Thoughts on "Next"


The most common question asked since I started telling people I was leaving my job at the FDA is ... "What's next?" I revealed that I don't know what's next. I am not taking a sabbatical. I am not formally retiring. I am not leaving FDA for another job. While some immediately understood, a larger number of folks openly expressed, or poorly tried to hide, disbelief, befuddlement, or incredulity. It was as if saying "I don't have a plan" simply did not, or could not, compute and threw a lot of people for a loop. 


Say what now?! How can you not have a plan?

At the risk of alienating some of you, I have say that I think a lot of people are obsessed with "next." As I shared in my piece

I Demoted Myself

, I think a lot of us suffer from tunnel vision when it comes to our lives and careers. So often, we are future planning. Planning and plotting sequential steps needed to get us from point A to point B, C, D, and beyond. Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think there's anything wrong with having goals and knowing what's needed to reach a desired target. I guess it's fair to say that I am searching for my "thing." Some might call that looking for what's next. *shrug* I call it mental and emotional freedom.What I'm really talking about when I talk of "next," is about moving through life looking well beyond what's in front of us. Primarily focused on what's over the horizon. Not to get all Eckhart Tolle on you, but many of us are ignoring the

Power of Now

. We might be happy now, but we think we'd be so much happier if we --> over there. To quote one of my favorite authors, Mark Nepo, "We're chasing there, but need to realize there is no there. There is only here. If you cannot see what you're looking for, see what's here. That is enough."What I've found in my life is that primarily focusing on the next job, the next pay raise, the next purchase, the next whatever, I wasn't fully present and appreciative of what I already have. I heard recently that whenever we count or compare we cannot be present. The only thing we have control over is our presence or absence. So, I made a decision to not be absent from my life -- right now -- and the ones I love.Funnily enough, it took some amount of planning to make the decision to leave my job and move into an undefined period without a plan. While the obvious is financial planning, most of the work to reach this point was more emotional/psychological. After going through a divorce that wiped me out financially, I became a bit of a squirrel with money. I saved with no clear plan other than I wanted to have a "just in case" safety net. Never did I think that I would rely on my frugality to support putting a 26-year career in my rearview mirror. Of course, it has to be said that support from my wife was essential. I don't know if I would have had the courage, motivation, given myself permission to create empty space without her encouragement.In the end, I made the decision to step away from the pursuit of next so that I might discover what excites, energizes, and sustains. That may lead me toward something to occupies some or a lot of my time. Whatever comes, comes; but I hope to reframe whatever I do less in terms of full-time or part-time, but merely putting my heart, effort, and time into something I love. As a father to a 23 year-old son, I also hope that my actions will offer him some encouragement and freedom to only reach for what stirs his heart and soul.

Be okay with not knowing for sure what might come next, but know that whatever it is, you will be okay.