This is a guest blog by Lindsay Thornton: Have you ever been asked, “Now you’re married, when is the baby coming?” Or, “You’ve got one baby, when are you having another?” How about, “You’ve been dating for years now, when are you settling down and going to get married?” Or, “Why are you renting, don’t you want to own your own house by now?” This is just a few off my own list of, What’s next? questions that I’ve been asked. But it’s endless. And annoyingly, they suggest that my life right now isn’t enough.
Before Asking, “What’s Next?”
When I was in my late 20’s and starting out life as a single mum, I worked full time. And I somehow managed to run a house, work and look after my son without ever complaining. Very rarely would anyone ask me, “How are you right now? Are you happy?” They just wanted to know when I would be meeting my next husband or having another baby.
Which looking back, is actually quite funny. Because anyone who has ever been a single parent, will know they don’t have any spare time for anything apart from their child and work commitments. Even the thought of dating or having another child at that stage of my life was so far from reality for me. So why do people feel it’s acceptable to ask the, “What’s next?” question before they even delve into how that person is doing? Or ask how they are feeling and coping with life right now? People ask, What’s next? Before really understanding what the present looks like.
Is It Not OK To Enjoy The Present?
When my divorce finally came through, I was a newly single mother in my 30s and it was not the time for me to start thinking about dating again. It was a time of self-healing and discovery. Concentrating on myself and my little boy. My present situation was all that mattered. However people would say to me, “When are you going to start dating again?”
But at the time, I needed to be focussed on the situation I was in. For one, the emotional toll a divorce can take on your mind and body – even if it was for the best – still has a huge impact on life. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone come out of a time like that saying it was an enjoyable experience. Certainly for me I didn’t want to be expected to be thinking about what was next.
And later, when I did unexpectedly meet my now husband, Darren. The questions began again. Even ten years down the line, people still ask me, “Well, what’s next?”. Am I not allowed to just be happy living in the here and now? To be free to do what I want right in this moment and to live my life with no immediate plans stretching out further than the eye can see? Is it not ok to enjoy right now?
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”— Alice Morse Earle
These Questions Used To Fill Me With Dread
How do you feel when you are asked, “What’s next” questions? Does it make you frustrated? Aggravated? Annoyed? That you should constantly be aiming for never-ending milestones? Does it make you feel like enough is never enough? Me too.
It can be so overwhelming for the person on the receiving end, as anxiety and tummy nervousness begins to set in. Because we feel like we are being judged and that our present situation is not enough. If you were happy with where you were at, you begin to wonder whether you should be wanting more. And maybe you do want more, but for whatever reason the next step isn’t possible right now and so expressing that is difficult.
I’ll be honest, these questions used to fill me with dread
I now know which people would usually ask me these kinds of questions and if I can, I try to avoid putting myself in those situations altogether. Because often they’d blurt it out in front of a larger audience, so that I’m in the spotlight and feel a need to reply to a question that’s sometimes incredibly personal.
I know they mean no harm. They just don’t realise the impact of what they are asking and the how the question could affect me. However we should take responsibility for how words and actions can impact others. Mental health, wellbeing and self-care isn’t prioritized enough. I think we need to be more conscious of how, “What’s next” questions can make a person feel.
The Emotional, Mental & Psychological Impact that, “What’s Next?” Questions Can Have On Others
Naturally we create personal plans, dreams and aspirations. So we already live for the future in many ways. But plans can unexpectedly change. Life happens. In the blink of an eye, everything we once knew can be thrown into chaos and change. For good, or bad. Just take the last two years during this life changing pandemic as an example. Creating this mindset that we’ll only reach happiness in the future, means we could forget how important it is to do things that make us happy right now.
Importantly we all should be supporting one another in achieving and celebrating self-happiness in the present moment. And be more conscious of the impact of creating a constant expectation of milestone achievements for ourselves and others. Because it feeds this narrative that we should never be happy with our present situations. We always feel we need something better. Bigger. We always need more! This impacts on our emotional, mental and psychological wellbeing, as we just don’t know when its okay to stop and say, “But am I happy right now?.” That’s why I believe we should rephrase, What’s next? to the even more important question of, What’s now?
Celebrating Life Right Now
If I can give any advice here it’s this: When next in a group or speaking to someone who’s just got a job, a promotion, engaged, married or bought a house. Had a baby or achieved a great milestone in their lives. Try to be more mindful about the conversation and the impact of the questions asked. We have a duty to look after one another. And that begins with changing the narrative on our expectations of what life should be and empowering freedom to enjoy the present, without an expectation of needing more.
“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.”— Dalai Lama
Changing The Narrative From, What’s Next? To Celebrating Life In The Present
Everyone will have their own view on this topic. However we can all relate to being asked questions that come with an expectation of us achieving more from life. Creating that feeling that we can and should never be fully satisfied with where we are at right now. Here are some situations I’ve experienced or seen friends experience recently and what I believe we should stop asking, what’s next.
The person who worked so hard to get a promotion at work
Don’t ask them when they expect to be promoted again. Allow them this opportunity to be happy and triumphant in what they have achieved. Celebrate their current success. Cheer them on! They deserve it.
The couple who just got engaged
I know it’s tempting to ask when they are getting married, but be mindful of repeating this question each time you see them. They may not be financially ready to have their wedding anytime soon. Money worries can be one of the biggest causes of stress. Stress in itself can lead to breakups. Celebrate their engagement with no expectation or pressure from you that the next stage should come anytime sooner than when they are ready.
The couple who just welcomed their first child
“When are you having another?” Anyone who’s gone through childbirth – even if it was relatively stress free – will tell you having another baby is, at that point, the furthest thing from their minds. As a parent, a child brings major change to all aspects of our life. From how much we sleep, eat, and how much we can take care of ourselves whilst juggling parental responsibilities, work and life in general. Allow them this special moment to play out without asking, “What’s next?”
The Single Person
Please, don’t ask them why they are still single! For one, dating is tough and people are trying hard not to settle for a mediocre relationship. Secondly, stop to consider that single people might actually be happily single. Being in a partnership doesn’t determine character or life choices. In fact they are existing just fine without a relationship and shouldn’t be made to feel as if a relationship is what will define them.
Freedom To Unfollow The Trends
As I approach my 40’s I’ve learned so much about myself as a person. I’m a true believer that everything that’s meant for me will happen when it’s meant too and when the time is right. I’m not really the kind of women to get caught up and follow a trend to do what people expect. I tried that in my 20’s and although I have no regrets, because it made me who I am today, following suit didn’t make me happy.
Unfollow the trends. Change the narrative. Delete the expectations that life should follow one path for all, and that it constantly needs to be adapted and added to, in order to be happy. Stop asking, What’s Next? And concentrate on your now.
So, What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?
My answer is quite simply this …. What’s next for me personally is to continue living my life healthily and happily. Enjoying my family in the present moment, as it is right now. What’s exciting about life is that we never know what’s around the corner. So please don’t ever feel held a prisoner by the expectations of others. There doesn’t need to be a, What’s next? Keep enjoying life as it is right now.
“Life is like a game of chess. To win you have to make a move. Knowing which move to make comes with insight and knowledge, and by learning the lessons that are accumulated along the way.”— Allan Rufus