There I was… sitting in a coffee shop having a delightful networking meeting when I was caught completely off-guard by a simple question: where do you want to be in 5 years? My career immediately felt like it was spiraling out of control. In hindsight, it was a wonderful moment… a gift, really. Enjoy my story below but first here’s one of my favorite career crisis quotes:

You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.” -Steve Jobs

where do you want to be in 5 years

Many of my readers know that I made a huge career transition to move from the corporate world to my current role as an entrepreneur and Career and Leadership Coach. I had so many ‘dots’ that lead to my career transition today. Of course, I did not realize these were all dots as I was experiencing it. I now have the luxury of looking back and making all of those connections. Here’s one of my favorite dot stories below.

It was 2004 and I had just moved to Austin, Texas. I worked in the Human Resources Consulting and Outsourcing Industry and didn’t find a lot of companies in Austin that focused in the market.

Here is what I knew: I needed to find a job and knew only two people in Austin.

Neither of them worked in my industry. Since LinkedIn was only about a year old at this point and wasn’t the ‘go-to’ place for networking, I reached out to my Alumni database. I then found 100 alumni from Marquette University living in Austin!

I emailed all of them individually asking for help in my career transition and many of them responded and offered their help. I am still overwhelmed today by the support I was shown by complete strangers. They all had the same questions for me:

What type of job are you looking for?

Since I didn’t know of any jobs in my industry, I let them know I was looking for a role that was tangential to my current job: Human Resources. My new network did their best to connect me with individuals in HR. I had a lot of coffee meetings with these individuals to network and build relationships in hopes to land a full-time career.

At one of these coffee meetings, my world came crashing down…or so I thought.

I was introduced to a friend of a friend of my Marquette network who worked in HR and we agreed to meet at a coffee shop to learn more about one another. We had some nice pleasantries and he asked me to talk through my career history. So far, so good!

This was a pretty commonplace conversation. Then he asked me this question:

Where do you want to be in 5 years?

For me, this was not a simple question. Suddenly my head started swirling and I felt dizzy. Answering, “where do you want to be in 5 years?” shouldn’t have been THAT hard!

There was a rush of powerful and negative emotions that hit me at that moment as I realized – I don’t want any role in HR in 5 to 7 years. I don’t want to work in Human Resources for the rest of my life.

Then, my next thought – if I don’t want a role in HR in the next 5 to 7 years, what do I want to do? That question kept echoing in my head and there were no answers.

What do you want to do?

Career Crises

I honestly cannot remember to this day how the rest of the meeting went. Did I coherently explain that I didn’t know? Did I say that I wasn’t feeling well and needed to leave? How did I answer where do you want to be in 5 years? I have no idea.

I simply remember getting into my car and hysterically talking to myself about not knowing what I wanted to do. This was the first time in my career journey where I didn’t have a plan or even an idea and I was overwhelmed.

That question launched me into a full career crisis.

The silver lining of this moment is that I found a career coach who helped me work through a career management process: reflection, finding clarity, creating a plan and taking the actions to achieve my goals.

This moment, this ‘dot’ that led to my overall career crisis has helped me understand what many of my clients experience and what they are feeling when I ask, where do you want to be in 5 years? For example:

sheer panic over my career…
overwhelming feelings…
fear…
lack of clarity or ability to focus…
not knowing what the steps were to obtain clarity…
not believing in myself…
being unable to assess my strengths or value…

12 years later and I can still tap into the emotions I felt on that day in the coffee shop. It was a turning point for me, but I couldn’t realize it the moment. This was one of my dots that has led to my current career. Dots are not always easy to experience; they can bring a myriad of emotions, thoughts and behaviors.

I was lucky to find someone to help me take what I learned in that dot and move forward. I encourage all of you, as you experience some of the negative dots, to reach out for help, seek resources; individuals, books, videos, courses, articles, podcasts, etc.) who can help you navigate this part of your career journey.

If you would, please share one of your “dot stories” below! Or share your answer to, “where do you want to be in 5 years?”