The ‘Five Year Theory’

Very often when I start something new, whether it be a small or big goal, I underestimate how long it will take me to get real results.

In my experience, most of the things I try that go nowhere end up that way because I simply give up too soon. I get frustrated, or dejected or feel like I should get the results instantly.

If I am honest, this is me just bullshitting myself. 

Nothing in life that is worth having comes easy, or quickly.

One of my favorite writers, Peter Drucker has a great saying “We greatly overestimate what we can accomplish in one year. But we greatly underestimate what we can accomplish in five years.”

This quote for me is the basis of the ‘Five Year Theory’.

Basically, the Five Year Theory says that if you’re not willing to commit at least five years to a big goal or change, then you may as well give up before you start.

In my experience, it is around two years that most efforts start to pay small dividends. If we start a business, we may break even at that time. If we are growing a new skill, we might reach some conscious competence around this same time. If its a relationship, it starts to take deeper roots.

To reach a higher level, where you actually have something of high value, something that the world can benefit from, this takes longer. In my own experience, and from observing the results of others, this happens around the five year mark.

Case in point: a friend of mine, who started her own business, five years ago.

When she started out, the first two years were a huge struggle. Working seven days a week, pouring all her effort and money back into the business, just to stay afloat. There was no balance in her life, and almost no sense of reprieve. But this didn’t deter her, she stuck at it, fighting her doubts and exhaustion, and she made the two-year mark.

Around the middle of the third year, something started to click. She suddenly saw that there was a glaring opportunity in her business and industry that she could capitalize on. It was obvious to her, purely because she was building experience and skill, and that gave her insight that others didn’t have from the outside.

At this stage, after three years of business experience, she took a big risk and pivoted her business around a new niche. Soon, it started to become a bigger piece of the business, until eventually she left behind the conventional business she’d started and specialized completely.

Today, five years later, she is still working incredibly hard, but in an area of her talent uniquely her own. She has a business niche that she dominates and that people associate only with her.

This is a real life example of how the ‘magic’ starts to happen at the five year milestone. 

But in reality, that magic has been developing quietly in the background during the painful early years. It starts getting stronger in the middle and starts to truly show itself around the five year milestone.

The moral here is that unless you want to devote five years to something important to you, you shouldn’t expect anything better than average results. In fact, maybe you shouldn’t even bother.

By telling yourself you want to do something new, but not committing to this five years, you are short-changing yourself. You are also robbing the world of something truly valuable.

You will have no idea where five years of focus, effort and diligence can take you.

Invest your time, and stay the course.

The future is worth it.


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