Photo Cred: Alejandro Escamilla @ Unsplash.com

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Interview candidates hate this question.

Frankly, I hate this question. It brings me tremendous anxiety.

I often joke that I don’t know where I will be or what I will be working on next week, let alone 10 years from now.

But the truth is, the future scares me. Tremendously.

More than I hate this question, I hate admitting that it is incredibly important.

Having a plan, making a map, and seeing a vision for yourself takes will and effort. It is a long, laborious journey into ourselves, and one that only we can venture upon. Knowing where you wish to be internally is a prerequisite for achieving a true vision for yourself externally.

In order to say with confidence where you want to be in 10 years, you need to understand what the end-game is. As many great chess players have remarked, the first lesson one should learn is how to master the end-game. With no vision for the finish line, it is difficult to keep going.

An analogy:

I want you to run, as fast as you can, to the finish line.

I won’t tell you which direction it is, how far, or what will be in your way.

Are you going to sprint?

In fact, your first step might be to dig deeper. To figure out which direction you should be heading. Next, you’ll want to know how far it is so you can pace yourself. There may be mountains or rivers in the way, there may be others competing with you, so it makes sense to think strategically about when to sprint, when to jog, when to set a marathon pace, when to rest, and when to re-evaluate your direction.

In order to get where we want to be 10 years from now, it helps to find the finish line and work backwards.

The truth is, the timeline doesn’t matter. Is there a significant difference between 10 years and 5 years? 20? 1? 2 months? Tomorrow?

The algorithm is the same: Find the finish line. Orient yourself in that direction. Make a map. Chart a path. Set a pace. Evaluate competitors and roadblocks. Re-evaluate as you go. Run.

It doesn’t make sense to go really fast in the wrong direction. It doesn’t make sense to sprint when everyone else is jogging, unless it gives you a clear lead. It doesn’t make sense to wander aimlessly.

Knowing where you’re headed is the first step to getting there.

So plan a course, make a map, and work backwards.

Chances are, if you know where you’re heading in 10 years, 5 years, 1 year and next week, you’ll have a pretty good sense of what’s on the docket for tomorrow and why it matters.

Next time your boss, future boss, HR rep, mother-in-law, best friend or mentor asks you this question, you’d better be prepared.

Do the work that matters. Find the finish line.

Or at the very least, the direction you want to be headed.

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