A Simple Approach To The “What’s Next?” Question

Photo credit:  Tim Swaan

Photo credit: Tim Swaan

I've written before that when I became a mother, everything changed.

The biggest change being, unexpectedly, grappling with my new identity of being a mom. I didn't really know who this new “me” was, and I didn't know what she was up to, some days.

Not everyone becomes a mother overnight. But who we are changes throughout our lives whether we like it or not. Knowing and accepting this is key to figuring out what’s next.

“Who” You Are Is Always In Flux

It’s just the way it is.

You go through something and you land on the other side a totally different person. Things like motherhood, an amazing trip, the death of a loved one – LIFE. These events change us by softening or sharpening our edges. And, fundamentally we are not the same person from one day to the next.  

Most of the time, though, it’s a subtle shift, happening without our conscious knowing.

See for yourself, and ask “am I the same person I was in my 20s?”

At some point, you realize you’re not the person you used to be. Maybe then you will revisit a career or life decision made way back when. And, then maybe you'll realize it no longer fits. Who you are now doesn't fit what you're doing. And it makes sense why you're restless, unsettled and asking yourself “what’s next?”

Yet, answering this question is surprisingly difficult.

At least that’s what I concluded after analyzing the results of a survey that I created. It’s called the What’s Next Survey.

Question number one was Do you ever wonder, “what’s next?” in your work, your career or your business and think, “I don’t know”? Ninety three percent of the respondents answered yes.

I made another conclusion from my survey. It's that some people don’t have the confidence to move towards “what’s next.” They are afraid of leaving their comfort zones, scared of failing, scared of the unknown.

And, frankly, I get it. My track record of stepping towards “what’s next” is shaky at best.

Once, it took me seven years to end a relationship. Another time, I quit a job twice before I mustered the gumption to step finally step away on the third try.

Over the years, though, I've learned something. Landing on the other side of the unknown is so sweet, so much better than I imagined. And, I’m not as afraid of the “what’s next” question as I used to be.

Approaching The “What’s Next?” Question

Below is a simple framework for approaching this. These steps are all about thinking versus doing. This means you will not have to leave your comfort zone. You won’t have to quit your job or move across the country or do anything if you don’t want to.

But, you will gain a new perspective and clarity around this big question. And with clarity comes confidence. The kind of confidence that will, hopefully, spur you into action.

With clarity comes confidence. (Tweet that!)

1.     Acknowledge. First, don't shy away from the “What’s Next?” question. Listen, if this question is in your head, know this: it will never go away. It will hang on like an itch that you cannot scratch. I have been there and as much as I have tried to squelch this thought it has always resurfaced.

Next time you ask yourself "what's next?" allow yourself to simply greet the question and acknowledge its arrival.

2.     Look at who you are. Before you can answer the “what’s next” question, you’re actually going to have to put it aside for a moment and ask yourself another big question which is “who am I?”

Remember, you’re not the same person you were in your 20s. Your values and priorities have changed. Your skills may be more developed. And, happily, your strengths might be something you can leverage in a different way.

If you don’t know what your work values are take this free assessment. Here’s one on life values.

I once listened to a great interview with Oprah. In her special way, she talked about life, career and purpose and at one point she said, "the who drives the do." You can listen to it here.

3.     Explore. This can be a scary step to take, but to mitigate your fears, just look at it as though you are listening to the call to adventure.

You don’t have to do anything yet. You’re just checking things out, looking for opportunities that fit “who you are.” Who knows? If you find something intriguing, you may not have to make as big of a change as you fear.

In fact, you may find a way to use your strengths and skills without having to leave your desk.

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you explore:

  • Who are your heroes? What work are they doing?
  • What problems do you want to solve?
  • How do you like to help or serve other people?
  • What do you want to become known for?
  • What causes do you care about?

To be human is to grow. Stop ignoring the question, “what’s next?” (Tweet that!)

I believe there’s a reason why the “what’s next?” question comes up.

I believe that we are meant to grow and move out of our comfort zones.

I believe that the point of our comfort zones is to help us rest and recharge for the next step in the journey. We are not meant to stay there forever.

I believe that being uncomfortable is the key to moving ourselves forward.

Stepping into the unknown is where growth happens. That's where the juiciness lies, where the full-color life happens. That's where we meet ourselves and see what we're made of.

The next time the “What’s Next?” question comes up for you, reframe it as a call to adventure. Shake hands with it.

Because even though you can try to silence it or push it away, it will return. You’re human and this growth thing? It’s going to happen—whether you like it or not.

What’s next for you? How about taking the What’s Next Survey? I would love it if you did and you can access it here. Thanks!