When You Can’t See Yourself in 5 or 10 Years

In the Nigerian educational system, your ambition is one of those things everyone expects you to figure out for yourself. With little mentoring at every level, most of us just stumble around till we find a place where we excel, fit in or are forced in. Others who don’t, just lie about it.

The first time I lied was in nursery or primary school. I remember the sunny afternoon the class sat under the tree in the lush green field. Each of us took turns to tell the rest what they wanted to be in future. I remember my little heart beating hard as my turn came. I was afraid. I had no idea what I would say. “I want to be a Pharmacist…” I blurted out after struggling with its pronunciation, “because my daddy is a Pharmacist”. I had no idea what pharmacy meant or entailed, but it was an adaptation of the response and the reason half the class had given. Our teacher approved like she had done for everyone else, the class applauded in obedience, and I went on to fail Chemistry woefully in the coming years.

But the lying didn’t end there, if anything it got more sophisticated and believable. As an adult still confounded by how everyone else seemed to possess that otherworldly power to see their future, my response to the classic “So, where do you see yourself in 5 years?” evolved to include as many vague business terminologies as I could fit into a convincing 1-minute pitch, thanks to my MBA.

Let me be honest and tell you that although I am well educated, I don’t know what I want to be in future even though at my age, I am undoubtedly already living my future.

Thankfully, reading Grit by Angela Duckworth, I affirmed what I always knew to be true; not all of us are born with that definitive sense of purpose, and childhood is too early to know what we want to be when we grow up. At that age, all we really have are just likes and dislikes. To find where we belong, some of us might have to stumble around, trying new things till we find what we are really passionate about and commit to pursuing excellence in.

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“…while we might envy those who love what they do for a living, we shouldn’t assume that they started from a different place than the rest of us. Chances are, they took quite some time figuring out exactly what they wanted to do with their lives. Commencement speakers may say about their vocation, “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” but, in fact, there was a time earlier in life when they could.”

To figure out what makes you tick and how to be successful at it, Angela proposes 4 steps, but I think it’s really just 3.

  1. Find Your Interests: Passion begins with intrinsically enjoying what we do. Interests are not determined through introspection but are triggered by interactions with the outside world. “The process of interest discovery can be messy, serendipitous, and inefficient. This is because you can’t really predict with certainty what will capture your attention and what won’t. Without experimenting, you can’t decipher which interests will last, and which won’t”.  So, get out there and keep trying new things. Find the one that you want to keep coming back to.

    Passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development, and then a lifetime of deepening

  2. Deliberate Practice: The discovery of an interest should be followed by an extended period and a proactive process of interest development. You’ve found the one, or at least you think so. It’s time to get really good at it. The goal is Continuous Improvement (Kaizen in Japanese). We have to go through the process of finding and fixing our weaknesses over and over again, for hours, days, weeks, months or years. Malcolm Gladwell proposes 10,000 hours, I say “don’t stop until you are proud”. To crown this, interests thrive when there are encouragement and support from people you look up to, providing feedback to validate our effort. So talk to people about your interests, ask for information, opinions and constructive criticism.
  3. A Sense of Purpose: Why does our work matter and to who? Interest without purpose is difficult to keep up. Consequently, it is important to see your work as personally interesting and integral to the well-being of others. “For a few, a sense of purpose dawns early, but for many, the motivation to serve others heightens after the development of interest and years of disciplined practice.”

Finally, underpinning all this is Hope, the belief that you can get better at what you do, and your effort will come to fruition and impact others meaningfully. Without hope, we feel a sense of helplessness and lack the perseverance needed to grow and improve

I hope these steps are helpful to you or someone you might know. I’m walking the path of self-discovery with this blog; trying to write every article better than the last, updating old ones to make them more informative and hoping that one day, I won’t have to lie when asked, I’ll be able to give an genuine speech, and close by saying “I am a Content Creator and I can’t imagine doing anything else!”.

If you have struggled with answering questions regarding your ambition, do let me know about it in the comments below.

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