Handling Questions About the Future and Why We Should Stop Asking Them

I have been thinking about writing a post about handling questions about the future for some time now. I am currently in a “transition” period in my life, so it makes sense why this topic is always on my mind or brought to my attention by others. I propose two ways that we should all approach the topic of the future. I apologize if I seem to be all over the place (it’s the end of the Spring semester and things are pretty crazy in my world!). I hope this post helps you with your own experiences dealing with the future as well as providing insight for how to approach others.

Yay! My husband has finished law school! I am in the final phases of my dissertation and I hope to be finishing up by this summer. Naturally, the only questions we have been frequently asked by everyone is “Do you have a job?” “Where are you going to live?” “What’s next?” While this is a very exciting time in our lives, it’s also quite nerve-wracking. Currently, we don’t know where we’re going, we don’t have jobs, and we have no idea what is next.

It seems that even at an early age we are asked questions about our future. We have a habit of asking kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Sure, this is just a simple question to get to know kids and their interests, but kids (especially) are still learning and exploring. Asking this question to children can actually incite anxiety about their future because you’re asking them to put a label and value on their future identity.

Fast forward to high school. I’m sure you were asked by everyone and their uncle, “Where are you going to college?” “What do you want to major in?” Again, a seemingly innocent question, but questions most teenagers aren’t able to answer. In fact, the major they choose to begin with may not be what they end up getting a degree in. I changed my major four times in college before I found my passion. Also, some students may not even know if they want to attend college or have had a difficult time getting accepted into one.

For newly engaged couples it’s, “Have you set a date?” “Where will the wedding be?” For anyone who has ever planned a wedding, you know how hectic the planning can be. It’s a very exciting process, but things can always change at the last minute. The couple may be experiencing some family or financial issues that are private and sensitive that may be affecting the wedding planning, too.

For newlywed couples it’s, “So where are you living?” and the ULTIMATE dreaded (BIG NO NO) questions: WHEN ARE YOU HAVING KIDS? ARE YOU PLANNING TO HAVE KIDS? Newlyweds JUST finished the madness of planning a wedding. Newlyweds also should have time to be happy and enjoy their relationship with just the two of them. Newlyweds (or any married couple for that matter) should not let a “social clock” dictate the dynamics of their family. Also, some couples may not want children. Some couples may have had a difficult time conceiving. Family planning is an incredibly private subject and it isn’t just about making a cute baby that looks like the parents. Family planning involves budgeting, religion, medical histories, emotional support, etc. etc. etc. The point is, we don’t know what couples are going through, so it’s quite rude to ask and it’s NONE OF OUR BUSINESS whether they are planning a family or not.

For graduate students (like myself), we are always hounded with questions of “When will you be done?” “What do you want to do with your degree?” and all of the other questions I mentioned before. The issue with asking these questions is that, often times, graduate students have an idea of what is going to happen and when, but it’s at the mercy of meeting deadlines, committee members, and progression of the research project. So many things can be out of our hands sometimes and all we can do is just work on things little by little. So much of the process is out of our control and can be quite unpredictable.

For me, when people ask these questions about the future, I get a tight feeling in my chest. I get overwhelmed with a sense of failure because I feel as if I am not “meeting” their idea of where I should be in life. Also, I am so close to my writing and work that I find it hard to explain to others sometimes, on top of the fact that explaining the crazy process of actually defending a dissertation goes over most peoples’ heads.

I understand that when people ask these questions about the future, they are usually coming from a sincere place. They genuinely want to know what’s going on in your life. People feel more connected to others when they ask about others’ lives. This is what makes it difficult to not be so upset by these questions. However, I propose that first, we as a society need to make a shift away from asking these broad (anxiety-, emotion-ridden) questions about the future. We need to shift our way of approaching others to respect their experiences. Instead, ask others about what is going on in their life right now. Ask what are some things that they have been interested in lately. Ask if they have taken any trips. Talk about anything except the future—UNLESS that person brings it up FIRST!  For kids, instead of asking what they want to be when they grow up ask “What are you interested in?” “How do you like to play with others?” “What do you love doing?” “Why?” One of my New Year’s resolutions was to be more “in the moment” and I think that this can apply to this topic very well. We all need to be “in the moment” of other’s lives. By doing so, I believe that we can really connect with others and, more importantly, respect their place in life without questioning. Questioning about someone’s future is, in a sense, telling them where or what they should be doing. Where you are in your life, what you are doing, and when you are going to reach the goals YOU have set for yourself should be decided by YOU.

Unfortunately, we aren’t always going to be able to avoid questions about the future. It’s going to happen. Here are some ways that I propose of how to answer these questions about the future. It pretty much goes hand-in-hand with what I just talked about. I suggest that you just redirect the conversation of what is happening in your life now. Give the person answers that you feel comfortable providing and don’t make your chest or gut tie into knots. Practice answering these questions in your head, in the mirror, or with others close to you. Having conversations with others of how to answer these questions or how these questions make others feel will help you come to a place that will help you feel more comfortable with this topic. If you don’t have an answer for someone, it’s COMPLETELY fine to reply, “I don’t have an answer for that right now, but I am doing XYZ currently.”

I would love to hear your experiences dealing with questions about the future. How have you handled them? How do they make you feel? How are you going to move forward?



1 thought on “Handling Questions About the Future and Why We Should Stop Asking Them”

  1. Your post reminded me of the adult problem of people asking “What do you do?” which likewise might either be not appropriate or otherwise awkward if you can’t talk about your job. The alternative there that was suggested to me was “What have you lately found interesting?” Similar to your comment for talking with kids. It offers an open license to the other party and I’m sure there is something about being a gracious conversationalist in that regard.


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