Since relocating for my partner’s amazing job, I’ve been interviewing. One of the things I decided early, was that while I have an undeniable love of teaching and collaborating with students, guiding them on their quests for a well-composed idea, I was not going to seek out “formal” higher ed teaching jobs. No tenure track, no over-load of adjunct work to pay the bills. Instead, I was going to look for ways to stay engaged with the realm of education, maybe higher ed/maybe not, and look for jobs in the nonprofit world. I’ve been there before and I had a great time. But getting out of higher ed (or distancing myself from the classroom) doesn’t mean leaving it behind.
The problem with loving what I used to do while accepting the complexity of not looking for the same work I had is that people want to know what my (supposedly new) professional goals are. And this morning, after another series of interviews yesterday, I’m ruminating about why I dread this question.
First, I don’t have a clear path with set objectives ahead of me that are easy to list off in soundbite form. But more importantly, I don’t feel that my goals have dramatically shifted. I still want to be a vehicle for change, I still want to have a positive impact on the world, I still want to help others achieve their own dreams and goals. I want to work for a mission- and vision-driven organization, and I want to hold a position that values my relationship-building skills and love of teamwork.
One of the lessons teaching general education writing students has taught me over and over again is that there are many paths one can take. There may not be ONE correct way to get where you’re going. There isn’t one correct way to write an essay, to engage the opposition, to research and build out a scene. There is actually very little in writing and communicating that comes down to an absolute sense of correct versus incorrect. I’ve lived and breathed this concept for 10 years. So if there isn’t one correct way to work toward your goal, it’s quite possible that there are many ways to become who you want to be. Teaching, for me, was one way.
I wish that I could go back to some of the early interview moments and respond to the questions with this kind of clarity. The “where do you want to be in five years” question isn’t a bad thing to want to know of prospective employees or to consider for yourself every once in a while. However, it’s helpful to acknowledge that the “where” may be more and more abstract than literal for a lot of people now. And, this abstraction doesn’t mean that the goals are any less real.
I’d rather be asked about what I valued in the previous work I did and which values I hope my work reveals in five years, at least as an alternate to the skills or achievement question.
Many jobs today didn’t exist 20 years ago; some didn’t exist 5 years ago or even last year. Living in the global economy, with the speed of technology setting a mind-boggling pace for work evolution, is only going to make this question seem more and more irrelevant to future job seekers if we don’t change the frame for why we ask or how we respond to it.