“Tell us, where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?” – This is one of those questions that is asked again and again in job interviews. There is no perfect answer to this question. Some ambitious managers want to hear that the candidate wants to take over their position in five to ten years’ time at the latest. In their opinion, this proves significant performance motivation and goal orientation. Other line managers or HR experts would use this answer as a reason for deciding against this applicant. They would be convinced that the candidate lacks humility.

In fact, this question is not very helpful for learning anything about an applicant. In (aptitude) diagnostics, it is assumed that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. In other words, if I have worked or studied ambitiously and with commitment all my life, then I will most likely continue to do so in the future. If, in the past, I placed more emphasis on efficiency and achieved results with as little effort as possible, then this is a proven success strategy that I will continue to pursue in the future. So if you want to know something about a candidate’s goal orientation and frustration tolerance, it would make more sense to ask:

  • What goals did you set yourself in the past?
  • How did you work toward them?
  • How did you handle situations in which you did not achieve your goals?

For the benefit of diagnostics, it would also be effective to wait for the answers to these questions. This would greatly help to assess the candidate’s suitability more accurately. In many interviews that I have conducted together with customers, my main job was to prevent the interviewers from talking too much.

The time horizon is also important when it comes to the above question: Forecasts are difficult, especially when they concern the future. The longer the time horizon, the less accurate they become. Ten years. Or even 15? My son just graduated from high school. For their final yearbook, all students answered the question of what they want to be in 15 years’ time. Many answered – “32.”Some saw themselves married with children and in a managerial position. Plans, goals, dreams of great or small happiness.

Isn’t that what most people associate with their profession or career? When I have reached this position or that goal, then I am happy? In his fascinating book “Enlightenment to Go,” David Michie makes a distinction between pleasure and happiness.“Pleasure […] is something that we derive from an object, a place, or people.It is, by definition, circumstantial.” I fully understand that. Since I have been infected by the “surf virus,” I plan all my vacations according to where the best waves can currently be found, because it gives me an incredibly good feeling to ride a wave. I am almost tempted to say that nothing makes me happier. But after three hours in the ice-cold Atlantic, even I long for a hot shower and a warming latte. In this respect – please forgive me, dear surfers – surfing is not happiness, but only pleasure. Whenever I experience one of these surf sessions where everything goes wrong and gloomy thoughts take over, it is not even that anymore. Then anger, frustration, self-doubt, and disappointment set in.

That also applies to our profession. It makes us happy when we have worked toward a position (for a long time) and have finally been promoted. But how long does this joy last? And what happens if success is not achieved? I am familiar with that situation. My first job was at Andersen Consulting. As a rule, you were promoted from an analyst to a consultant after 24 months. Unless you had been listed in category 1 in the rankings, then you were already promoted after 22 months. I had started my job in November 1995, the promotion round was in September 1997. Although I had received confirmation that I was doing my job very well, I was only in category 2. I was not promoted, I was missing two months or a better ranking. Therefore, I had to wait half a year to be promoted. Incidentally, there was no privilege associated with this. Only the title on the business card changed. Nevertheless, there were evaluations, rankings of the consultants, and talent boards. A huge effort to ensure that the promotions were as objective and fair as possible. Rationally I was able to understand all this. Nevertheless, I was deeply offended. It was new to me not to be in the top league. That was an unfamiliar situation for me. Anger, frustration, self-doubt, and disappointment were rushing through me. My ego ran riot and I started looking for a new job. I left the company at the end of the year.

For many years now I have been in the lucky situation that I have my dream job that keeps my family and me well-fed. I am infinitely grateful that I was NOT promoted back then. Otherwise I would certainly have stayed longer and who knows how my professional career and my life would have turned out. So thank you, Andersen Consulting, for not promoting me!

These days, my plans and goals mainly relate to my personal life. They are rarely very important so that I don’t pursue them consistently. On the contrary, I like to throw personal plans out of the window and have on occasion lost sight of the odd goal. Sometimes life throws you a curveball.

In my early 30s I came up with the plan to walk the Camino de Santiago on my 40th birthday together with my South African friend Hayley. That never happened. Instead, I spent this day with my family at a child-friendly vacation resort in Tuscany. In my early 40s I discovered mindfulness and meditation and was convinced that I would participate in a 30-day silent retreat in the Himalayas for my 50th birthday. A few months before my 50th birthday I thought I would be riding perfect tropical waves in Costa Rica that day. Life has interesting twists in store for us. This is what I actually did:on my 50th birthday, I sat in a surf camp in Galicia and wanted to work on a cutback, a surf maneuver I really want to learn. However, the Atlantic decided not to give the birthday girl a single surfable wave from France to Portugal. So what did I do instead? I drove to Santiago de Compostela. 10 years later than planned. This does not feel like failure at all. The many pilgrims here with their hiking poles and their “I made it” T-shirts are in search of something. God? Themselves? Meaning in life? Enlightenment? Happiness?

According to David Michie, “happiness refers to a deeper sense of fulfilment not dependent on circumstance, which is usually accompanied by qualities such as peacefulness, purposefulness, and benevolence.”One way to do this is to give a little less space to our ego and instead shift our attention to others.

I frequently experience this feeling of happiness when I have breakfast with my two sons. Both of them usually struggle to keep their eyes open at the table. One of them spreads Nutella and peanut butter on his piece of toast while the other stuffs his face with cornflakes. In moments like these I cannot help but look lovingly at the two of them and think –it’s all good, I’ve done everything right in my life.

Afterwards I cycle to my office and have a coaching appointment with a customer. Here too, I often feel a deep sense of fulfillment. This always happens whenever I sense that a positive change is taking place in my counterpart. When he succeeds in creating some distance to his ego, even if only for a moment. The pressure that many of my customers are under without being aware of it then decreases considerably. This leads to an intense feeling of relief and enables the coachee to adopt a new perspective. Clarity sets in. Making decisions and developing plans and strategies based on this clarity should be the rule for anyone who holds a position of responsibility. It seems to me that this tends to be the exception. We are all far too easily drawn into our usual mental hamster wheels by our egos. What a blessing it is to help someone to get out of this.

Sometimes, however, coaching processes take a little longer or it is not at all recognizable from the outside whether or not this is having an impact on the coachee. Then my ego scolds me and tells me that I am still not doing my job well enough. That’s not even good enough for category 2! Then they return, the feelings from back then –anger, frustration, self-doubt, and disappointment. Whenever a wave like that washes over me, I usually use meditation to pull myself out of my ego swamp. Sometimes the comforting words of a good friend, whom I pour my heart out to, also help me. He then reminds me that I am good enough, even if a coaching session does not lead to the coachee’s spontaneous enlightenment. But these moments of frustration are very, very rare. I often cannot believe my luck that I get to work with these wonderful people, to exchange experiences with them, and to pass on to them what I have learned.

But sometimes it gets even better than that. In recent weeks I have received many kind emails from (former) coachees and training participants. Some took my 50th birthday as an opportunity to thank me for the journey we went on together. Others wrote for no particular reason. It’s like the cherry on top of the cream on top of the cake.

SO GOOD!

I am absolutely blown away.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

I mean each and every one of you!

If I were asked today –“Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?” – then I would spontaneously reply –“Surfing a clean cutback would be cool. Or a barrel. At 60, why not? And I will also be happy even if I don’t manage it. Usually, not always. I will continue to practice not to take my ego so seriously. That is not easy. But I still have a little time until I reach enlightenment.”

But when I go deep into myself, the honest answer is – “I have no idea! And that is a good thing!”