The Anti-Essay

I was recently honored by The Daily Record, a Maryland business newspaper with a readership of more than 6,500 corporate decision makers and investors, as one of Maryland’s top up-and-comers on their “Top 20 in Their Twenties” list. When nominated for the award, the special projects team requested I fill out an application with several essay questions for consideration by the awards committee.

A few months ago, I shared my essay to their question, “how have your achievements positively affected your profession, your community, or society at large?” After I posted my essay online, The Huffington Post re-published it and The Daily Record re-published it again in their special edition publication. I hoped my essay inspired other young professionals to do incredible, meaningful things, and consider their own answers to that prompt.

The thing is, that was a tough question, but it wasn’t even the most challenging one to answer.

The one that took me a while to wrap my head around started like this, “where do you see yourself in 20 years?” Sometimes you hear versions of that question posed in job interviews, college admissions or by an innocently inquiring three year old. But usually, the question prompts the interviewee to consider a more realistic five-year span, maybe even a ten-year span. But 20 years? Come on. I resisted the urge to answer, candidly, in four little words: “who the hell knows.” And I don’t think my whimsical desire to be a full-time professional sand volleyball player would be so well received.

Instead, I came up with about 600 words in an anti-essay addressing the absolute uncertainty, blissful ignorance and beautiful possibility that come with looking into the future.

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote:

It’s hard not to be stereotypical or vague answering a question about looking into the future or planning the next five, 10 or 20 years of my personal or professional life. Taking a look at the question in reverse, twenty years ago I was only eight, living the life of a military “brat” being shuttled from one state, one school to the next at the mercy of the United States government and my father’s next military orders. At eight years old, I doubt I had the foresight to know where I or my family would be in the next five years, let alone the next 20, though it always went without saying we would never be in the same place for long. With a lifetime of experience living one day, one week at a time, my military upbringing has taught me the value of not looking too far into the future or making plans while life happens around me. After all, in the blink of an eye – or the open of an envelope (with change of station orders) – they could change. With that said, growing up with the possibility of a move always on the horizon, I also learned to value the possibilities of what was coming next, rather than dread or dismiss them. Because of this, I’m a person who can dream the biggest dreams and reach for the stars. Because when you’re always starting anew, why not shoot for the moon?

With all of that said, 20 years from now the year will be 2035. My two sons will be 23 and 20, respectively, and I picture myself surely the same loving, worrying, working mother I was the day they were born, as I was last week, yesterday and today. Seeing their smart, ambitious and hard-working mother find success in her job, doing fulfilling work while continuing education and taking care of them their entire lives will have given them a well-rounded upbringing, to say the least. So, I see myself basking in the joy of their successes (okay, and their perfect monumental failures).

Continuing my work at Roland Park Place, I will have elevated the visibility of RPP’s constituents and position RPP as an industry leader among policy makers when it comes to issues related to aging services and older adults. Having shared stories about various Residents doing amazing things in their community and neighborhood, I see myself making significant strides in changing the way people talk and think about “seniors.” Over the years, I will have gotten more involved with public policy advocacy for older adults to support, enable and empower people to live fully and actively as they age. I will have recruited a significant portion of the RPP Resident and staff communities to share RPP’s civic manpower with causes near and dear to us.

In working at Roland Park Place, I see older adults every day who are in their 70’s and 80’s looking at what the next 20 years has in store for them. Even older adults with a lifetime of experience not knowing what could come next still find it challenging to anticipate the future. Whether you’re 28 or 78, it’s clear to me that predicting the next two decades is nearly impossible. The truth is, I don’t know where I will be when the year is 2035, but I hope to continue to apply the same passion, dedication, exuberance, determination and civic-mindedness I have today to whatever interests, causes or services I pursue or complete in the next 20 years.

I’m honored to have been selected as one of Maryland’s top up-and-comers in their 20s named to The Daily Record’s “20 In Their Twenties” list and I hope others find the inspiration in these essays I did. The prompts certainly seemed impossible at the time, worthy answers difficult to muster, but ended up inspiring me in new ways to think about my work and my future. No matter what happens in the next 20 years, I remain ambitious, but realistic and it was important to me that my essay be flexible, personal, genuine and believable. Not to say becoming a professional sand volleyball player will never happen. Fingers crossed.

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