When you graduate college, they tell you to anticipate the repeat of, “So do you have any idea what’s next?” for at least a year. At least, that’s what they told me. But several years later, I’m still hearing that question over and over. Sometimes, I even hear it in my own head. There isn’t a book called “Next” that you receive in the mail along with your diploma. You can’t Google “what should I do with my life?” and expect a personalized answer. They don’t make a Next pill that introduces new concepts to your brain, and you can’t even follow anyone else’s Next because it’s usually starkly different than what you want your Next to be.
And yet, our culture is obsessed with this four-letter-word.
“So, do you have any idea what’s next?”
I worked as a bartender in Pasadena, CA for two years after I graduated college. Yep, I used my liberal arts degree to mix vodka-tonics and scrape green olives off the floor. In many ways, I loved that season. But approximately 300 times a day, some semi-intoxicated patron would ask me, “so what are you going to do with your degree?” I would always half-smile and say, “This!” And their look of pity was equal parts entertaining and nauseating.
When I finally figured out what was next – an entry level job at a higher education institution – I felt like a champion. Like I was crossing a finish line with a number pinned to my chest and an ice cold Gatorade waiting for me. I moved across the country to a state I’ve never lived in, and entered my new chapter with a nerd smile. “Next, party of one!”
And on my first day, my new boss asked me, “So what’s next? Grad school?”
I kindly told him that I would love to revisit this conversation as soon as I unpacked from my cross-country-move 17 hours ago.
My empty left ring finger made for even more Next questions, especially once I started dating someone. “Is he ‘the one?’” “It seems like it’s getting serious…what’s next for you two? Do you think he’ll propose?”
Fourteen months later, my left ring finger was occupied and I put on my “I MADE IT TO NEXT” sash and waved to all the little people who believed in me. I finally got there. Next, population: ME.
But we’re getting married in 3 months, and my grandma has already asked me twice when we’ll be having babies. And everyone has asked how long we’re planning on staying in Dallas. And no one has made me feel like I’ve gotten anywhere; only that there’s more to get to and until I find Next, I won’t be happy.
Round and round goes the Next game. We are all guilty of inquiring about everyone else’s next chapter, next job, next exciting thing to talk about.
The worst is that it’s in my own mind. I’m always worrying about what will come next. Where we live, what I will do, when we should transition to another state, another job, another next. I think like a wife, when I’m still just me. So no, dear reader, I am not immune to this mindset of Next. Unfortunately, I’ve become obsessed with it.
I cried for months, longing for a job exactly like the one I have today. And now that I have it, I want something else. I don’t love the geography of where I live right now, and I miss home. So I want to go back to California next. Who knows if anything would even change if I got back there; I just know that every time I see palm tree pictures on Instagram, my heart aches in a deep place. And my mind stays there, in that place that I do not live, hoping that I can get there Next.
But what about Now?
I’ve been told that it’s important to be constantly aware of what season you’re in, spiritually speaking. I think there are seasons for Next, but I also think there are seasons for Now. And I’m currently longing to get back to Now. I’ve been so obsessed with Next (which I hear is pretty standard for an engaged woman) that I’ve forgotten Now. I’ve forgotten who I am presently, what I’m doing in this moment, and whose life I can impact today.
I miss Now, and I want to get back there.
My name is Rachel, and I am a Next addict. But I’m working on it.