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The Day Job – 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 that the question of what’s next, what you really want to do, sometimes involves an entirely-too-honest look at yourself, 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.” I wish I didn’t hear this more often than not, because I can’t help people meet their goals if they don’t know what they are.

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 figure it out. 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 was lucky to realize what it was 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 best next 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. 

Again, this is a lot like asking for people to tell me something good. 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 what 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.

So, it’s an easy question:

What do you not want to do next?

When you get a chance, ask your people and let me know how they answer.

Have a great weekend.

– JT

My good thing: A day in port before heading out to sea again.

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3 Responses

  1. Dan Forbes says:

    Great questions to get the brain in gear. Thanks.

  2. Gina says:

    I agree with Dan and I’ll take it one further…mind blowing epiphany. You cant help someone that doesnt want help obviously, but how many people have I not helped that DID want or need it simply because they couldnt articulate; ending a converstion at “I dont know” and deciding there wasnt much else I could do. Brain is definately in gear…time for some experimentation. Thanks Jamie!

  3. Bill says:

    Jamie, excellent topic. Just 2 days ago I was asking my daughter what she wants to do, and I bet you know the answer… I have been asking myself how I can get her thinking, and this just may be the ticket! It’s worth a shot!

    You are doing great things here. Keep it up!


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