• How to Make a Five-year Plan

your plan

  • Introduction


During my MBA program at the University of Colorado, I took a class called “Visionary Leadership” and, as part of the class, we had to write a five-year plan. It turned out to be the most useful class for me during the entire program and, therefore, I would like to share a brief explanation and “how-to” for creating your own five-year plan, following what we did in the class. I have included my five-year plan as an example and guide.


Five-year plan! Are you crazy? Five years may seem like a long time and something that is totally unpredictable and out of reach; however, creating a five-year plan has many advantages.


What do you want to do when you grow up? What do you want to do after you finish high school or university or your current job assignment? Or what do you do if you don’t enjoy what you are doing? Or, perhaps you simply need a little help in clarifying the goals and aspirations that you are currently working toward. This is the purpose of a five-year plan.


Although it may not (and probably won’t) be something that you follow exactly, it will give you a direction and goals – things to work toward in life – that will help orient you with where you really want to go in life. You will most likely deviate from your five-year plan in the next five years; however, you can always change course and, therefore, your plan. This is the great thing about making decisions… Right or wrong, you are always free to make another decision. And, in the following “How to” guide, you will be making many decisions to chart your exact course over the next five years.



  • Values


The first place to begin when completing a five-year plan is with your values. Your values are those things that define who you are. They are the things that you value the most and that rarely change throughout your lifetime. You should be able to come up with a list of four or five things that you value most.

If you are having trouble, you can do the following activity:

  1. List all of the values that come to your mind.
  2. Draw a circle in which you will write these values.
  3. Write the values in the circle, putting your most important value in the center of the circle and those least important values outside the circle, so that all of your most important values are closest to the center.
  4. Take the four or five values closest to the center. Narrow the list until you have your four or five most important values.

Sample list of values:

    • Family
    • Friends
    • Honesty
    • Adventure
    • Learning
    • Harmony
    • Religion
    • Humility
    • Peace
    • Wealth
    • Status
    • Fame
    • Recognition
    • Health
    • Personal appearance
    • Travel
    • Philanthropy
    • Leisure
    • Career

Your VAlues

Now that you have a list of your most important values, take some time to be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if these values truly define you; or, if they are just values that you would like to have. For example, you may write as a value family. But you need to ask yourself if you truly value your family as one of your top five values, or if you simply think that you should value your family. To be sure, ask a friend or family member who knows you well (and can be honest with you) if these values fit you.


From the list above, we can narrow the list to the following five values. You will notice that the value learning has become growth to better fit a true value. Also, each value has an explanation to better express exactly what the value means.

  1. Growth.
    It is important to me to grow as a person.  Within this, I value learning.  That is, I believe that learning is a valuable component of growth and, therefore, plan to grow as I learn.
  2. Adventure.
    I believe that I am an adventurous person. That is, I seek out adventure.  I challenge myself with adventure by taking risks and by competing against others and myself.
  3. Friends.
    I value time spent with friends and family.
  4. Harmony.
    I value peace among people and tend to avoid conflict. As part of this, I value feedback from others in the form of acceptance.
  5. Honesty.
    I believe that I am an honest person, as confirmed by my friends and family.



  • Purpose


The next step is to define and put into words your purpose. That is, what is the purpose of your life? What is the purpose of your career? This describes what you want to do with your life and why. There are no rules for this definition; however, suggested here are some guidelines that will help you define your purpose. You may want to define the purpose for separate roles that you take on in your life; for example, you can separate your career from your personal life. However, your purpose will coincide with your values regardless of its specific role within your life.


First, think of what it is that you want to do with your life. For example, using the values chosen above, we can say:

    • The purpose of my life is to promote understanding among people and natural environments around the world.


This purpose fits the values described above and broadly defines a purpose. Next, we need to describe why. Typically, this can be done by expanding the sentence with the words “so that”:

    • The purpose of my life is to promote understanding among people and natural environments around the world so that people come away with a better understanding of each other – themselves, cultures, and others’ points of view – and the environment.

