So…what next? Life’s way of asking you if you are up for a game of hide and seek. I hid under the blankets-the warmth of my breath comforting me from the cold world that awaited me. I don’t want to wake up! If I did, I have to brush, take a bath, and wear a sweater and all that. Also, seek. I am tired of seeking. The ones I ask tell me to ask my heart, and my heart says – it beats me.
There’s a time in school when the teacher asks you a question and you have no idea what the answer is. You stand up and stare at the board and its blotchy blackness and then the teacher asks the same question to some girl in the first bench and she stands up and answers like she’s delivering the Gettysburg address and then she looks back at you like you are a grand loser and sits down and the teacher asks you if you want to pass or not, but you can’t overcome the seething rage you feel because of the way the girl looked at you, but then you say yes and sit down. That’s the same rage I feel when people ask me the question what next.
I am 23. Or I could be 21, or 27. It doesn’t matter. The question never changes. You know the time when you are in an exam and don’t know the answer to a question and glance at a friend who also doesn’t know the answer. That moment, life feels magnificent. That’s how I feel when I see the other clueless seekers. Still, the question never changes.
If you are in your 20’s, you’re going to get the question a lot. Everyone wants to know. It starts after grade 10. For most part, I had no clue. I still don’t. Whatever my brother did was what was next for me. So next must be B school. And that’s what I told everyone that asked me what next. And then, I didn’t make it to B school. Because, let’s face it, kids who get asked if you want to pass or not don’t make it to B school. I went to a liberal arts school instead, because, well, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do–ever since I got the admit.
You’d think a post-grad degree would shut people up right? Not Liberal arts. What arts and all? Where is MBA? the degree of real men! So, even after I graduated, the what next question continued. From others, and myself. So, I went back into the B school loop.
Early last year, I got a promotion. I did not expect it. The others naturally asked, “so early?” I was ecstatic of course, but here’s what I was asking myself the next morning: what next? This wasn’t supposed to be what next. ‘Should I quit? I can’t quit now. I like my work. But what about B school? I don’t think I will ever make it to B school because marriage and all. I’ve told everyone about B school. I better go in order to not look like a loser.’ I flung out of my blankets, disgusted. I felt the cold air envelop me. Also, truth.
We all look at this existentially unintelligible idea of ‘next’ as something that’s going to happen the next year, a year after that, and another year. And then, at some point, those years pass. Some next’s come, some others don’t. But, our finite existence is always mired in the loopy infinite of next.
Just a few centuries ago, the average human lifespan was 33 years. So you’d be like 16 during your mid-life crisis. There was no “where do you see yourself in ten years” questions or planning for a career or retirement. And then technology, science, and sense prevailed-life spans increased-and with that we had this thing of wonder called-future. As we started to have more future, we started to spend more time there. Most of our life now is lived in/for the future. ‘You want to work hard in class 1 because, only then will you work hard in class 10, because class 10 is what determines the MEANING of your entire life, until class 12 two years later which tells you that your fascination to become a doctor when you were in class 2 was a mere love for empty syringes, and so you become an engineer which determines how much time in your life you will spend regretting, and then you work because there’s ‘weightage’ for work-ex and all, and then you do a masters or an MBA and then you get happily married like an oxymoron, and you can get a nice house so you can afford to send your kids to college so they can get a good job so they can get a nice house so they can afford to send their kids to college and so on.’
I am tired just writing about it.
Our answer to what next is mostly a guess. And my guess is that our guesses will be wrong. Even the last one. The point is to be okay with that. I don’t ask that question to people now. Because that used to be the right question to ask when you ran out of anything interesting to talk about. But, how vain is it to assume there’s got to be something next. That the proverbial bigger things reside in this place called next, and that what you are doing now is so irrelevant, insignificant and idiotic, that if you don’t get to that place on time, somebody else will. That the fraught idea of getting ahead of this someone or making more dough has to be the sole purpose of our quest for the next.
So, what now?
This exactly. This is the right question to ask: what now? What is it that you can do now to become slightly better than earlier? This is not some esoteric live-in-the-present message. This is what our ancestors always did. They sat around the fire planning for tomorrow – becoming stronger and better today. They did not sit around asking: hey what happened to the plan of hunting that deer seven years from now?
I have gone from on next to another really slow and really fast. The question never ceases. Only, I have better blankets to hide under.