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The Five-Year Plan

“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

I’ve always hated that question. In my illustrious career—and even in the not-so-illustrious parts of it—it’s been posed to me all too frequently. I’ve never been able to come up with an answer, never even had one in my head that I didn’t dare say. Ok, at one very specific point on the trajectory, the answer would have been “Not in hotel management,” but that was only because I was working in hotel management between stints at college. And that was only because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up.

At that point, barely in my 20s, I had figured out I wanted to be a writer. This may be part of the problem. Don’t get me wrong; realizing this was like finding religion. I accepted myself and my passion, even if—as my dad said—the whole thing was a pipe dream. I understood that as a pipe dream, this ambition came with certain limitations. There would be lots of sacrifice and rejection. Any money earned was icing on the cake, and not necessarily icing I had actually earned, by the way. Coming from a solidly middle-class background, I had no frame of reference for the idea that my art had a monetary value. As hard as I worked for my publishing credits, I come from a tradition that warned against getting too full of yourself. My dad’s dad thought he’d be better off working at the cement factory than going to college. It’s hard to imagine myself five years into the cement factory. I’m just grateful to have other options.

Where do I see myself in five years? Oh, please, God, let me be writing. Let me continue to earn a living at it. Let me be read. What, you wanted specifics? Let me be on the bestseller list. Let my book be Oprah’s favorite, even if she doesn’t have a show. Let me be on the set as they’re making the movie based on my amazing work. Let me still be here at the keyboard, my fingers on the letters.

Tonight I had dinner with a friend I’ve known since the Jackson 5 and Sonny & Cher. I told her about this problem, that at age 50 I’d finally decided I needed to come up with an answer. Ann understood. She has never been able to come up with an answer to that question either. So we agreed to find the answer for ourselves and meet again in a month.

All I know for sure is this: I don’t see myself in hotel management or at a cement factory. Now I realize that knowing what I don’t want is not the same as knowing what I do want. Fortunately, I have a whole month before the interview to figure it out.
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