To accomplish writing your purpose, think about goals that you have in your life and what they have in common. If you can find a common theme both in your goals and in past experiences, this will help to define your purpose.


We can also define a more specific purpose; for example, we can describe the purpose for career. This way, we need to ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of my career? And why?” Here is a complete example of purpose:

    • The purpose of my life is to promote understanding among people and natural environments around the world so that people come away with a better understanding of each other – themselves, cultures, and others’ points of view – and the environment.  I believe that this purpose fits into all aspects of my life, including my career.
    • The purpose of my career is to create a successful business that promotes understanding among people and natural environments around the world while, at the same time, teaching them about the outdoors in an adventurous setting. This way, they come away with a better understanding of the environment and each other – themselves, cultures, and others’ points of view – and have fun in the process.



  • Vision


Now it’s time to create your vision. Where do you see yourself five years from today? Close your eyes and try to imagine yourself five years from now. Where are you? What are you doing? Describe your surroundings. In this section of your five-year plan, you will describe a day in your life five years from today. You can start with what you are doing, where you are, and then describe how you arrived at this point in your life. This is probably the most difficult part of the five-year plan. You have your values and your purpose as your tools.


Continue to describe your surroundings five years from now. What type of work or employment do you have? Are you working within your purpose described above? Here you can put some of your dreams and aspirations on paper. What about your personal life? Friends? Family? Depending on your specific situation, your personal life may or may not be outside of the scope of your five-year plan. In my situation, I could say that I will be married by some date, have kids at another date, etc. However, I would personally rather leave such things unplanned and let nature take its course.


Here is a sample vision, following the example above:

Monday, March 29, 2010
I awake early from my downtown Denver loft, having a big day (and week) ahead of me.  I quickly get dressed, putting on my most professional set of cargo pants and button-up safari shirt.  I cook myself a breakfast burrito – eggs, potatoes, and cheese topped off with salsa – before slipping on my hiking boots and stepping out the door.  Walking down the street toward the office, I look around me, enjoying the early morning sunshine, the skyscrapers around me, the snow-capped mountains to the West and the wide-open plains to the East.

My office is just north of the downtown area in the newly renovated neighborhood of Five Points.  I step inside to the ground floor of a two-story Victorian house that was converted into office space.  The house was a real estate investment that my twin brother Jeff made nearly five years earlier when, after sharing a house in Five Points, we went our separate directions – me into the Peace Corps and Jeff beginning a new job in downtown Denver.  He decided to sacrifice for the good of the business and convert the house into offices.  The business, Twin Travels, covers the ground floor only with the upper level occupied by another business.  With only four employees, including myself, there isn’t a need for a lot of open space.  We share two rooms among the four of us.

My business partner, Jeff, and the two other employees arrive soon after me.  We talk briefly, organize our things and hop in a car for DIA – destination: the Caribbean of Costa Rica. We are headed to Costa Rica to finalize the preparations for the second class offering for our business. The class is called “Indigenous Living Skills: Costa Rica”.

On the way to the airport, Jeff and I discuss the overwhelming success of our first class.  We find it hard to believe that we were able to put things together so quickly.

Because we had decided to go into business together, it made sense to use the name of the web site that I had developed over six years ago for the name of the business.  I remember that when I first developed the web site, a journal for Jeff and my travels around the world, my Mother said that the name sounded like a travel agency.  She wasn’t quite right, but she wasn’t too far off.  And here we are today, Twin Travels, helping people learn about the outdoor environment and basic survival skills in exotic destinations.

The idea was something that I began playing with in my mind while working at IBM.  I always imagined that there could be something I could do that I would truly enjoy – something outside of the I/T industry.  The thought continued to cross my mind over the next few years but it wasn’t until I returned to work at IBM after an eight-month leave of absence traveling through Europe that I decided I had had enough of IBM.  It was time for a change.  I enrolled in the 11-month MBA program at CU Denver and began taking my idea a little more seriously.  Thanks to my Visionary Leadership class, I was given the opportunity to really consider how my idea would work.  I had just eight weeks to put it down on paper.

