The Next Right Thing

We spend most of our childhoods struggling against being told what to do. When to go to bed, when to get up, what to eat, where to go. 

Then we grow up, and man, do we want someone to tell us what to do. This is the most common question I hear from the people I work with: What should I do? Generally we don’t want someone dictating our bedtime or dinner choices, but along with the glorious and wide-open horizons of adulthood comes, with some frequency, the anxiety of which road to take, with whom, how far, how fast, and how on earth did I get here?

This human thing is very strange. And very ancient. Certainly our choices are different than they were a hundred, a thousand, thousands of years ago, but choice itself, conscious choice, considered choice, is such a fabulous human dilemma. When I pause long enough to consider it, when I look around me at the million tiny gestures and decisions that make up my day and the day of the people around me, I’m delighted. And I’m calmed.

We get overwhelmed by the question What should I do for a few reasons. 

First of all, we tend to think that there is only one path forward, ignoring hybrid options, radical tangents, the option to double back or just stay still for a time. We’re socialized to think in dichotomy: this or that. Here or there. Door #1 or Door #2. Sometimes when we’re at a crossroads, the thing to do is take neither road, but forge ahead into the between. Sometimes we need to sit awhile, and sometimes we need to head back the way we came. What matters is to remove the either-or from our thinking. Seldom are the choices as limited as they seem. 

Which brings us to the second reason What should I do is so often overwhelming. “Should.” I have spent years living in should-land. It’s not fun, or productive. How do you leave this airless place? Do what you want to do, and/or what you need to do. If you don’t want to do it and it doesn’t need to be done, why bother? 

And of course, there’s the question of “do.” The moment of choice. How do you decide what to do, especially in the face of limited information or an uncertain outcome? 

I like to start with the absurd. What’s the worst choice you could make right now? What would happen then? 

And I like to play with opposites. Who do you know that is as close to your opposite as possible? What would that person do? What would happen then? 

And admiration. Who do you admire for how they live their life? What would they do? What would happen then? 

What decisions have you made that delighted you? Where have you gone so right? What twists and tangles have brought you to this moment, today’s choices, and all that awaits?