“So what’s next then?” he asked me, arms crossed, standing at the threshold of the conference room where I set up my laptop, notebook and file folders twice a week. I’d just told my boss about my recent decision to leave book publishing, and his question did not come as a surprise.
It was my answer that surprised him.
“This,” I said to my boss, nodding to my laptop and my file folders on the conference room table. “What I’m doing right now is what’s next.”
I could see surprise in his raised eyebrows and hear it in the pause that yawned open in the small room. He laughed a little, not quite sure how to respond to my vague, unambitious answer, and I changed the subject so as not to prolong the awkwardness.
But my answer to my boss’s question was the truth. My “what’s next” is what’s right now.
The truth is, our culture demands that we have our “what’s next” all figured out. We are expected to follow a logical trajectory in our professional and personal lives. We are expected to have a one-year plan, a five-year plan, a ten-year plan. We are expected to have goals – to be ready with an acceptable answer when we’re asked “what’s next?”
It’s the American way, right? We strive. We have ambition. We have our “what’s next” lined up, and it typically follows an upward trajectory.
For most of my life this is exactly how I’ve operated. I had the plan, the strategy, the vision. I plotted my trajectory, methodically ticked through the necessary milestones to reach my goal. I’ve always lived with my heart, mind and soul set on the future – one foot in what’s next, and what’s next after that.
These days, though, I’m finding what I most desire is to live with both feet firmly planted in right now. I am craving small and ordinary. I am craving valuable but not necessarily publicly visible work. I am craving face-to-face connection, intimacy, smaller circles.
Admitting I don’t have my next thing worked out – that in fact, my right now is what’s next – is the antithesis of societal and cultural expectations, especially when it comes to one’s professional life. And yet, it feels right. I feel incredible freedom and contentment in doing good but largely invisible work for The Salvation Army, in stepping back from the relentless push toward platform- and brand-building, in living more intentionally in the mundane but surprisingly satisfying facets of my life.
I write fundraising copy for my part-time job. I refill the Oriole feeder with grape jelly. I shuttle one kid to tennis lessons, the other to a study session. I walk the dog and empty the dishwasher. I follow my son across a wide-open space as he takes photographs for a class project. I sit on the back patio with my husband as the evening breeze blows through the white pines and the cardinals call to one another from the honey locust trees. A painted lady butterfly lands on the lilac, and the baby squirrels skitter up the river birch.
Maybe a big “what’s next” will reveal itself in time. Or maybe not. Maybe, as Susanna Wesley once said, some of us are called “to be content to fill a small space if God be glorified.” For my right now, that feels exactly right.