What do you not want to do?

Sooner or later, I ask everyone the same question: What do you want to do next? It seems easy enough to answer, but it really isn’t.

I understand the question of what’s next, what you want to do, sometimes involves an entirely-too-honest look in the mirror at the decisions you’ve made and the realities of where you are in life.  For some, it’s about painful introspection and pressure to come up with an answer that either the boss wants to hear or doesn’t sound like you haven’t given it any thought. The most common answer I get from young Sailors: “I don’t know.”

For many, that’s the end of the discussion because there’s no real answer to “I don’t know” other than “well, you’d better figure it out.” And yes, you’d better. Sooner or later, we all have to leave and go do something else. I’d like you to choose what that next adventure will be. I can’t help people meet their goals if they don’t have any.

I was lucky to realize what I wanted to do next, which is still to be a writer. Figuring that out and making a plan towards it was a lot like winning the emotional lottery. I’m still working at it, and I’m happy knowing that I’m making progress. I want more people to feel the way I do about the future, so when I hear yet another “I don’t know,” I ask the next best question: What do you not want to do?

I don’t know how long I’ve been asking this, but it’s been a while. I thought the best way to figure out what we want to do amid all the possibilities was to narrow the choices down. More importantly, it’s a great open-ended question, and there’s very little shutting down a conversation the same way “I don’t know” always does.

Here are some of the answers I’ve gotten over the years:

– I don’t want to work with children.
– I don’t like blood, and don’t want to see any.
– I don’t want to go back to school.
– I don’t want to wear a uniform.
– I don’t want to be like my boss.
– I don’t want to be doing this same job someplace else.

I don’t care what the answer is, but I want the engagement. I want to keep the conversation going, to start with the absolute deal breakers and work people towards knowing what they want to do next. When you let someone get away with saying they don’t know and ending the conversation, you’re also letting them get away with not asking themselves the question again later and putting any thought to it.

The question of what you don’t want to do is an easier one to answer. It’s not about education, money, age, retirement, what your parents would think, and all the rest. Instead of “I don’t know,” I’d prefer “well, I know what I don’t want to do next, and that’s a start.”

After some talk about what they don’t want to do and agreeing, because that’s what I do, I ask the next question: What are you good at?

The goal is the same, to get people to decide now the terms by which they’ll move on, but some people aren’t ready to tackle the big question of what they want to do next. Starting with a list of what they don’t want to do keeps the brain from shutting down at “I don’t know,” and allows for some fun discussions as we work from what they don’t want, to what they’re good at, and maybe, somewhere down the line, they’ll be able to bring a better answer.

– What do you not want to do next?

– Have you asked your people?

– You may be surprised when you do.

Related articles:

You’re Leaving
Survive or Thrive
Define Your Own

Have a great week out there.

– JT

Day Job Final_Web

James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.