Sometimes the conversations I have with myself can sound a lot like job interviews. My inner guide is actually a program director, with a shirt starched too stiff and a really ugly tie. We sit down for our periodic chats, and he eyes me over his thin-rimmed glasses and asks the stale old question: Where do you see yourself in five years?
In real interview situations, of course, I smile a big smile and make something up. But when dealing with my own psyche I can be (I have to be) real. This is a big question. And it’s a good thought to ponder, since I’m not likely to be much of anywhere unless I start working for it.
The only trouble is, I don’t really know. I have some scattered, hazy plans for self-improvement, some pie-in-the-sky dreams of fame and fortune, but very few concrete, definite, workable hopes for my life. Mostly, I’m thinking about my professional life. I like my current job, but I can’t seem to develop a practical trajectory for anything that resembles a “career.” So I sit still, and I’m afraid–deathly afraid–of stagnating. I run into old college friends, and the question has now become, not “So what are you doing these days?” but “So are you still at that publishing place?” Followed quickly by, “So are you seeing anyone?”
Of course I don’t want to make my life plans based on the opinions of those around me, but it’s getting to be just a little bit demoralizing. Yeah, I’m sitting still in the same job, and no, I’m not making any great strides toward my “vocation” or anything resembling a larger life picture. I lead a very small life. Five years ago, I have to be honest–this is not where I would have seen myself in five years. As my youngest sister would say, “Gee, failure much?”
For now, my work is just about the only thing I can lay concrete plans for, since any other serious life moves aren’t things I have much control over. (Sure, I’d probably be okay with being married in five years, but that part isn’t really up to me. Capice?) So, without becoming a workaholic, maybe it’s time to start investing more of my energy there.
It’s a challenge we all face as single Catholics, especially we single Catholic women. I know for myself, and for many of my close friends, our whole current life situation is a surprise. We were raised and educated to focus on “finding our vocations” (i.e., marriage, religious, or consecrated life); the word “career” never even came up. In fact, “career woman” tended to come across as more a dirty word than something to aspire to in the circles I grew up in. We were going to be wives and mothers or nuns. And this is not meant to come across as a slap at that mindset; I think it’s a beautiful one. But God seems to have had other plans for me, and for many other wonderful women. When it became clear in the weeks and months leading up to college graduation that Mr. Right (or Ideal Convent) wasn’t anywhere nearby, we were gently urged by wise Catholic mentors to “do our best,” but the advice didn’t get much farther than that. So we all did our best.
Most of my non-engaged girlfriends took jobs as teachers or nannies or went on for more school. I sat through three (count them: three) grueling interviews for teaching positions at various local Catholic schools and realized as I walked out of #3 that the idea of teaching made me itch. And having spent basically my whole life as a sort of built-in nanny (oldest of 7 and always the oldest, “most responsible” girl on the block/in the homeschool co-op/in the parish…), that idea was right out, too. Then I got offered an internship with a publishing company, received some excellent advice to take it and did so, and the rest is history.
That’s all well and good; but I can’t shake the uncomfortable feeling now, three years later, that it was all nothing more than an accident, or a lucky coincidence, and certainly not something I can replicate in the future. I will air a grievance that’s been growing with me since I stepped off the platform diploma in hand back in May 2008: Where are the career mentors for good Catholic girls who find themselves, whether they planned it or not, thrust into the working world? Should I feel guilty for–I dunno–even kind of liking it? Should I just plan to cross my arms and sit still in a $35k-per-year + benefits desk job, sharing a house with three or four women, and waiting until **My Vocation** finally makes an appearance? Or is it okay that I’ve gone after a job I can sink my teeth (and even a bit of passion) into? Is it okay that my work excites me, and that I could see myself moving forward with this and maybe even making something of it in five, ten, twenty years?
Maybe this time is a gift.
Then what am I waiting for? Where do I see myself in five years? It’s time to start taking that question seriously.