Whenever I see the results of a Gallup poll published, and especially when I disagree with the results, I wonder “who are these people who answer these questions? Nobody I know was ever asked.” And then the other day, I became one “these people” whom the polling company calls and gets to ask questions. Lots of questions.
A nice enough lady called me at home, and without taking any breaths between the sentences, introduced herself: she was working for Gallup, they were conducting a general poll, and she wondered if I had time for a couple of questions. In the end after 20 questions, it was obvious that at Gallup they have re-defined “couple”. Her questions were all over the map. She sounded concerned about my health, she wanted to know my height and weight. She asked when was the last time I went to the dentist, if I suffer from anything, if I take any medicine, if I eat well and excercise enough. She also had questions about my financial situation, and about my job: if I’m happy with it and if my boss is a jerk or not (I’m paraphrasing here). She also asked general questions, how I feel about the overall state of the nation, if economically things are going to get better, if we are on the right path. A series of fine questions to gauge our collective optimism. Or pessimism.
But the question that striked me the most was the first question she asked: imagine a staircase in front of you with steps 1 to 10. Say the first step 1 is the worst and step 10 is the best, how would you rate your current situation, how satisfied are you? My current situation about what, I asked. Your general overall situation, she said and then repeated the question. I was asked to visualize a staircase and see myself on it. Now that was profound. Initially the question made me feel uneasy: you ask me to evaluate my life and put the results on a scale? But she got me thinking about my life. Where am I at? What step am I on? I quickly thought about my personal and professional life. All things considered pretty good. My middle class sensibilities blurted out “7”, which I thought was accurate enough. I was half expecting a come-back question, something like “Really? Why not an 8 or a 9? What’s the problem?”
But I was clearly dealing with a professional, so she went on asking me to visualize the staircase once again and what step I see myself being on in 5 years from now. Right away I wanted to tell her that this reminded me that hollow standard job interview question “where do you see yourself in 5 years” and the answer I always wanted to give “not sure, but certainly not here”. Anyway, where am I going to be at in 5 years? I tried to imagine myself in the future, I quickly saw kids, a promotion, then went back and scratched the kids out but kept the promotion, I saw a posh house. I dared to think myself in another country but then rejected it as too ambitious. I thought and thought and thought, and in the end I said “8”. It meant that things were going to be better, but not too much better. My rational mind, my modest middle class ambitions reflected in one numbered step. I waited for her to ask “why only 8? what’s the problem?” In vain it turned out: she was a professional till the very end.