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Going somewhere? Write the 5-year plan you need to achieve it

March 25, 2021 - 20 min read

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What is a 5 year plan?

The benefits of creating a 5 year plan

How to create a 5 year plan in 6 easy steps

5 year plan examples

Wrap up

You may have heard of SMART goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound goals), but have you ever heard of HARD goal setting?

Society has been pushing SMART goals since the early ’80s, but a 2020 study found that people who set SMART goals are much less likely to love their jobs, while people who set HARD goals are 53% more likely to love their jobs. 

But, what are HARD goals? HARD goals are defined as: 

  • Heartfelt 
  • Animated 
  • Required 
  • Difficult 

They are goals for which you have an emotional connection, strong visualization, great urgency, and difficulty. 

While there are laudable aspects of SMART goals, the study shows serious problems regarding the ‘achievable’ and realistic’ aspects of SMART goal-setting. 

Methodologies that emphasize creating difficult goals are far more likely to be successful and generate higher employee engagement.

In this article, we’ll show you how to use HARD goals to make a 5 year plan, as well as show you two 5 year plan examples.

SMART goals vs. HARD goals - 5 year plan

What is a 5 year plan?

A 5 year plan is a personal and/or professional list of goals that you want to achieve in the next 5 years. 

Oftentimes, 5 year plans include smaller, concrete goals, to help you achieve the larger goals on your list. 

For example, if a long-term goal is to buy a bigger house, then a smaller goal might include setting aside a certain amount of money each month to go toward a deposit on a home loan. 

Or, if one of your long-term goals is to be a certified nurse, then a smaller goal might include finding the best nursing program in your area or applying for a student loan.

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The benefits of creating a 5 year plan

One of the best things about a 5 year plan is that it can significantly motivate you to create the life you want to live. Notice we said “create the life “ not just “achieve the goal.” A 5 year plan that works for you will be more effective if you think of your life holistically — how do you want to feel? What values will you be living? — as you create it. 

Whatever the specific goals you have in mind — whether it’s starting a business, becoming certified or developing expertise, competing in an event, having a child, or taking a big trip — a 5 year plan can help you move from dreaming into doing, wish into a reality. 

Here are some other benefits of creating a 5 year plan:

  • It creates a starting point for a career, start-up idea, or personal goal. If you have a goal without a plan, it may not ever happen. But, if you know you want to be a real estate broker by 2026, you’re in a better position to start the process and take actionable steps to achieve that.
  • It helps you stay focused and aligned with your ambitions, rather than your dreams constantly hanging out in the back seat. 
  • It’s a consistent reminder of what you’re aiming toward, and what you need to do to get there. 

The trick is: keep your plan as visible as possible, make sure it’s what you deeply desire, and make sure your goals are specific, measurable, time-bound, and HARD. 

What should be included in a 5 year plan? 

Grab a pen and a piece of paper. Visualize your life 5 years from now, and write down everything you see without thinking or judging. If any fears, doubts, or negative emotions come up, that’s normal. The key is to ignore them and not attribute any meaning to them.

Brainstorming your 5-year plan

Use the following categories to help you write your complete brainstorm. 


How do you want your nutritional health, mental fitness, physical health, and mental health to look in 5 years?

Are you interested in being vegan? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to start a yoga practice? Would you like to regularly meet with a therapist? 


Imagine your future professional relationships, friendships, and familial relationships. What do you want them to look like?

Do you want to join a networking group? Are you interested in starting a book club? Do you want to adopt a child? Do you want to take more trips with your partner?


Visualize your financial goals in these buckets: 

  • Bills 
  • Everyday expenses (i.e. groceries) 
  • Flexible spending (i.e. entertainment) 
  • Emergency savings 
  • Goal savings 
  • Investments 

What do you see?

Will you be contributing higher amounts to your 401(k)? Are you planning on saving for higher education? What do you want your emergency savings to look like? Do you want to save for a big trip?


What are your career and business aspirations?

Do you picture yourself leading a huge team or an entire corporation? Do you want to be a digital nomad? Are you planning on starting a blog? 

The truth is, the world of business and how people buy and use goods and services is constantly changing — and fast. Don’t get hung up on roles and titles. Especially if you’re early in your career, you will discover career aspirations and opportunities that don’t even exist today. That being said, spend time thinking about what types of activities interest you, what type of environment you enjoy, what type of impact you want to make day-to-day.

If you’re feeling stuck about your career goals, consider:

If you’re still unsure about your dream job, don’t worry. Go after jobs you’re interested in, learn from them, and eventually, you’ll come across pursuits you’re excited about. Many people also worry if they don’t have a passion. The reality is that pursuing interests and immersing yourself in the work is a good way to discover and develop passion. It’s also okay if you’re multi-passionate and interested in several jobs. 

Personal/spiritual/religious development

How do you want to grow personally and/or spiritually?

Are you interested in starting a home church? Do you want to work with a life coach or career coach? Do you want to meditate more? Would you like to start a gratitude or prayer practice? Do you want to build resilience


How do you picture your future environment?

Are you living in a tropical bungalow in Bali? Are you in a newly decorated and renovated home? Do you have a custom pool in your backyard? Are you living with your family to save money? Are you embracing minimalism?


What kinds of hobbies will you have in the future?

