The Five-Year Plan

Who among us has not sat through a job interview and been asked the standard question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?

OK. Good question. But what I’m also asking is: “Why should you answer it only for others in a job interview? Why not answer it for yourself? And even better, why not use the answer to make a five-year plan to improve the future of your work and your life?”

Here’s how to do all this:

Step One: Answer the Question

Where do you see yourself in five years?

It’s a smart question that triggers you to think long-term, and to integrate values and priorities from both your career and your personal perspectives.

When you answer this important question, include many different angles. For example:

  • How far along your career path do you see yourself?
  • What organization or person will you be working for?
  • How will you be occupying your days?
  • What goals will you be working toward?
  • What goals will you have accomplished?
  • What resources will you have available?
  • What will be your living situation?

…and so forth.

Step Two: Include Specifics

With your answers in mind, set up some goals that will help you realize your vision of where you’d like to be in five years. Make them positive statements of achievement, along the lines of “I will lose five pounds,” rather than negative statements of avoidance, such as “I will stop overeating.”

Your goals should be as specific as you can make them: tangible, detailed, and clearly measurable.

For example, instead of setting a goal like trying to learn everything about a particular topic, make such a goal about earning a degree or certification in that specialty, or obtaining a license to practice it, or at least passing a reputable test on the topic.

It’s also helpful to set a goal with a clear finish line, so there’s no question whether you have or have not accomplished it.

Equally important is to include in each goal some kind of time-line. The need to accomplish the goal before time runs out precludes you from continually kicking it down the road, and also accelerates your drive to get it done.

Step Three: Set Up Powerful Motivators

Anyone can set goals. Most of us make optimistic “resolutions” every New Year. But very few of us ever follow through on those ad hoc goals. Why not? One of the main reasons is that we pay little or no attention to attaching the motivators that could help compel us toward success.

To set up effective motivators, consider your values and feelings, and how they can be integrated into your vision of where you want to be in five years.

For example, if you would like to earn an additional degree or certification, you can increase your motivation to do so by focusing on why that goal is important to you, and what role accomplishing that goal will play in fulfilling your five-year vision.  

Naturally, you’ll be more motivated to accomplish whatever goals are most meaningful and relevant to you, so dig as deeply as you can into your values and feelings.

Step Four: Lay Out an Action Plan

Goals are great. But it nearly always takes action to realize your five-year forward vision.

Taking the necessary actions in the most effective sequence generally requires making a plan. This plan should include the various milestones you’ll need to pass to attain your desired vision.

For each milestone, articulate the individual steps that will get you there from the previous milestone or starting point. Include a time-line in this action plan so that you are prepared to continue your efforts long enough to complete them.

You might even want to include yearly, monthly, weekly, and/or daily schedules so you’ll always know what to work on next.


In all of these efforts, visualizations can help. You don’t have to draw a picture or construct a collage with physical images of where you want to be in five years. But you will certainly find some value in mentally visualizing:

  • The journey you will most likely take in accomplishing your five-year plan.  
  • Your celebrations of your successes en route.
  • Your track record of achievements along the way.
  • Your situation and environment immediately after you complete the plan.
  • How people will treat you once you have arrived at your visualized future.

…and more.

Answering the question of where you want to be in five years, and then establishing a plan to get there, turns out to be a simple but effective way to gain better control over your work and your life, and to upgrade your levels of productivity and success.

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