The Five Year Plan

It’s that classic interview question that everybody dreads: Where do you see yourself in five years? Most people attempt to craft the perfect answer based on what they think the interviewer wants to hear. Forget that. When you take the question out of the interview framework and set aside all notions of what your answer is supposed to be, it’s actually a great question to ask yourself. Here are a few things to think about regarding how and why you might want to lay out your own personal five year plan:

Why five years?

The time frame varies for everyone, but in order to make big strides in most industries it’s not going to happen overnight, and assigning an unrealistically short time frame to achieving your goals can lead to disappointment. Looking ahead too far can be excessively abstract for a lot of people, whereas five years seems more concrete and attainable. Three years, eight years…it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re comfortable with the time frame. The point is to take control of your path.

How do I start?

One of the best things you can do to keep yourself on track is to write things down. Keep a notebook, or post a chart on your wall. Set deadlines and delineate specific steps. For example, in the next year you will increase your client base by 10% and complete two continuing education courses. The following year you will request to serve on special projects or committees and earn your X certification or license, etc. Having it laid out on paper will keep you focused and accountable.

To do list

What if I don’t get there?

If things aren’t going in the right direction, you can always redirect yourself. Say for example a new boss comes in who just doesn’t like you; you may need to make a big change, such as leaving the department, or the company. Fate is not always in your hands, so understand that your plan is somewhat of a moving target. On the other hand, sometimes you can be right on plan, but then realize you’re not happy. I’ve known many people who’ve made a complete career turnaround, going from the pharmaceutical industry to insurance sales, or from engineering to teaching high school. It’s okay to throw the whole plan out the window if it feels like the right thing to do.

We all know what career success looks like: it’s that corner office, fancy title, and big salary. It’s a pretty picture, but the key is finding your own version of success. Figure out what drives you and what makes you happy. If it’s the corner office then go for it, but don’t let society’s idea of success sway you. Whatever it is you want, just follow your plan and don’t be afraid to make big changes along the way. Oftentimes the changes we don’t want or expect end up being the changes we need. So, the question remains: Where do you see yourself in five years?

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