I used to call it my ‘What Next’ Syndrome. Turns out it’s a real thing, only the experts call it Destination Addiction.
“The preoccupation that happiness is in the next place, the next job, the next relationship. Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else, it will never be where you are.” – Robert Holden (the expertest expert in Destination Addiction.)
Destination addiction is the constant mindset that happiness is just over the next hill. When nothing in the ‘now’ is enough to feel happy or content with our lives – there is always the need for something more, for something better.
Setting goals is so important. Ambition and drive are qualities to be proud of. Unpacking and living in the “whats next will bring me happiness” mindset is where we sometimes get lost. I know I did.
I think mine began as a defense.
Teenage me had a plan for my life and in any way that life could veer in the opposite direction to that plan, it did.
There were many times along the way (read: all the times) where I wasn’t really sure what the next step was going to be. I was winging it and while I was mostly enjoying my life, it wasn’t the initial plan and I felt lost without an updated one.
I think we all have an idea of how life is meant to flow, society reminds us what stages are meant to come first and what order we are meant to achieve goals in. When someone goes against that, no matter how content they are with their new flow, people have something to say about it.
I was often given (well meaning I’m sure) advice, opinions were freely handed out on my choices and judgement came with every ‘out of the ordinary’ experience I had. It added to my insecurity that I had done things ‘wrong’ and I struggled with feeling lost and wondering where I fit in a world full of people seeming to have their lives together and moving along in the right order.
I quickly found that when I could give a plan out confidently on my mixed up order and what I had coming up next, there seemed to be less of an opening for any kind of negative input.
And so it began. The constant need to have every next step planned out.
It became that instead of savouring each step, each stage, each achievement, I was immediately on to planning the next so that I could maintain control. Or at least the appearance of it.
I’d start a new job that I’d have worked really hard for, and I’d already be looking around at what I could do next – what position I was working my way up to. I was always focussed on where my relationships were heading, and even though I was barely holding it together mum-ing, I made sure to have an answer for when I wanted another mini and what I needed to have done before then.
It was a mess and I felt endlessly unsatisfied.
What had begun as wanting a plan had become a certainty that the next thing would bring happiness and I would feel content and be able to give up the exhausting forward planning. Achieving the next goal, seeing the next plan through, getting to the next step in life, it never did bring contentment.
While it settled down a bit when I met Brent, I didn’t learn how to cut it out until after Cooper was born.
My ‘what next’ syndrome kicked right back in as soon as the haze of newborn life had worn off.
What next? Would I study in the time that I was at home with Cooper? Maybe this was a good opportunity for a career change. Would I keep in touch with my past employers so that I could remain forefront of their minds until I was ready to head back to work? Would I look for part time work now?? I needed to know what was next and it didn’t even matter that no one was asking.
I was so wound up about not knowing what I was going to do next, I was driving myself insane and I was miserable. Brent had enough one evening and told me to get myself together.
I had spoken so many times about feeling sad that I had missed out on the magic of having a newborn with Alex. Here I was, right in the midst of the newborn magic and I was wasting it worrying about what I was going to do next. Right now was so worth enjoying – what next could wait.
As much as I hate to admit it, Brent is wise. His advice doesn’t come often, but when it does, it is invaluable. He has 15 years on me, he’s had a head start in life lessons.
If I could go back and slap past me into learning this lesson sooner, I would.
Happiness isn’t in the next goal, the next achievement, the next purchase. It just is. Life isn’t going to begin once I reach a certain point, life is right now, this very second and I had been wasting it.
(Something to keep in mind though is that when the right now really sucks, even when it seems like it’s never going to end, it does.
Whether it’s a shitty job that you can’t do anything about getting out of right now, or a house that you are living in that you hate because the carpet looks like cats vomit, things will come right.
In these cases though, it’s ok to spend a lot of time focussed on the what next. Use the shittiness to motivate you to do whatever you can to get through, but remember to stop and be proud of yourself when you get there, and remember to look out for the little rays of sunshine while you’re getting there – they might be small, but they’re there, I promise, and they’re still worth enjoying.)
Life has a way of working itself out and when the time is right, I’ll figure the next step out. Worrying in the mean time isn’t going to do a thing to get me there faster, it’s just going to make now a whole lot less fun.
Where I am and how far I’ve come is worth taking a minute to be proud of.
So if I must have a plan to keep my anxiety quiet, it is to whole heartedly enjoy right now. (Because how many more times in life will I be able to stay in my pj’s until 11am, have coffee in the sunshine and write to my hearts content while my 8 month old boss naps!)