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The Power of ‘What Next’

The Power of ‘What Next’

Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions — not outside.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

A few weeks ago, one of my best friends gave a TEDx talk titled, “What You’re Worth on the Internet.”  If you knew Adam, then you’d know his talk about the internet makes sense. After all, in the early 2000s, he wrote the software that allowed videos to be sent from the internet to cell phones.  To say he knows a little about the topic would be a gross understatement.

I think Adam’s talk went really well, but I’ve heard him talk about the internet for three years, so at this point, I can’t give a fair assessment.  Lifted Logic (where I work) also did the audio/video part of the night which means I spent a bit of time manning the sound booth.

While I was sitting back in the booth, enjoying the complimentary wine, all I could think about was, ‘If I were asked to give a TED talk, what would it be about?”

I thought about it all that night and for days, even weeks, afterward.  I asked multiple people out of nowhere, ‘Hey if you had to give a TED talk, what would it be about?”  And got answers varying from: “I’m not qualified to give a TED talk” to “Space” to “the human condition.” Needless to say, it was interesting to hear what my friends are so passionate about they could talk about for 18(ish) minutes.

Without fail, everyone would turn the question right back on me, with the added comment, “Yours would be about traveling, wouldn’t it?’  I admit that was one of my first thoughts. But, as I wrote my Dark Side of Paradise blog I realized we really don’t need more inspirational travel stories out there.

I want my (imaginary) TED talk to be about something bigger than just traveling.  The whole purpose of a TED talk (or any speech, really) is to enlighten, inspire, and motivate the audience to not only consider a different perspective, but also to take what they’ve learned and apply it to their everyday lives.

As I wrote in This Must Be the Place, my goal for a while has been to take the things I learned traveling and apply them to my everyday life一sharing my mistakes and the lessons learned with others along the way.

The first topic that felt most right was, “The Importance of Being Present,” (more to come on that in my next post) which at a high level would focus on learning to live in and appreciate the now.   Which is a lesson I think we could all use a refresher on these days.

However, after as I thought about it more, I realized that the concept that has defined my life for years now has been the thought of:

“Okay, what next”.

I talked about this briefly in my What Makes a Bad Traveler post, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that’s the message I’d want to communicate to the world.

I doubt I will ever actually give a TED talk, but if I did, I imagine it’d go something like this:

Who here has ever had something bad happen?  Has felt like the world is ending around them?   Has felt the crippling burden of anxiety or depression?

Now who here has ever had one of those days where everything seems to be going your way?   A moment where everything just clicks. A time where you think, ‘if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is’.

Do you know what both of those feelings have in common?

They pass.

Both good and bad things happen, all the time.

To each and every one of us.

They are unavoidable.

I spent a good chunk of my life traveling around the world.  I worked on a cruise ship in the South Pacific, au paired in the Czech Republic, bartended in Australia, and have spent time in nearly 40 countries in the past 7 years.  Since returning back to the States I’ve helped to grow a successful web design company in the Midwest dealing with totally different challenges than I had while I was traveling.

And one of the biggest lessons I’ve taken away from both experiences is the concept of, “What next”.

For the past few years, my life philosophy has been a mix of Humanism, Buddhism, and Stoicism.   And it was while studying this last one this concept stuck with me. That’s not to say “What next” is a stoic ideal, but more something I put together during the part of my life when I was studying Stoic philosophy.

For those who have better things to do with your time than learn about Ancient Greek philosophy, Stoicism’s goal is to teach how to direct your thoughts and actions in our ever-unpredictable world.  None of us are all powerful, which means that we don’t have control over all the external events that happen to us (or around us).

However, we do have control over how we respond to those events.

A lot of people I’ve met over the years admit they are ruled by their emotions.  They get too high and then they get too low. When they are too low, they try to hide it like there’s something wrong with feeling a negative emotion.  I’ve said before, one of the best things any of us can learn to do is how to sit alone in a room with our emotions, even the negative ones… especially the negative ones.

One of the most valuable skills traveling alone for years taught me was it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling.  Even if it’s “bad,” you can’t run from it, you have to face it and accept it.

But the cool thing is after you get comfortable with what you are feeling, you stop fearing it.  You become more logical. You begin to ask why you’re feeling a certain way. Are your feelings justified?  Does it really matter? Is a certain reaction worth it? You become more even-keeled. This isn’t to say you become emotionless and I will never tell people to try and not feel things.  No, instead you’ve learned to control your emotions vs them controlling you.

After you have a level of control, you begin unconsciously taking a step back from the event causing the reaction, and that’s where the power of ‘What next’ comes in.

 

Regardless of what happens in my life, I always follow it up with, “Okay, so what next?”

It doesn’t matter if I perceive what has happened as a good or bad thing.

If something good happens, I think ‘okay, what next’.  I do this to refocus and figure out a new way to push myself.  I got a promotion? Okay, what next? How can I keep getting better?  I found the love of my life? Okay, what next? How can I make sure we’re happy together.  I finally landed in a place I’ve been wanting to visit for years? Okay, what next? How can I make this the trip of a lifetime.

It’s helped me to not be complacent in life, and to keep pushing the envelope.  The most successful people in the world aren’t the ones who rest when they’ve achieved one thing.  No, they acknowledge their success, take a step back, and ask themselves, ‘What next?’

If something bad happens, I think, ‘Okay what next’. I lost my house in a fire?  Okay, what next? I got in a car wreck? Okay, what next? I lost a bunch of money in the stock market? Okay, what next?

So many of us want to dwell on what happened.  We want to focus on the event that has put us in the less than ideal situation we’re in. We want to live in the past thinking that somehow if we think about it enough maybe it won’t be true.  That it won’t have happened. But here’s the thing, once something happens, the only thing that really matters is how you respond to it.

A few months ago, I cut off the tip of my right index finger.  It became something of an event– I passed out in my bathroom, had to go to the ER, and ruined my white pants.  My first thought was, “Did I just lose part of my finger forever?” My second thought: “well, it happened so what’s next?”

As my roommate and his girlfriend drove me to the ER, I made up my mind that I was going to make the best of it. I tried to be as happy as I could be.  I was making jokes and had each nurse that helped me laughing my entire visit. At the end, one of them actually pulled me aside and said I was one of the most uplifting people they’d had in the ER in a while.  I remember looking at her and saying, ‘It’s not your fault I cut off the tip of my finger, and wishing I had it back, or throwing a fit about it isn’t going to grow it back.” This is my new reality and I’ll choose to meet it with a smile.

Choice.  That’s the thing.  ‘What next’ doesn’t magically solve the problem I’m facing, but it does give me the chance to choose how I want to respond to it.

One of my favorite quotes has always been ‘what’s past is prologue.’ Once something happens the only thing that really matters is how you respond to it.  So please, the next time you’re faced with a situation一whether it be good or bad一look it in the face, don’t back down, and ask, “So, what next?”

Thank you and Stay Gold.

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