Stop Asking People ‘What’s Next?’

I recently returned from my first-ever book tour. True to my book, a guide for twentysomethings to figure out what to do with their lives, the tour was DIY to its core. Many events were planned as I was traveling, and instead of a publicist or a publisher, I relied on my community of friends for marketing. I traveled by Bolt Bus and spoke at the Temple where I got bar mitvah’d to my parents’ friends as they noshed on cinnamon babka, to law students chomping on free pizza as they crammed for finals, and to management consultants on a Friday after they had spent three days perfecting a PowerPoint in a hotel room in Louisville.

There are few things in life more gratifying than having someone read your work, and I cannot really explain in words what it’s like to be standing in front of a room and hear someone say, “So, in Chapter 1, you talk about jumping lily pads instead of climbing a career ladder— I really resonated with that idea.” You’re thinking to yourself: holy shit this person read my book. I don’t even know them and they read my book. Not only did they read it, but they’re quoting it. This is insane.

The most common question I got on my book tour was, “So, Smiley, now that the book is done, what’s next?” I’d usually respond, half-joking, but totally honestly, “Well, I’m not sure exactly—I need to read my own book.” This usually got a few laughs but what I really wanted to say when people asked me ‘what’s next?’ was, “WHAT’S NEXT? WHAT’S NEXT?! Dude, I just wrote a book! A fucking book! It took me an entire year! It came out like three weeks ago! Three weeks son! Does it look like I’m sitting around doing nothing? I’m still on my damn book tour. I’m giving a talk—to YOU! WHAT YOU SEE ME DOING IS WHAT’S NEXT! THIS IS WHAT’S NEXT!”

I know, I know—people don’t intend to pressure you when they ask ‘what’s next?’—they probably just want to know what your next book will be about or what your next business will be; what awesome thing you want to achieve and how they can help. But this question is dangerous. Instead of asking people ‘what’s next?’ we should be asking them, ‘what’s now?’ Otherwise, we ‘finish’ before we’re actually done. We move onto the next thing before we’ve made our mark in the first place. It may be more exciting for me to start thinking about what my next book is going to be about, but what I really should be spending my time on is marketing the book I just wrote.

I kept telling the soon-to-be college graduates I met on my book tour who were freaking out about what to do with their lives (with the disclaimer that they were receiving advice from a 30 year-old who lives with a five roommates in an apartment with a mouse problem, and is still figuring his own life out): don’t succumb to the pressure to always know what’s next. Your parents might be obsessed with what you’re doing next because that’s their job, but the people who create meaning in this world don’t know what they’re doing next because they are too busy doing something meaningful right now. Chances are, living in this moment, instead of thinking about the next one, will give you all the answers you need to get where you’re going.



Keynote Speaker. Workplace belonging expert. Author of The Quarter-Life Breakthrough and Friendship in the Age of Loneliness.

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