With the plan in hand, I began to work toward my goal.  I joined the Peace Corps in Latin America only a month after graduating with my MBA.  While doing business development in the Peace Corps, I was able to learn some of the ins and outs of their business practices, a deep understanding of their culture, and, finally, the Spanish language.  I also gained some invaluable contacts along the way that were vital building blocks towards my success.

The Peace Corps was a truly amazing experience.  However, I felt that I needed some “street creds” if I really wanted to make my plan work. Upon returning from the Peace Corps, I took a couple of classes with a company called BOSS (Boulder Outdoor Survival School) where I learned from one of the most successful companies (in the outdoor survival skills business) exactly how to teach survival skills to customers.

I was lucky enough to land a job with BOSS, helping with their marketing (along with a little finance).  This position gave me some real insight on how they were able to turn a profit and run such a successful business.  I also made some invaluable contacts.  My two current employees also worked at BOSS. I recognized the two as some of the up-and-coming guides in the industry.  They weren’t just doing this stuff for a paycheck.  They truly enjoyed teaching people, loved working in the outdoors, and had a deep respect for the environment. It wasn’t too difficult to talk a couple of guys into joining a new venture doing the same type of work, only in exotic places.

After a couple of years of experience at BOSS, I decided it was time to make my move.  I dedicated the following year into doing all the research necessary to find out if (and how) my idea would work.  I researched the market, looked into doing business in a foreign country, and redeveloped the business plan I had written back in grad school.

I’m glad to be able to take a look around me now, then look back and say that all of that hard work paid off.

Getting back to reality, we’ve arrived in Costa Rica with a smooth landing in its capital city, San Jose.  During the trip, we discussed much of the plans for the preparation for our second class, much of this discussion involving the lessons that we learned from our first class.  We discussed that we needed to focus more on the needs and wants of our customers.

Some customers were pleased with the lack of amenities provided by the class, some suggesting that we take away more amenities; while others suggested that we provide more comfort during the course.  We considered this feedback and decided that we should stick with the values and mission set by our company and ourselves.

Our first class tried to impress our company values upon the customer. We wanted the group of twelve students, coming from various countries around the world (including North America, Europe and Australia), to learn from each other, as well as learn from the culture in which they were immersed thereby coming away with a better understanding of cultures around the world.  We focused on teaching them the simple lifestyle of the indigenous peoples living on the coast, from such simplicities as food gathering and preparation to more esoteric knowledge like ghost stories, rituals, and games.  We taught them how this basic, isolated lifestyle helps the environment by keeping out the consumer-hungry lifestyle that many are accustomed to in Western societies.

We were able to attract such a variety of clients by marketing to people around the world. With contacts in different places, we were able to get people from many different places on board.  With a greatly reduced price to attract initial customers, it wasn’t long before we had a waiting list for subsequent courses.

After piling into a local bus and crawling west along the “highway” to the Caribbean coast and onto some dirt roads along the coast, we finally arrive at our destination.  As always, it is absolutely beautiful.  It truly is a “Rich Coast” with endless sandy beaches, warm waves breaking on the shore, and, with the distance we put between ourselves and civilization as we know it, it seems like we’ve arrived at a different world. We greet the local villagers and begin to set up our camp at a respectable distance from them.  After setting up the huts, we decide that its best to get some rest so that we are all ready to plan our next class by setting things up and organizing with the villagers.


Now you have completed the most difficult parts of your five-year plan. Next, you need to think of all the contradictions that you have in your plan. That is, after writing your vision, look back at your values and ask yourself what may not fit with your vision. For example, if part of your vision is to become rich and famous and you don’t have listed a value that relates to these characteristics, there may be a contradiction. Also, the reverse may be true. That is, you may have values listed that don’t really fit your vision. If, for example, you have family as one of your values and your vision is to live apart from your family, you have a contradiction.


