Will You Be Sleeping on an Air Mattress in Five Years?

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This blog has the potential to make me seem like a soon to be dropout about to board the first flight to Belize in order to launch Uncle Avo’s Cado’s, a mobile avocado retailer. Let me assure you, that is not the case.

I had the privilege of joining 8,000 MBA students and over 250 employers at NBMBAA Career Expo this past weekend in Indianapolis. I brought an air mattress and sheet to sleep on at the hotel since I was trying to save money by staying with two guys I had known for just over 5 weeks. After falling asleep at about 1:30, I woke up thirty minutes later suffering from Holiday Inn Hypothermia. My one bed sheet was not going to cut it. I didn’t want to wake up my roommates, but it’s impossible to gracefully exit an air mattress while making no noise. You’ve tried it. You know. After what had to sound like Jumanji, I kept the lights off, went into the bathroom, and grabbed every towel I could find in hopes of constructing a make shift blanket.  It was going well until I laid the final towel on the air mattress, only to discover that I had grabbed a dry corner of an otherwise soaking wet towel. Cold, and now wet. Perfect sleeping conditions. I went in and out of sleep until about 6:00 am when my roommates finally woke up. There I lay, a freezing and grumpy MBA student covered in wet towels. The best part was I now had to explain that we didn’t have any more towels for the morning showers.

Who is this guy?

I put on my suit and headed down to the career fair. Everybody was dressed to impress, resumes printed on fresh over-priced-off-white paper, and 60-second pitches down to robotic relay.

Due to hours of prayer and humble begging, I had the opportunity to interview with a prospective employer. I sat down across from the interviewer with my game face on, ready to go. “Tell me about yourself”…I can handle that. “What are two of your strengths question.” Nailed it. “Time you failed”…plenty of those…nailed it. “Tell me about a time you disagreed with a team member and how the project was affected”…nailed it. And then it happened, THE question that always makes me want to stand up, apologize for wasting the interviewer’s time, and gracefully exit the awkwardly small room.

“Where do you see yourself in five to ten years?”

Buzzword. Choose buzzwords. Synergy. Collaboration. Results. Leading high performing teams. Noun. Verb. Buzzword. Company name. Repeat.

Fail. Who is this guy?

I’ve always hated the five-year question. If you answer it like you are “supposed” to, you often come off as having no imagination.  “As a matter of fact I see myself with this organization as a associate brand manager of the Newspring Organic Save the Whales ear tissue division, helping drive industry leading results through collaboration, data analysis, and high performance teaming.”  Gag me.

If you answer it poorly, you look like you have no direction for you life.  “Well, I am not entirely sure. I just know I want to be around people I like working with and on projects that are fun. I have always liked sports, err marketing, so maybe doing sports marketing. Oh wait, this is logistics company focused on worldwide oatmeal distribution…well…umm…I mean I have always liked oatmeal.” Good work you, Muppet (A person who is ignorant and generally has no idea about anything).

I found myself surrounded by people who “knew” exactly what they wanted to do. “I will be                      at                                 and doing  x,y,z.” I am a confident person, but this was incredibly intimidating. What is wrong with me? Does my lack of clarity mean I will provide less value? When will I figure it out? Should I be an ear tissue brand manager, I mean I hear it pays well (terrible pun intended)?”

Who is this guy?

I was frustrated leaving Indy. I wanted to be like those other students. I wanted that clear and focused direction. I want to be able to answer THE question with precision and know “exactly” what my life will be like in 5-10 years. Then I started thinking.

When I was in high school I never saw myself going to a college 30 minutes from home. Did it. When I was in college I never once thought I would take a semester off to live in Guatemala launching a school program. Did it. Teach Algebra? You mean the class I skipped only to be woken up with a call from Mr. Lemmen on class wide speaker phone asking why I wasn’t in his Algebra class? Spent the last two years as Mr. Eilers, math nerd (I’m talking Khakis with Asics and a collection of highlighters, pencils, and pens tucked into my front pocket), challenging kids to rap battles daily just so they would learn vocabulary. And it dawned on me.

Am I envious of the confidence and “certainty” of their purpose or am I thankful for the tension and sense of curiosity that is created by my “lack of clarity”?

I choose the latter. Even though the tension isn’t comfortable, I know it is productive.

I am not positive about 5-10 years from now. But, I am sure about quite a few things. It is easier to learn how to be a fiscally responsible Kleenex manager than to learn how to be curious. It is easier to learn how to forecast the number of blue diaper bags that will be sold in Malaysia during the summer solstice than it is to learn a willingness to be vulnerable. It is challenging to embrace an openness to experience difference.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I still don’t have a great answer for this. What I do know is that I am not going to take the road of least resistance and make somebody else’s answer mine. The answer will come…even if it does take the next five to ten years.


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