The Infamous Question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

I know I recently wrote about myself at 66, but this week I have been thinking about myself at 34 (cough::: err, almost 35). It’s that time of year when you sit down with your boss and discuss your 2 to 5 year plan, or at least it is if you’re a teacher. Thinking about my answer, I could not help but trace back 5 years.

Five years ago today I was in Lake Tahoe with my boyfriend. It was Sunday, the day after our first set of friends got married. We had stayed at Harvey’s and ended up in an outdated two queen room so that I could see the lake instead of the parking lot in our first assignment. Looking out over the glory of Lake Tahoe, I wanted the future to be mine. I wanted Alex to propose.

In that odd state of wedding fever, we ended up with a dog. Maybe I thought a dog would make us feel more like a little family. We had visited the pet shop the day before and fallen in love with a toy poodle. He was boisterous and tiny, a baby. As soon as we left the pet shop, I was sick to my stomach. We sat in the parking lot beside the lake and I felt like I was going to throw up. I called the pet store and asked if we could return him. They told me no.

Achilles turned Preston represented a lot more than just a dog. He meant grown-up responsibility, the kind that lasts more than a decade.

Achilles turned Preston represented a lot more than just a dog. He meant grown-up responsibility, the kind I wanted but didn’t know how to handle.

It was my first recognizable panic attack. Before I did not realize my emotions sometimes made me sick. I did not know if I could manage the decade plus responsibility I had just signed up for. I feared our noisy inward-opening apartment on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley would kick us out. We weren’t allowed to have pets. I don’t know what I was thinking. Alex sat patiently as I lost my cool, my whole body trembling with anxiety.

We drove home slowly, the dog, then named Achilles, peed on me more than once. We stopped at my parents’ house and let him play in the backyard, my brother and sisters and best friend sitting in a circle in the grass as he ran between us, stopping at each person for kisses and playful bites. I simultaneously loved and feared him.

We made it back to Berkeley at nightfall and discovered sneaking him up and down the stairwell to be a daunting feat, neighbors passing, looking quizzically, the apartment manager potentially lurking around any corner. That night, neither the dog nor I slept. He bounced around the apartment and cried, helpless. I turned in fits of nausea constantly concerned he was pooping or peeing or alerting the neighbors with his yap.

The next day I went to work a mess and sat in my cube searching for an answer instead of performing my duties as an economic analyst. Animal rights activists pulled down my posts on Craig’s List and PetFinder instantaneously. The Bay Area is good for shaming people into keeping their ill-acquired pets. By some stroke of luck, one of my best friends and her mom had been looking for a toy poodle. That evening, Achilles became Preston as I passed him into my friend’s loving arms somewhere off the road between Sacramento and Berkeley, tears in my eyes, guilt in my irresponsibility.

Everything turned out okay. The shame disappeared, Preston became the prized dog of a family with an actual dog door and backyard. I came to grips with the fact that I had an anxiety problem. I read books and saw doctors. I refused medication, but tried countless natural remedies. It has been three years since my last anxiety attack, the day I quit my job with less than two days notice to begin my teacher residency program. Since then, I have been fine.

Five years changes a lot. I went from a cube to a classroom, dating to married, a tiny one-bedroom apartment in Berkeley to a house in Sacramento, anxious to often complimented for my calm. I don’t know what changed exactly. Maybe it was making the conscious decision to stop being scared and live more in line with who I was meant to be. Maybe it was the decision to take one day at a time, instead of freaking out over next week, next month, next year. Perhaps it was all the reading, or the change in diet, or the exercise, or the yoga. I really don’t know. It wasn’t an instant process and it’s still not complete.

So, when I am asked where I see myself in five years, I have no idea. Mother or childless, teacher or writer, or still both. Low-income school or private where I can be myself more often. Teaching yoga to high-risk youth, or part of some organization that fights the fight I want to champion. Living in Sacramento or on acreage in the foothills or on the other side of the world. I have no idea. All I know is that the last five years have taught me to follow my heart and keep working hard toward what matters. The results may not be perfect, but they will be better than I could ever imagine.

Which leaves me with my usual question, what about you?

My favorite picture from 2008, Carmel, beach, friends, Alex. Some things don't change so much.

My favorite picture from 2008, Carmel, beach, friends, Alex. Some things don’t change so much.

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17 thoughts on “The Infamous Question: Where do you see yourself in five years?