Following the example above, we have the following contradictions:

    1. Expertise.
      I have a general lack of professional expertise in both outdoor adventure and business.  I see these as contradictions in enabling myself to (1) claim credibility, (2) make network connections within the industry, and (3) start a business.


    1. Networking Skills.
      I currently lack the connections within the industry to get to where I want to go. To be successful, I will have to practice and refine my networking skills to get the right people to help get to where I want to go.

The saying goes something like this: “It’s who you know, not what you know.”  This statement carries a lot of truth.  I can get all the experience I want; yet, without connecting with the right people, it will be nearly impossible to become successful.


    1. Funding.
      How will I go about getting funding to get my business off the ground? I’m not wealthy and, therefore, need to find some outside means for funding a new venture. Also, I will still have a pile of student loans to pay when I’m out of the Peace Corps. Before getting funding for my business, I need to find a way to get myself out of personal debt and find a way to pay for the BOSS courses that I plan on taking.


    1. Passion.
      Am I doing something that I’m truly passionate about? Over the past years, I’ve been asking myself, “What career path can I follow that will interest me?”  I’ve thought that there might be other things out there that I could do that I could look at as more than just something that earns me money.  The contradiction here is that I’ve always seen people’s careers as something they do to make money (or to affect an image of power) rather than something that they are passionate about.  When I see people making money doing what they truly enjoy, I always wonder how they did it.  What did they do to get there?  Did they fall into their careers?  Or did they seek out different careers until they found a match?  Or did they always know that their career is something they’ve wanted to do?  Can I view my career as something that is personally satisfying?

    2. Quality vs. Quantity.
      The idea of working 40 or more hours per week has never appealed to me.  I realize that many others share this sentiment.  However, I’m a true believer in quality vs. quantity.  Can I be successful without dedicating so many hours to my career?  When I own and manage my business, will others frown upon my work ethic?  Or will I have the desire to put in the extra hours, seeing as I will be doing something I am truly passionate about?  If this is the case, then the hours of work is not a problem.

    3. Business.
      Am I a businessperson?  That is, will I be successful and happy running a business?  Peace and adventure are things that I can be passionate about.  However, will I get bogged down in the daily grind of running the business and thereby be at a distance from the front-line happenings in the business?  If I’m distanced enough from these things, my vision may turn out to be something I am not passionate about.


  • Objectives, Strategies and Tactics


The final step in your five-year plan is to solidify your plans over the next five years by writing down your objectives, strategies, and tactics. These three things basically serve to organize your plans and give yourself a timeline. Objectives are the most general of your plans. Strategies are the ways in which you will obtain your objectives. Finally, tactics are the specific steps you will take in order to complete your strategies. When complete, you will have a hierarchy of objectives, strategies, and tactics.


First, write down your overall objectives required in order to obtain your vision. In the above example, we have just two objectives:


 Objective – Get a job in marketing management at BOSS by July 2006

 Objective – Start my outdoor education/adventure business (Twin Travels) by April 2008


Each objective has strategies. Note that you should set dates for all of your objectives, strategies, and tactics so that you know when each item should be completed. Your strategies will go into more detail of how you will reach your objectives. Here is an example of strategies for the first objective:


  • Strategy – Get business experience
  • Strategy – Get experience in foreign countries  (BOSS highly values experience abroad)
  • Strategy – Gain credibility in survival skills  (Also highly valued by BOSS)
  • Strategy – Gain funding to pay for BOSS courses


Finally, for each strategy you will have a list of tactics (or steps) necessary to complete your strategy. This will complete the planning for your five-year plan. Here is the complete example of objectives, strategies, and tactics:


