The Next Five Years

Curved Two Lane Country Road Winding Through a Forest

I keep three sometimes-updated blogs; three slices of myself, separated under unique domain names , neatly categorized with the help of modern technology.

The first, and most important – the one I update at least once a month, but usually more often, is the blog about my 13-year-old daughter and her ongoing battle with cancer. Although, in truth, it’s as much about me – and how I’m doing, dealing, coping, or not coping with this disease that is often the largest thing in my family’s lives.

The second is the blog I maintain (not often enough) for my business, Twelve Thousand, LLC. Here is where I let my inner geek roam free and I write about my work, and what I think about my work, and stuff about search engines and marketing and all the things that go along with making a paid search campaign tick. At least, that’s what I aspire too. Most of my posts end up being extremely technical, or extremely conceptual (e.g., “What does it mean to work productively?”) For this reason I can never label myself a “thought leader,” or a “pundit” or a *shudder* “guru.” I’m too ambivalent about the concept of being an expert in anything, because I always feel like there’s so much more to learn.

The final blog is this one – a blog that has a total of seven posts. Well, now it’s eight I guess, which is about writing (mostly mine) and the process of figuring out how to become a full-time writer when I still have a full-time business and no idea what the hell I’m doing in the vast, ever-changing landscape of publishing.

So I am three people, not one, but really I’m five people, or ten people – and all of this was floating around in my head during a recent call I had with a new business prospect. It seemed to be going well, but then he asked me where I saw myself headed in the next five years. What do I want to do? I wanted to say it was all about search marketing for me and getting new clients like him. I knew that’s what I SHOULD say, but I couldn’t bring myself to lie. It’s not that I don’t love my job – I really do – but at this point in my life, and in my business, five years from now looks very different than it used to when I was first starting out.

I haven’t had to answer that question since, well, since I worked for BIG EMPLOYMENT and got a paycheck and benefits and time off – roughly 13 or 14 years ago. Even back then I was never good at answering that question, because my answer was supposed to be that I saw myself in a leadership role, moving into a director and then a VP level position which actually wasn’t what I wanted, or how I saw myself. But what could I say? I want to keep doing what I’m doing, become ridiculously good at it, and make as much as you, Ms. VP?

Moving up meant that I would be moving away from what I most liked to do – my job at the time – planning and launching online media, creating pretty reports to show clients how their campaigns were performing and constantly learning. It meant hiring people and actually managing them. It meant 85% of my time spent in planning and new business meetings. It meant a ton of travel when I had a 12-month old baby at home. How could I manage a team of people and still be good at what I loved to do? And still see my baby at 5:30 p.m. each evening? And still avoid tons of travel?

When I was last asked that question (probably during a performance review), I’d already been at the company nearly five years. I couldn’t imagine staying there another five years. I was already bored, and tired of the insulated environment of being in one company – a giant echo chamber of – we’re the best, we’re cutting edge, we’re doing it right. -I knew we were very much NOT cutting edge and, in fact, we were kind of doing it wrong.

Ruminating about where I’d want to be within that company in five years seemed old fashioned and out of touch. Who stayed at the same company for ten years anymore, anyway? But I couldn’t very well tell them the truth. Where do I want to be in five years?

NOT HERE!

In five years…I wanted to build and create my own thing, I wanted to work from home full-time, I wanted to stop reporting to people who had absolutely no idea what I did all day long and thus had no clear understanding as to why the company was doing so poorly.

Luckily, I got laid off.

Five years from that day, I had built a (fairly) reliable freelancing business which met most of my goals – though learning how to run a business has not been easy, and I’m still learning. So now I’m in my forties, and I’ve been working on my own terms for over a decade, and I’ve seen cancer walk through my door and settle down to stay a while, so the question of “the next five years” looks very different.

Where do I want to be in five years?

I want to be writing. I want to spin novel after novel after novel and have hundreds of thousands of readers. I want my daughter to be there to see it all. I want her to graduate high school and think about college and when she chooses her course of study, I want her to remember that she doesn’t have to sit in a cubicle. She doesn’t have to give herself up to just ONE company. She should absolutely learn about business, and how to run one, and how to talk to people and present herself, but she certainly doesn’t have the luxury of giving her life up to a company for five years. I mean, technically, none of us do. But really, she very much doesn’t.

And so this post is about the beginning of a new career path for me. It’s also about honoring and continuing to love my existing career path because search marketing campaigns aren’t as boring as they sound, especially when I get to manage them the way I want to, and work with clients who I respect (and sometimes even adore). It’s an industry that’s been good to me, giving me a way to make a living without feeling guilty when I stop work to watch my kids get off the bus at 3:30 p.m. each day, backpacks bumping against their legs, eyes on the ground – or their phones – walking towards the house, and my office, and me.

Think about where you want to be in five years. Where you REALLY want to be – and try to understand that the company you work for is only as good as the people who work there. And then spin it around. Where is that company going to be in five years? Do you want to be part of that?

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