One of the most crucial, and often overlooked, portions of any good Five Year Plan (FYP) is research, also known as the “reality check.” Now, all the way back in First Steps, I mentioned having several failed FYPs. Most of them failed because of my mishandling of this step. Important for multiple reasons, this integral portion of the planning process is often skipped because it can be the most frustrating.

I once developed an entire FYP, well researched and fully planned, but refused to acknowledge I was incapable of attaining my goal. Even the best FYP can’t change certain realities, and I was willfully blind to facts regarding my capability to achieve the goal, even if I followed every step. (In this particular case, it was pursuing a career in law enforcement. I am, sadly, unable to attain anything in this field due to a medical condition. I chose to ignore doing research on dis-qualifiers for about 2 months while I developed a FYP with an eye towards the FBI.) In the end, I walked away without too much lost time.

So, the first function of the research step is to provide a reality check. If you think something might preclude you from obtaining your goal, research it now! Don’t waste your time (and hope) on a goal that is unattainable. Of course, not all unmet requirements are a dead-end. I didn’t have a high school diploma when I decided to go to college; instead of walking away, I added getting a GED to my FYP. The vast majority of limiting and disqualifying factors simply require more effort to overcome. However, if you come face to face with an impossibility: walk away, but only if it really is an impossibility.

As part of finding out if something is possible, you can begin determining how probable your plan’s success is. Keep in mind, a FYP doesn’t guarantee success (I could have dropped/failed out of college at any point), but serves as an organizational tool to help you succeed. Sometimes a plan is possible, but not probable. This requires a choice on your part, and the reason research is important. Risk/reward analysis is part of this phase when a plan can’t guarantee success.

For my current FYP (eyes towards a successful novel launch), even if I follow my FYP to the letter, I can’t guarantee any success or sales of my novel. However, I’ve done my research (and continue to do so) on multiple fronts for this project, and feel the risk is worth it. Other plans have fallen apart because the probability of success was too low, and completely outside of my control. However, my current FYP has other aspects built into it that make it worthwhile, even if the end goal isn’t as successful as I’d like.

Ultimately, the research phase is your chance to balance out risk, reward, possibility, probability, and make an informed decision about the pursuit of your FYP with an eye towards reality rather than wishful thinking.

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