five years

What Would You Do With Five Years?

Image courtesy of Superbomba

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” – Steve Jobs, in Commencement Address to Stanford students

What would you do if you were told you had five years left to live? I prefer to use this rather than Steve Job’s single day, because most of us, with a day or week left, would spend them seeing family and saying goodbyes.

But five years is different. Five years is long enough to accomplish almost any goal you might have, however ambitious. And you wouldn’t want to spend five years partying hedonistically, or eating your favourite meal every night.

Would you finally get around to writing that novel that you’ve been planning for more years than you want to admit? Would you quit your job and set up your own business – secure in the knowledge that your retirement fund is no longer a problem? Would you find the means and the money to travel to places you’ve always wanted to visit?

Don’t Put Your Life On Hold

I live in London, where people my age (twenty-four) often say something like this:

    If I work 50 or 60 hour weeks for the next twenty years, I’ll eventually reach the top … then I’ll be able to retire early and do exactly what I want.

But why wait most of your life to be allowed to enjoy yourself – especially when you’re likely to have worked yourself to a breakdown or burnout long before then?

If you’re living for the future, working in a job you hate because you think it’ll benefit you in 30 or 40 years, think about your answer to what you’d do if you only had five years left. What’s stopping you going for it now? Are you really stuck – or just lacking the courage to move on?

Don’t Follow the Herd

When I graduated from university, I took the path that I thought was “expected” of people my age. I found a job as quickly as possible, moved to London, began renting from a landlord for the first time (I’d lived with my parents and then in college halls). After a month I was asking myself “Is this it?”

I stuck with that job – a dead-end from my point of view, as it was in a company and career I had no interest in staying with long-term – for almost two years. Then I managed to take the plunge into doing what I love for a living: writing and helping out small business owners with their websites. The hardest thing about doing this was going against the flow – explaining to people whose attitude was “Of course work sucks, that’s life” that it didn’t have to be that way.

Make Every Year Count

The good news is, I hope, that you don’t only have five years left. You might have twenty, forty or sixty years ahead of you. Make each of them count.

Some resources that I’ve found very useful in this are:


Dan Miller’s No More Mondays (If you’re unhappy in your current job, read this. Even if you’re self-employed like me, there’s loads of good advice in here.)

Dan Clements and Tara Gignac’s Escape 101 (Think you might not be following the right path, but unsure what you do want to do? Why not take a career break – a sabbatical – and find out what other opportunities are out there.)

Tim Ferris’ Four Hour Work Week (I know you’ll have seen this recommended on half the blogs on the web, but it really is a great, mind-opening read.)

Tim Brownson’s Don’t Ask Stupid Questions – There Are No Stupid Questions (This isn’t just fantastic advice for career and purpose – it’ll help with all aspects of your life.)


Anywired (great blog archives for anyone aspiring to a “work from anywhere” lifestyle)

FreelanceSwitch (if you’re thinking of taking the plunge and quitting your job to freelance)

Men with Pens (great business advice, ideal for writers or designers but applicable to many freelancers)

IttyBiz (tips, especially on marketing, for small businesses)

The Discomfort Zone (a great way to start thinking differently and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone – pretty essential if you’re going to break away from the herd)

So what would you do with your five years? What’s that big project you’ve been dreaming about for years, or that idea you’ve only half formed? Let us know in the comments.

About the author: Ali is a postgraduate student and professional writer. She runs Alpha Student (grab the RSS feed), a blog which aims to help students get the most of their time at university.

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31 Responses to What Would You Do With Five Years?

  1. Uncle B says:

    This dissertation presumes a life defined by current American standards, and currently, America is bankrupt! The (GRD) great republican depression is about to father paradigm shifts that will redefine “The American Dream”. It will be forced upon the American people by a severe shortage of world resources, starting with oil! It will reveal a morally bankrupt set of beliefs centered around the unrealistic worship of Corvettes, SUV’s, motorcars, McMansions and surgically modified big breasted, skinny nymphomanic, super-materialistic, psycho-consumer, shallow, hormones driven females and drugged, drunken, self-medicated, super-tame, over-achiever husbands, accustomed to early corporate enslavement. The very few survivors of the GRD will go quietly to the hills of our devastated environment, and build post GRD survival shelters, using the best technologies the Chinese and India will sell to us, to have a peaceful, self-sufficient “On Walden Pond” type of existence at peace and oneness with the environment and ecological system, and making no demands on other countries in any way offensive or warlike. A subdued and non-expanding America will peacefully co-exist in harmony with the world and its occupants, never to exploit others again! By our own admission, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but once you are caught and recognized, your good name goes down the toilet, and you fool no one!

  2. You just introduced me to a lot of new blogs (including your own). Thanks! :)

  3. Open Heart says:

    Great stuff… it’s crazy how so many of us actually do think ‘I’m gonna do this work (for the next 40 years or so!) so that I can have money to do what I really want when I retire…’
    Life is too short, we really should live every given moment! Great post to reminds of that!

  4. With 5 years being enough time to get nearly any goal completed, using it as a limited template of time to make use of can make action more appealing, as one is planning to accomplish within that time, but will continually have in mind that more time will probably be available after that period. Also, it is more realistic, because the coming 5 years might be our prime time of production, so seeing it as such would get us in line with setting reasonable limitations on where our time goes. I would add to the part about not following the herd with an item that is not often pointed out, in that the individuals of the “herd” might not want to see someone flying ahead, so they may attempt to slow the go-getter down; this can provide a fulfilling challenge to those who choose to become the go-getter.

  5. Ned says:

    I had a friend who was really big into these Chicken Little conspiracies. He was always criticizing one group of people or another for the entire fall of Western civilization.

