Dear Prudence

Help! My Boss Wants to Know My Professional Goals. Here’s Why I Might Lie to Her.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

Photo collage of a woman thinking next to a puzzle and a microscope.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Kkolosov/iStock/Getty Images Plus, tampatra/iStock/Getty Images Plus, and Deagreez//iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.

Q. In limbo between pursuits: I’m a 24-year-old woman and have been at my current job almost two years. I graduated with two degrees (puzzle making and biology) and am currently in a great position at a company I really enjoy, putting my biology degree to good use. The problem is, I don’t really love biology. I knew it would be easier for me to get a job in this career path right after college, so I pursued it, knowing I would be aiming to go to grad school for puzzle making in the near future. I’m going on a trip to visit grad schools this summer and plan to start school in the fall of 2020. I plan on continuing to work at my current job until then, even though sometimes it makes me want to pull my hair out.

The trouble comes in here: My supervisor reached out to me and asked if we could start having quarterly check-ins to measure my progress and goals outside of our regular meetings. She asked me to have a list of professional goals ready in advance of our next meeting that we could go through and she could help me achieve. I think this is a great idea! Except that I don’t really have any professional goals for this career path. Biology and puzzle making are very different paths, and my supervisor has already identified the overlapping skills as my strengths.

Should I just make the goals up? I feel guilty hiding this from my supervisor and colleagues, even though I know I don’t owe them anything. I can’t help but feel incredibly anxious about what these goals should be, or that each check-in will be a lesson in my acting skills.
But I am going to be here for likely another year, and that feels like a long time to pretend!

A: My primary concern here is that your boss offered up these quarterly check-ins not solely because she wants to help you advance in your profession but because she’s concerned about your job performance and is trying to signal to you that you need to improve or risk losing your job. If you’ve never gotten a hint that she has any problems with your job performance, then I might just be paranoid, but it might be worth clarifying with her just exactly what she means by “measuring” your “progress.” Something like: “It’s my understanding that these meetings have more to do with fostering long-term growth and not any problems that you have with my current job performance. Is that correct? Is there something I’m not doing that you’d like to see from me in the position I’m at now?” Assuming everything is good on that front and she really is just trying to mentor you, I don’t think you need to feel guilty about having long-term plans that don’t involve staying at this company forever. You’re not interviewing for a promotion or making any promises you’ll need to later go back on. You’re just learning more about this industry and your company, and you’ll have a full year to attend these meetings and achieve whatever goals you two can set together. Good luck!