This Time Next Year by Subhadra Jayaraman

Proposed outcomes. Projected results. These are common phrases used in my everyday life as a scientist. Answers or specific conclusions to any experiment can merely be anticipated until we actually prove them. In most cases, life is like that too. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” We have all been asked this question in different formats some time or another. We usually make up some vague answer that would please the questioner, or whimsically extrapolate on our current status. We want these answers to sound important and earnest, but we have no idea if we believe in them ourselves.

I have been given some rather interesting advice when I seek answers to where I see myself in the future, especially in the context of job interviews. “Tell them you want to be a CEO of a biotech company”, said one. “Tell them you see yourself in a managerial role with a lot of responsibility and oversight, where you can drive the business while keeping in line with the company’s mission and vision”, said yet another (what does this vague nonsense even mean?). “Oh! You should tell them that you want to be the model woman scientist who balances skillfully the art of maintaining a family and a career” was a presumptive one (tell me how, please). What I honestly want to tell them is that I simply don’t know. I can make projections and forecasts and plans, but I can only choose choices, not the outcomes.

Three years ago, I thought I wanted to live with a pixie cut for the rest of my life. And two weeks into that I was browsing for wigs. Nine months ago, I thought I wanted to read Iliad and Odyssey and all the other old texts that I haven’t yet read. Nine days into that dream I realized there are too many works and too little time. A decade and a half ago, I thought marrying and having children might not be such a bad idea after all and started to think of baby names. And here I am, still unmarried and have finally decided on one name – 3PO – for my TV. Even last year, the same time, I thought I wanted to explore all the National Parks on the West Coast of the United States. One year later, here I am, having explored every crack on my four walls.

I still make plans, have goals, even daydream of an ideal life. But my own short history on Earth has taught me that most likely those plans remain whims of the past, sometimes utterly laughable, sometimes wistfully regrettable. Of course, some determination will get you places, and some plans pursued diligently to the end do come to fruition. But what I tell myself is that in spite of planning your every hour for the next 365 days, there are still only proposed outcomes and projected results. What will I be, where will I be this time next year (or next month, or next decade)? That’s a question, yes. But not a choice.

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