    One day, after becoming tired of the never-ending rant, I said, “Yea, and maybe tomorrow the sun will expand and swallow up the earth. So what?”

  6. Shann says:

    My big project was making the transition from the corporate world to living a life on my terms.

    For about one year, many of my evenings, weekends and lunch hours were dedicated to self improvement and studying for my professional coaching certification.

    Now I’m in the business of helping people recognize their brilliance. The focus for the rest of my days will be about helping people do the things they think they cannot do. All the characteristics that made me a success in corporate America benefit me as an entrepreneur. Discovering your groove and creating a luscious life is all about allowing for grace through the transition.


  7. Pingback: What would you do with a gift of 5 extra years? | brain health hacks

  8. Simona Rich says:

    Being pro-active rather than reactive is very important. Only then you will be able to achieve your goals.

    If you only react then external circumstances will determine future for you.

  9. Mumbai says:

    So true. Actually I dont really believe in the saying “Life is too short”. It’s actually too long and that’s the problem. If you knew exactly how your life is going to last, I am sure everybody would plan exactly how to enjoy it.

  10. Micheal says:

    I think its important to live each and everything like if it was your last one. Life is too short not to live it to the fullest, and its important to live without Regrets!

  11. Aside from introducing me to the idea of taking mini-retirements, reading the 4-Hour-Work-Week opened the door to the wordpress/blog world for me last summer. I’ve read it 3 times since last summer, and each time, I learn something new from it. It’s really dense with a lot of information, but who every said you can’t read a book more than once!

  12. Thanks for this post Ali. It still amazes me how many people subscribe to the idea that “it’s called work because it’s not fun.” Thinking that way probably creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Best, Chris

  13. Tracy says:

    What a great reminder that life is supposed to be enjoyed. Having quit my ick job 8 years ago to follow a dream, I haven’t looked back. Carpe Diem.

  14. Julian says:

    All true – if you ask people on their deathbed what they would change if they could I think there would be few people who would say “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”!

  15. Vincent says:

    Finding our true passion in life is so important. No one ever want to be stuck at a dead end job and it takes courage to get away from the 9 – 5 job.

    Personal Development Blogger

  16. Francis Chin says:

    This is the best piece of motivational writing I’ve read. I would like your permission to reproduce it on 2 web sites where I’m responsible for the contents:, and

    Thanks for kickstarting my mind immediately in the New Year!


  17. AJ Kumar says:

    I have many BIG projects happening in the next 5 years. Time to pan them out :)

    AJ Kumar

  18. leo says:

    “It will be forced upon the American people by a severe shortage of world resources, starting with oil!”
    I’m sure you meant, the other way around, where Americans have been raping and overindulging on the rest of the world’s resources at a severe cost to other people’s.. and that’s not normal and not acceptable, and of course, they wont just bring themselves down, they’ll have to bring everyone else with them. It’s about time.

  19. Kim says:

    You have a lot of hatred towards the “American” people which when I first read this blog, to me had nothing to do with AMERICAN people, but more about living your life to the fullest, and what would you do if you had 5 years left…. WHY all the hatred???? What about ALL the money that the USA has given to other countries???? Anybody have anything to say about that???? We have our own starving children here in America, yet we support and help other countries??? Don’t talk about SHEAT that you don’t know…

    In my opinion, your hateful and rotten no matter what country your from if that is the way YOU choose to be… Our world would be a much better place if people could just GET ALONG and LIVE LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. jsevenup says:

    Life is full of unexpected things, we should never take it for granted…

  21. iWalk says:

    A good question I need think about!
    We should live the way of Steve Jobs.

  22. Robin says:

    Hi there Ali – this post is SO much after my own heart. I wrote a post myself focusing on the folly of Steve’s thinking, which at the risk of looking spammy, I’ll put here:

    And interestingly, Steve is really not well.

    Just this morning I saw a blogging friend say they think every day about how they might die tomorrow – and recommended the practice as a way of getting in touch with what is important – but I know that if I did this, I wouldn’t do ANY of the things that make my life satisfying and worthwhile. If we need prompting to connect with loved ones etc etc – there are other ways to remind ourselves to do it!

    Cheers – Robin

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  24. Beth says:

    This blog post was the tipping point for me to get out of my slum.
    Out of all the inspiration and motivation things I’ve come across the net, THIS post, made me realize that if I want my life to change for the better, *I* have to do it.
    You have my gratitude forever and ever darling.

  25. Robin Easton says:

    This is a GREAT post. A message we all need to hear over and over. Good for you putting it out here so clearly and honestly. I try to live my life like this ALL the time. For me it is the ONLY way to live. Anything less is a walking death. Wonderful writing, uplifting and encouraging. Thank you.

  26. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for this article as I am in the middle of experimenting with this very concept.
    Check out my website for the story…

  27. Interesting perspective, also with a great (albeit short) list of resources.


  28. rankone says:

    If u only had 5 years to live, you would have to worry about a future, therefor not having to work hard, just enough to get by. By the time the 5 years came to an end you would be broke…not a way you can live if you weren’t limited to a time frame.

  29. Secret dude says:

    I have spent 21 years of my life… by this experience i can say….life can be so easy as u desire or the most difficult one… we get disturbed when we compared our lives with others without knowing that we can never be the same. its the viewpoint which matters if you want to know the true picture just raise your height and observe the ground where you are working, who you are and why you are…. u will get answers sooner or later….life is a mystry….sometimes i got so depressed as well as there are moments of total bliss and i got understand… what’s going on…. Life is a journey….enjoy your existance even when you have nothing….create good memories… all the best

  30. Pingback: Five Years Old: Mom Life.

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