Will you be snowboarding every winter and surfing every summer? Are you interested in joining a soccer league? Do you want to take up cooking or art classes? 


What kind of meaningful contribution would you like to be a part of?

Are you interested in volunteering for a vegetable co-op? Will you be tutoring kids on the weekends? Being a mentor? Do you want to buy monthly groceries for one of your friends in need until they get back on their feet?

How to create a 5 year plan in 6 easy steps

Here’s how to use your notes to create your plan:

1. Focus your plan

Take a look at your notes and decide which specific areas to focus on. 

You might decide that you’d rather focus on a few areas, like your health and career, or you might decide that you want to focus on all areas. 

Once you decide, grab a piece of paper for every area you plan to focus on and write the area of growth at the top of each. 

For example, if you decide just to focus on health and money, you’ll write ‘health’ at the top of your first paper and ‘money’ at the top of your second paper. 

2. Consider potential goals

Next, divide each paper into two columns. The left column will be for ‘goals,’ and the right column will be for ‘action steps’ or ‘skills.’ 

Then, decide which goals you want to achieve for each category. Remember that ‘specific’, ‘measurable’, and ‘time-bound’ are positive aspects of SMART goals. That said, the ‘achievable’ and ‘realistic’ aspects of SMART goals can deter you from going after more audacious goals. 

Challenge yourself to leave your comfort zone with HARD goals. 

This doesn’t mean setting goals with no chance of success. But, setting goals with, let’s say, a 50/50 chance of success is difficult and ambitious enough to give you a real sense of accomplishment when you succeed.

For example, on your ‘health’ paper, let’s say you decide to write the following in the ‘goals’ column: 

  • Eat clean
  • Be more active
  • Increase nutrients 

Then, you might write the following in the ‘action steps’ or ‘skills’ column: 

  • Eat raw and organic fruits and vegetables three times a day 
  • Walk for two hours a day
  • Take a daily multivitamin and add superfoods to morning smoothies 

Next, decide between long-term and short term goals:

How to breakdown your goals - 5 year plan

Review your list of goals. Decide which are better suited for short-term goals and which are better suited for long-term goals. 

For example, you might decide that being a teacher in Peru is a long-term goal while researching places to live in Peru is a short-term goal. You might start outlining your short- and long-term goals with a 30-60-90 day plan

3. Determine your ‘why?’

What’s your big ‘why?’ Why do you want to be a Teaching English Foreign Language (TEFL) teacher in Peru? 

Write your reason down and hang it in a place where you’ll see it daily. 

For example, “I want to be a TEFL teacher in Peru, so I can learn Spanish, help students develop their English skills, and fulfill my dream of exploring South America.”

4. Identify annual goals and create monthly goals

First, establish annual goals that will help you reach your 5 year goals. 

For example, if one of your 5 year goals is to adopt a child, then your first annual goal will probably consist of setting interviews with adoption agencies.

Next, break down your annual goals into monthly goals. 

For example, if your annual goal is becoming a TEFL teacher in Peru, your monthly breakdown could look like this:

  • Month 1: Research reputable TEFL programs and set online appointments with TEFL advisors to decide which program you like best
  • Months 2-3: Take your TEFL course, study for exams, and write essays
  • Month 4: Take your final TEFL exam and wait for your certificate 
  • Months 5: Edit your resume and look for a short TEFL internship
  • Month 6: Intern with a TEFL academy and ask for feedback from your mentors
  • Month 7: Create a lesson plan portfolio and start looking for jobs
  • Month 8: Set up job interviews 
  • Month 9-10: Land a job from one of your interviews and buy your plane tickets
  • Month 11: Move to Peru, find a furnished apartment, and get to know your neighborhood
  • Month 12: Start work at your new job as a TEFL teacher 

5. Research how to reach your goals

Next, research the best ways to reach your goals. 

If you plan on moving to Peru, are there some YouTube channels you can check out with tips on how to move? If you plan on creating a start-up, can you meet with some start-up experts that can mentor you? If you plan on learning how to bake macarons, is there a French macaron cookbook you can buy?

6. Adjust and revisit as needed

Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. While the 5 year plan is designed to help you stay focused and persist despite bumps and detours, sometimes the unexpected is you.

As you start working on your goals, you may realize that your interests and passions don't quite align. This is where self-directed learning can help.

Plan for periodic review, reflection, and adjustment as part of life. If your long-range plan still feels right, zoom in to your monthly goals. Decide if your monthly goals are working or if you need to adjust them.

For example, you might find that trying to conduct online interviews with a Peruvian academy is impossible. So you could decide to fly out early to meet directors in person instead. 

You may also decide that creating weekly or even daily goals is essential to hitting your monthly goals.

Revisit and revise your plan as often as needed (at least once a year). You might be surprised at how fast you reach some goals while other goals might take a bit longer than expected.

5 year plan examples

Here's an example of a 5 year plan for a student interested in being a Certified Public Accountant (CPA):

5 year plan example #1

Here’s a personal 5 year plan example for someone interested in becoming fluent in Spanish:

5 year plan example #2 Wrap up

Creating a 5 year plan is one of the best ways to see your dreams come to life. 

At BetterUp, we love seeing individuals reach their fullest potential and achieve their dreams. Request a demo today to find out more.

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Published March 25, 2021

Maggie Wooll

Managing Editor

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