Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Who and Where I Don't Want to Be in Five Years

The new year has made me think a lot more about my future, as well as mistakes that I've made in the past. (For example, the time I thought owning a wardrobe made up almost entirely of flannel shirts, ripped jeans, and "skorts" was a mistake.) 

Interviewers often ask job candidates, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" If I were really honest, I'd say, "I don't know." But I have thought a lot about where and who I don't want to be. Here are a few examples:

1. I don't want to be the type of person who keeps making excuses. One thing that bothers me about some undergrads (though not all of them are like this) is their refusal to take responsibility for their own actions. If they get a bad grade, they blame everyone else (particularly me) but themselves. They'll say stuff like, "I know I missed ten classes, but I think it's unfair that you expect us to show up every day." (I wish I could be there to hear them say stuff like that to their future employers.) Or they might say something like, "I can't afford to buy all the books for this class because I just got a new iPhone. And besides, I can just read Cliffsnotes."

It bothers me that some students won't admit that they didn't do what they were supposed to do, or that they didn't produce the best work that they could have produced. They blame me or make a bunch of excuses instead.

But then I realized that I sometimes made excuses too. I blamed the fact that I wasn't making as much progress on my dissertation as I should have on the fact that teaching and my website job took up so much time. It was true that I didn't have as much free time as I would have liked, but I also procrastinated a lot. Mindless Internet surfing is my worst habit.

More than once I'll find myself staring at my laptop for hours at a time, watching Youtube videos of dogs dancing on their hind legs or reading weird news articles, like the one about the athlete who injured himself while eating breakfast. I also have a bad habit of watching TV shows that I've already watched several times. I even watched shows that I don't even like, including one of the Kardashian spinoffs. (I couldn't sit through a whole episode, though; watching it made me want to start banging my head against the wall because I figured that would be less painful.)

Because of that, I am now behind on my dissertation. I have to face the fact that I might not complete my Ph.D. next year like I originally planned. And I feel awful that I haven't accomplished as much as my classmates have. I thought about why I kept procrastinating, and I realized that it was because I was scared that I wouldn't write something good, and sometimes it was because I didn't know what to say at all. I found myself unable to write anything when I sat down in front of my laptop. It was so much easier to watch another rerun of Friends instead.

But I don't want to be like that anymore. Now I am taking responsibility for my actions, and I need to stop making excuses all the time. I resolve to devote more time to my dissertation. Even if it does take me longer to finish my Ph.D., the important thing is that I finish it.

2. I don't want to be living in an overpriced, substandard apartment that I hate with neighbors I hate even more. Today I saw that one of my neighbors apparently coughed up an enormous loogie and wiped it on the wall of the elevator. I touched it out of curiosity before I realized what it was, because I'm a dodo head like that. And that is reason #487 why my neighbors drive me nuts.

I want to live in a nicer apartment with a landlord who doesn't believe that running water that doesn't turn brown and washing machines and dryers that actually work are unnecessary luxuries. I want to live in a place where my neighbors are quiet and considerate, and not the type of people who have loud parties almost every night and fall down drunk outside my apartment at 2 A.M. while squealing, "WHOOPSIE! I think I just fell down, hahahaha!"

3. I don't want to be the kind of person who never goes anywhere or never lets herself have fun. When I first moved to Chicago, I soaked up the city as much as I could. I went to concerts, plays, readings, museums, interesting neighborhoods, etc., etc. But now I hardly do anything fun. I could blame my work schedule and tiny checking account on that fact. (Side note: My life has become so humdrum that I actually had a dream the other night about doing laundry.)

But on the other hand, the fact that I rarely take advantage of what this city has to offer has made me focus more on the bad things about living here, like the inconsiderate drivers who come close to running me over because they're talking on their cell phones. That makes me want to scream, "Why don't you go someplace where you and your cell phone can be alone, JERK!"

I actually used to yell at bad drivers, because I got so mad at their carelessness and rudeness. I stopped when I realized that a) it was dangerous, because they just might come back with their cars, and b) screaming at them made me look even worse than they did. I realized that I was taking out my frustration on them because I was working too hard. (But drivers who care more about their cell phones than about making sure they don't run anyone down still bother me.)

