  Yet oddly there is to me a difference between planning to do something today that may or may not happen or exist in ten years and actually deciding in one’s mind where you will be in ten years.  Is it a distinction without a difference?  I think not.  What motivates someone today is not necessarily what will motivate them in ten years.  An obvious example is marriage. Another is business enterprise.  Or health expectations. There are so many, many things that can change or go wrong.  Does this mean one shouldn’t do or execute what one hopes will subsist in ten years?  Of course not. But it begs the value of the question, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?”  The better question is not where you see yourself in ten years but rather what are you doing about your life now?  If nothing else, closing the gap on futuristic thinking eliminates idle speculation.  Was the barista questioned by Seinfeld doing anything about becoming a teacher apart from thinking about it or imagining it?  If so, he didn’t say so.  Which probably explains Seinfeld’s jaundiced view of the kid’s response.