Looking back on looking forward

A now-cliche interview question is “where do you see yourself in five years?” In other contexts, we encounter the same concept – visualizing fitness results, planning a family, designing a home renovation… it all comes down to looking ahead.

Since I’ve been deliberately looking back lately, I’ve had the chance to reflect on where I saw myself going, and to compare that vision to the eventual reality. It’s an interesting way to learn about oneself, as well as to come to terms with the idea that ultimately, we have very little control over the universe – which can be a very liberating notion.

My journal entries from ten years ago sound like me. I haven’t changed, in many ways, but in so many others, I am different. So, yes, the ten years ago me would not be surprised to know I am still teaching English at Cegep, I am still married to Dr. T., I have a cat, I have two sons, I live in a beautiful house in Montreal, and I’m writing about education in a blog (meta alert).

But I’m also teaching yoga at a fitness centre; I have two dogs, a lizard, and nine tattoos; and I’m teaching at a completely different college, living in a completely different beautiful house, and writing about education in a new blog, preparing for a new degree. Did I see those things coming? I might have had some inkling, but no plans, no vision. I knew I loved teaching, enough to have started a second Master’s degree, and my plan was certainly to spend the rest of my professional life in this field. At least, that was the plan ten years ago.

If I think back to fifteen years ago, I had two children under the age of three, I was working as a technical writer for a non-destructive testing and engineering company, and I was convinced that I had found my niche. I had a great boss, who gave me opportunity and support to explore other areas, such as project management and marketing. I had great co-workers and was happy in my job – happy enough to consider moving to the West Island to be closer to work. Teaching wasn’t on my radar, nor were dogs, yoga, tattoos or blogs.

Twenty years ago? Freshly married, never having kids, working in theatre (which admittedly probably would have meant tattoos, eventually). Twenty-five years ago? Never getting married or having kids, working in retail because I was really good at working the cash register, never going back to school because I didn’t need that kind of stress and pressure, thank you very much. Thirty years ago, freshly graduated from high school, heading off to Cegep on the road to becoming a doctor, of course.

Would the me from twenty or thirty years ago recognize me now? Would we get along? Would I be a disappointment or revelation?

While imagining the conversation between 16-year-old me and 46-year old me is an interesting exercise, what’s more fascinating to me is seeing the inevitable outcomes. How could I have seen the outcomes three decades ago, but how could they be anything else, now that I’m here. Consider the professional plan: study science but get completely turned off, drop out of school; go back to school just to prove that I can finish my DEC, get hooked on literature; through classmates and roommates in university, get into local amateur theatre scene, direct and stage manage and (once) act and get noticed for arts administration talents, work in PR for comedy festival and local arts centre, discover that professional arts administrators are even crazier and more volatile than the amateurs, get turned off; while on maternity leave, investigate other professional options, start tech writing business with friend, friend gets hired for permanent position, company dissolves, get job with engineering company, believe career now determined; watch company get sold, get severance package, go to career counselling as part of said package, watch every single test result come back “teacher,” get name on sub list for off-island board, get adult ed computer training course, get work (finally) at college two hours from home, fall in love with college teaching, get hired at my alma mater… and then things calm down for ten years.

If we only see the start point (study science) and end point (teach college English), the path may not make sense. Every turn along the way, though, makes the outcome more logical and more inevitable. Sure, we could indulge in a “Sliding Doors” scenario and wonder where I would be if I’d stayed in retail, or the arts, or engineering… but I didn’t.

The point of all this, for me, it two-fold. First, I am so happy, professionally and personally, and this kind of reflection makes me aware that although we may not control much when it comes to the universe, somehow we find our path, even if we didn’t see it along the way. Secondly, looking back on how I got to where I am now gets me very excited about where I’ll be in five years, then ten, and twenty, and so on. I don’t know what’s to come, really, but I plan to enjoy the journey.

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