So now when things get a little too much and I feel like screaming again, I try to set aside time to do something that's just for me, like work on my novel in a coffeehouse or go to the Art Institute on one of its free admission days. Even though it means sacrificing time that could be spent on my work, I always end up feeling better as a result. And I think that makes me do better at my jobs, too.

What about you? Who or where do you not want to be in the next five years?


  1. Ohh, I totally want to be someone who lives in a nice little apartment by herself. Also, who owns a cat. Yes.

  2. I totally had that flannel/ skort wardrobe, too.

    Well, I'd like to be happy with what I accomplish without constantly driving myself crazy about whether my next project will be as good as the last, sell as well, blah blah blah. Don't get me started! :)

  3. I to need to resolve this serial procrastination train I've seemed to pick up!

  4. I'm increasingly starting to realize that I don't want to be on the job market for the next five years. There are many people in my department who are applying for jobs the fourth year in a row. No way. I am worth more than the paltry offerings in the MLA JIL would lead me to believe. I am looking at diversifying my resume so that I will be appealing for many employers, not just English Lit positions.

  5. Hi Gia,
    I'm allergic to (and afraid of) cats, but it would be nice to own a pet. I wish I could have a dog, even a little one that could be happy living in an apartment; unfortunately, most buildings don't allow dogs, and the ones that do charge dog owners way too much money.

    Hi Talli,
    It is difficult to be happy with what we've accomplished so far, because we're under so much pressure to keep succeeding. In a way that can be good, because it can motivate us; on the other hand, it can be stressful too.

    Hi Tom,
    It's really tough to stop procrastinating, because it's so much easier than doing what I'm supposed to do.

    Hi Anna,
    That's a good idea, especially because the number of tenure-track positions is dwarfed by the number of people with PhDs. I've thought about applying for nonacademic jobs too; it'd be hard to work outside of the college atmosphere, since that's where I've worked for the past decade. But on the other hand, I wouldn't want to settle for a teaching job that I don't like just because there's nothing else, especially because my employer at that job might expect me to stay permanently rather than move on when I find something better.

  6. Those are good things not to want to be. I pay way too much for my apt, which is why we're moving states. :) Good luck. Truthfully, in five years I'd love to be a housewife with tons of free time for writing, that does not go well during interviews though.

  7. Hi Libby,
    I'd love to stay home and write too; I wish I didn't have to squeeze in writing time, because I never get to spend as much time as I'd like on my manuscripts.

  8. Those are some well thought out goals! I applaud you for knowing what you want and looking for the obstacles in your way so you can learn from them and figure out a way to remove them from your path. We all have those obstacles, either created by us or others, but the important part is not to stop dreaming. Go ahead and day dream about your fantasy apartment! Picture yourself finishing your dissertation, imagine yourself visiting the most exotic place on earth. It all starts with a desire, and you have that.
    Best wishes to you in 2012!

  9. I can really relate to this post, particularly, 'I thought about why I kept procrastinating, and I realized that it was because I was scared that I wouldn't write something good.'

    I always feel exactly the same when I have a paper to write which makes me put things off or overload on research.

    Good luck with your PhD!

  10. Hi Emily,
    If I was going to be really honest, I'd also add that my fantasy apartment is in Paris or Barcelona; then I could be one of those American expatriates who move to Europe to write. But maybe I could visit one of those places someday, like you suggested. I went to both Paris and Barcelona years ago when I was younger, but I think I would appreciate them more now.

    Hi Rachel,
    Grad students are under a lot of pressure to always write good papers, partly because in some cases we're competing against each other for the same jobs. So it can be very overwhelming.

  11. Those sound like great goals. Good luck on the apartment hunting! I don't know how you put up with students like that though, they'd drive me up the wall.
    I shouldn't forget to explore the city I live in, either!

  12. Hi Deniz,
    It does really bother me that some of the students won't accept responsibility for their actions; I've heard them talk about their other teachers, and I'm not the only one that the students blame.
    Unfortunately I'm stuck with my apartment for another year at least, but someday, I want to live in a place that makes me look forward to coming home.

  13. In five years I want to not have a job and not be living in an apartment. I want to have a dog to go with my three cats and a baby or two to fill out my day. Oh yeah, and I want to be living in Guatemala supervising the building of my condos.

  14. Hi Plain Jane,
    I'd love it if I didn't have to live in an apartment either, especially not the studio that I'm living in now. I have this dream of owning my own house someday, with a special room set aside that would be just for writing.