Who do you want to be tomorrow?

Posted: 25th May 2016

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My brother rang me yesterday. He said, “I’m thinking of going back to college.” I asked him what he was planning to study, to which he replied, “I don’t know, just something different.” I like that.

When I was 17 and in the thick of applying to go to university, everyone in my school year was invited to take part in a mock interview conducted by local members of the Rotary Club. It was to give us some experience ahead of the university admissions process, and while I can’t remember what feedback I was given, I do remember attending and feeling very nervous.

More recently I was invited to take part in the same interview process in my home town, but this time as an interviewer. I thought it would be an interesting exercise so I agreed. There were a lot of them to get through and several groups conducted interviews consecutively over a couple of evenings. Each interview was about 10 minutes or so long, with a few minutes in between for the panel to have a quick chat and note down any feedback we thought would be helpful to the interviewee.

We had a list of questions to rattle through and one question in particular stuck with me. It was the question the youngsters struggled with the most…

“What do you think you will be doing in 5 years’ time?"


OK it’s a reasonable question, on the surface at least, and the young interviewees fell into two categories when answering it. Some had the near future mapped out precisely; they would be in the second year of a graduate placement for a London-based global consultancy firm, or in the 5th year of medical studies, or gaining their pHD… You could tell by the pace of their answers that some were making it up on the go, but they were still able to articulate what they thought their situation would be 1-2 years after graduating and the opportunities they hoped achieving their degree would give them.

The other group stared blankly at us. Their eyes flashed from side to side and they shifted in their seats as they tried to quickly project themselves into an uncertain future and mumbled something about what life might look like when they got there.

By the end of the evening I was beginning to get irritated both by the question itself, and the knee-jerk reaction of my fellow panellists to write down in their feedback to these 17 year-olds that they needed to be clearer on their path of progression.

I remember thinking, “hang on a minute, I don’t even know what I’ll be doing in 6 months’ time!” I reflected that in my previous 5 years I had quit being a professional sportswoman, spent 2 years working in local government and the health service before establishing my own business. 5 years earlier still I had been starting off on a career as a Systems Engineer for BAE Systems. I’ve had 4 careers, so far!

Surely a university would rather have students who were the kind of self-assured, self-confident young people who had the courage of their own conviction to know that if they had made a bad decision and wanted to change direction that they would be able to do so? Better than having unhappy students, plodding through something that doesn’t fit them anymore, right?

I gave up being a professional cyclist quite suddenly when I was 25 years old. I went back home to North Wales and sat on my old bed and asked myself what I wanted to do next. It’s a process that has served me well ever since and I still do it, although I now ask myself that question in coffee shops, or on long runs and train journeys. I think it’s a great question. It’s now almost 10 years since I became self employed and I believe that having the power to reinvent myself is a valuable skill, enabling me to spot and take opportunities when they arise, to explore new ideas and to design the best life I can, one that is interesting and fulfilling.

If you stopped to ask yourself who do you want to be tomorrow, what would your answer be? And what might you be doing in 6 months’ time?

 

 

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