  1. Ok, you’re right, we should have been friends a long time ago!

    I can’t look in to my future five years ahead. I can barely see tomorrow. I am too impulsive and too aware of how long five years is. Five years is birth to Kindergarten for a baby! Five years is half of the span of my marriage! My stomach hurts just thinking about it.

    In five years, I will be alive. I hope. Thats the best I can do!

    • oliviaobryon says:

      I love it. In five years, I will be alive, too, (I hope). Let’s hang out sometime this summer. I’d love to see your crew in summer action and hear how you’ve been. πŸ™‚

  2. Maybe with a child or two. Definitely published… Hopefully alive and well.

  3. Seb says:

    When I was diagnosed with MS, they gave me 15 years because of the particularly aggressive progressive nature of the disease. That was 5 years ago. At that point, I set myself an agenda, which, despite not wholly being fulfilled I have kept to pretty well over that time. The last 5 years, should they be the last 5, will be pretty predictable – but the ext 5, or however many I have before that final phase begins, will be the challenging ones. It’s right now that I am looking at what my options, capabilities, opportunities and allies are and how best I can use them. I imagine there’ll still be a fair percentage of my time spent drinking, dancing, smoking dope, chasing after married women, driving like a lunatic, playing guitar and generally being a curmudgeonly Republican type, but there’s new work, new sights and new challenges that have to be sought out and crashed into and soon. The next five years doesn’t begin when the calendar says it does, it beings tomorrow and then begins again the next day!

    • oliviaobryon says:

      Wow, what a journey each day must be. A yoga instructor friend has MS and recommended the book Anatomy of the Spirit to me. I have a feeling it might be too faith-based for you, but I still found it fascinating. I hope you have many, many more days before the next five years begins. You paint quite the character with your use of time, maybe you should write a biography as your next project πŸ˜‰

  4. I’m just wondering if you married the guy you were with when you bought the dog. All in all, leaving aside that slightly hasty action, you seem to have done really well for yourself, both professionally and in terms of personal development so I’m just sitting here admiring the progress. My life’s had more ups and downs than a funfair ride so I’m giving the five year plan a miss

  5. kingmidget says:

    Five years ago, my kids were about to enter 6th and 8th grade. If I had looked forward five years, I never would have imagined that my relationship with my oldest would deteriorate so much over the course of his high school years. That is one of the things that has marked these past five years more than anything else, unfortunately. I don’t think I would have foreseen that I would still be in my current job. In many respects, for me the past five years have involved treading water. Looking ahead, in five years, if things go as I hope, I’ll be one year from “retiring” from my state job. I’ll be planning my transition to a life that will be as minimal as it possibly can be. That’s my hope anyway. All I know is that if in the next five years my relationship with my youngest deteriorates the way my relationship with the oldest deteriorated over the last five, I will be a very disappointed papa.
    Oh, and most definitely, I will have finished my three half completed novels, published them, and will have moved on to the other ideas lurking in the corners of my mind. πŸ˜‰ Somehow, this will produce some income that will supplement my retirement income.

    • oliviaobryon says:

      Your youngest was the age of my students! It is crazy how five years can change things. I wouldn’t worry too much about your youngest, each of my siblings grew up in different ways over different time horizons. It sounds like you have a solid bond– hopefully that will be enough to get you both through. I like your five year plan, it’s the most concrete answer I’ve received from anyone, here’s to making it happen!

  6. That is what I hope, to be alive, and follow my heart and just be happy.

  7. Jason says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Your frankness was refreshing and your storytelling made me reflect on a few things, my longtime(lifelong)issues with anxiety problems and where I was five years ago. I realized that’s when I walked into my first yoga class which has grown into a major part of my life(I don’t see life without it)and how it’s helped curb my anxiety in a lot of ways and carve out closer the person I want to be. Think I may have to blog about it. πŸ˜‰ Thanks.

    • oliviaobryon says:

      I think you might have to blog about it, too πŸ™‚ (Glittermat…) But, yes, I definitely agree– yoga has made a huge difference for me too and I can’t imagine a life without it anymore. Cheers to many more yoga classes in our futures!

  8. I find it interesting the older I get the harder it is to imagine where I would like to be in five years. Maybe because I now understand and know HOW much can happen in a relatively short period of time. It is good to ponder though, and your post will certainly make me think on this over the next few days! Thanks!

    • oliviaobryon says:

      Yes, I think you’re very right– so much can happen in five years that it really is impossible to guess, which is part of what makes it so exciting! Anything is possible– enjoy your reflection.

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