5 year plan.

I have these ideas.

Or rather–I observe/grok something.. (I would be hard-pressed to distinguish whether this is really a perception-driven phenomenon or a reflection-induced realization… or whether there is any time lag between them… ) and then I try to mark it down to write about it when I have time..

To NOM, in other words.

This happens to me like twice a week…. but here I stand–not having written anything in 3 weeks.

This is my life.

Anyway.. this is tonight’s NOM.  It’s about 5-year plans.  Not the communist horrors that devastated Russia EVEN MORE than it already was after the First World War and then the Revolutionary wars there.

No–this is about the rather more mundane idea about what happens when you are in a job interview and someone asks you, “So, where do you see yourself in 5 years? in 10 years?”

For transparency’s sake, I should note that this whole NOM came from a lunchtime conversation with a friend about 2 weeks ago or so..  It was in this conversation, that she talked to me about getting her new position–and about the interview process where they asked this kind of thing–and she had some very solid answers to it–smart answers that were direct, applied to the situation, and made sense.  Concretely, she said something along the lines of “Well, I know that I have a certain set of skills, but there are more that I will need to learn as I’m here so that I can make progress in my career.  By acquiring this, I should be able to take over your position (Boss #1) when you decide to retire.  Then, I will continue on acquiring more skills so that eventually, I can take over D’s position (Boss #2 above Boss #1–but also a friend of hers..).  ”

This sounded really smart to me.

It also sounded 100% unlike anything I’d ever said in response to such a question–despite having gone through a number of job interviews.

Let me add–at this point–that my friend is an ENTJ–so similar to my INTJ personality type–but more externally driven (as ENTJ’s are..)… The easiest comparison to describe the differences between ENTJ’s and INTJ’s would be that an ENTJ is like a field marshall–they are out their directing action and strategizing for the battle at hand.  INTJ’s on the other hand–are more like the leaders of the Military’s general staff.  They like to work behind the scenes, working through the data and strategizing over the long term..   Now both types can mimic the other, I’m sure, but the natural strengths are in different areas…

Anyway–back to the point.

Listening to this discussion by my friend was enlightening on a number of different levels… which I’ll try to elaborate here in some semblance of sanity.

1. The first thought I had to this–internally–was that I’ve never had such a clearly articulated plan or answer for such a question–although I’ve had versions of that question in interviews.  And really, I had never really figured out how to answer it in my head despite this lack of solid answer.  It was one of those things that I didn’t even know how to approach.

2. The second thought that then subsumed/overtook the first, was that the reason for this failure to have an answer is not that I didn’t have an answer to the question at all–but rather that I knew that my answer to the question wouldn’t work.

See–my apporach to this kind of question–i.e. “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”/”What do you want to do with your life?”–has this ambiguously simple answer:

“In 5 years I want to be happy and healthy.  I want to be working productively on something that supports me and my family in a stable fashion–and which I can find meaning in in some fashion.”

Now–what exactly that situation entails–I have no fucking clue.   I mean–I know what it probably doesn’t entail–but I’ve always been reticent to just nail down or scope out exactly what position I think I will be in–because I don’t trust reality enough to put me there or create the opportunities that will allow for such a constrained/concrete description of the future.  I just figure I can adapt and work through the situation–and this has almost always turned out to be the case.

That is how I’ve always approached things… It’s how I approached getting into grad school, actually–not because I had my heart set on becoming a professor–I really had no idea what that all entailed and a lot of what goes into becoming a tenured academic leaves me pretty cold… Rather–I got into grad school, because I wanted to learn more about the subject area, and I figured I would use this knowledge to do stuff.

In the end–this sort of worked–I have found a position now that I totally realize is the kind of thing I want to do with my life–but it was IN NO WAY clear to me when I started my grad school program that I would end up teaching engineers how to write/communicate.. and that I would find joy in doing so.. (Note–my grad program was in the History of Science–and then I specialized in the History of Technology… which is NOT directly related to teaching engineers how to write–although there are numerous skill overlaps…)

As you see–I’ve achieved my goal of being happy, providing for my family, and having meaningful work–but I didn’t have any idea what would be driving that.

3. This contrasting construct between the two notions/approaches of future planning then caused me to reflect a bit on what’s gone on the past year or so.   In particular, it made me realize that I could learn something by being a bit more explicit in my concrete external planning–not because my particular planning approach is wrong–not at all–I’m pretty happy about being happy–but because I think that a bit more attention to the external approach can better enable my internalized approach–and also it is the kind of thing that a lot of the more extraverted world expects you to be able to answer.

Thus–because I live in that world also–if I want to be effective, I should put some thought into how I can fashion an answer that they will understand more easily and that will help them work with me more productively.

Now–lest you get the impression that I’m somehow casting aspersions upon the greater extraverted social world–I’m totally not attempting to do so.  There are all kinds of smart people in the world–some are extraverted and some are introverted–and there are many different KINDS of smartness… Diversity in this rules.


To be concrete about it–I can mention my current boss for my teaching position–who is AWESOME.  She’s totally extraverted–and if I had to guess… I’d guess her type as either ENTJ or ENTP.. but most likely ENTJ…

Anyway–one thing I’ve come to see about her is that she has always understood me–despite times when I’ve said stupid things in my interviews–or was , at least, unprepared for the kinds of questions that I should know–because she could see underneath things to know that I had the kinds of skills that she valued.

So–it’s not that extraverts are incapable of seeing beneath the surface–but more just that they tend to have this set of communicative standards/shorthand set up that allow them to convey certain kinds of actionable meaning quite effectively.  Introverts often totally misunderstand this–as it can sometimes seem hidden to them in what appears to be FAR TOO MANY WORDS AND DISCUSSION about stuff that isn’t directly relevant.. but while that can be the case–some people just babble–there is often miscommunication here and misinterpretation on the introvert’s part–because they discount ALL of the discussion as lacking concrete meaning–when that’s totally not the case.  It’s just a different kind of communication–one in which they are often less skilled… and thus less prepared to notice the nuances and significant moments.

Anyway.. this has been a long elaboration upon the simple fact that I learned something important in that conversation…. something I had not been intending to learn.. but which is certainly important for me to learn…

Things that come naturally to a person seem so simple, and that can be a strength, but it’s also a weakness.

As Alfred North Whitehead said, “Seek simplicity and distrust it.”  Now, he was talking about the aims of science–which seeks out the simplest explanation for complex facts, but then which sometimes gets flipped on its head in that people then think that facts must be simple, because simplicity is the goal.

A similar kind of situation occurs here.  We often do what is simplest for us–because we can be efficient (or lazy) in our actions then.  But doing what is simplest does not make it the right or best thing for us to do.  Sometimes, we need to stop and perceive that the simplest way for us may actually lead us astray–and that we sometimes should learn to grow beyond these natural abilities and become greater than we were.

That’s the plan, at least…


About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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