 Objective – Get a job in marketing management at BOSS by July 2006

  • Strategy – Get business experience
    • Tactic – Complete 11-month MBA program (July 18, 2003)
    • Tactic – Help to develop business(es) through Peace Corps work in Latin America (August 25, 2003 ~ November 25, 2005)
  • Strategy – Get experience in foreign countries  (BOSS highly values experience abroad)
    • Tactic – Peace Corps in Latin America (August 25, 2003 ~ November 25, 2005)
    • Tactic – Become fluent in Spanish by November 25, 2005
  • Strategy – Gain credibility in survival skills  (Also highly valued by BOSS)
    • Tactic – Complete Peace Corps assignment in Latin America (August 25, 2003 ~ November 25, 2005)
    • Tactic – Become certified in CPR by 2003
    • Tactic – Become a certified EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) by September 2003
    • Tactic – Join local Search and Rescue by 2006
    • Tactic – Take 28-day Desert Field Course (basic survival) offered by BOSS by May 2006
    • Tactic – Take Sonoran Living Skills Course (on a desert island in Mexico) offered by BOSS by June 2006
  • Strategy – Gain funding to pay for BOSS courses
    • Tactic – Apply for additional student loans by January 6, 2003
    • Tactic – Invest the above loans in an index fund by July 2003


 Objective – Start my outdoor education/adventure business (Twin Travels) by April 2008

  • Strategy – Learn about the outdoor adventure business
    • Tactic – Research offerings from the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) by August 2003
    • Tactic – Read the “Outdoor Network” newsletter every month (already subscribed)
    • Tactic – Read “Outdoor Leadership: Techniques, Common Sense and Self-Confidence” (August 2003)
    • Tactic – Read “Wilderness Survival” (September 2003)
    • Tactic – Read “2001 Wilderness Risk Management Conference Proceedings” and subsequent releases (October 2003)
    • Tactic – Read “Lessons Learned: A Guide to Accident Prevention and Crisis Response” (November 2003)
    • Tactic – Read “Wild Solutions” (December 2003)
  • Strategy – Identify destinations for Twin Travel’s future classes in Latin America
    • Tactic – Travel to 5 different countries in Latin America by November 25, 2005
    • Tactic – Research remote, less-traveled destinations (now – August 2007)
      • Internet
      • Ask friends, family, Rick Steves, etc
      • Travel Agencies
  • Strategy – Acquire funding for my business venture
    • Tactic – Research financing options, including loans by September 2007
    • Tactic – Sell my condominium in Boulder by December 2007
    • Tactic – Sell personal stocks, including index fund (to begin paying off student loans and to obtain initial loans) by March 2008
  • Strategy – Make contacts
    • Tactic – Make contacts in Latin America (August 25, 2003 ~ November 25, 2005)
    • Tactic – Make business contacts by July 2003 with:
      • GAP Travel
      • Wicked Expeditions
      • Mexico Outback
      • The World Outdoors
      • Adventure Planet
      • Purple Sage Adventures
      • Outdoor Network – Bryan Buikema
  • Strategy – Research competition
    • Tactic – Take survival classes through BOSS by June 2006
    • Tactic – At BOSS (July 2006 ~ 2007)
    • Tactic – Talk to people on my contacts list (2007)
  • Strategy – Decide what will be our economic driver (i.e. profit per customer or profit per course)
    • Tactic – Decide on an economic driver by July 2003
    • Tactic – Research other economic drivers (at BOSS, NOLS) by December 2006
  • Strategy – Develop a business plan by August 2003
    • Tactic – Complete MBA Marketing courses by July 18, 2003
    • Tactic – Write the marketing plan by July 18, 2003
    • Tactic – Complete MBA New Ventures course (January 6 – February 28, 2003)
    • Tactic – Redevelop the business plan by September 2007
  • Strategy – Find a business partner
    • Tactic – Ask my brother by July 2007
    • Tactic – Consider others – friends and contacts that I’ve made by July 2007
  • Strategy – Attract customers
    • Tactic – Develop web site and other marketing/promotional materials by December 2007
  • Strategy – Open offices for Twin Travels
    • Tactic – Research possible locations by December 2007
    • Tactic – Move into office space by February 2008
    • Tactic – Hire two teachers/guides by February 2008
    • Tactic – Begin the first class (March 2008)


That’s it. I know it’s difficult to think about these things and to come up with a plan for your future but it may help you, as it did me, in deciding your next step in life.

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