It started as early as eighth grade. Field hockey tryouts came and went, and we gathered around the team lists like crazed Madonna fans (the Bieber of my day). I was a decent athlete, and I made the A team. The season passed, and everyone wanted to know whether I was going to try to make the high school team. Ninth grade found me playing softball. At under five feet, I was the smallest girl on the team, but also the fastest. That meant a sometimes-bump to varsity as backup for second base and the designated pinch runner. Everyone asked, “Will you make varsity next year? I did. Then it was, “Will you start at varsity next year?” I was cut. I’d been good enough to play varsity my freshman and sophomore years, but too many bigger, stronger girls rose through the ranks.
It was embarrassing — not even because I didn’t make it, but because everyone kept asking what the next milestone was. I was out of milestones. We’re so achievement-oriented, we can’t handle defeat (let alone appreciate the moment we’re in). I’ve learned that it hasn’t gotten better as I’ve gotten older, either.
Everyone wants to know where you’re headed next.
Fast-forward to college. I was constantly asked about my post-graduation plans. Same with graduate school. And my personal life? That was even worse. My husband and I dated for seven years before we got married. It made people crazy that we dated for so long. I know, because many told me so.
But what made me crazy was the constant questioning about our engagement timeline. And that was just the beginning. Now that we are married, people want to know when we’re having children. (For my friends already blessed with children, it’s: “When are you having another?”)
This phenomenon isn’t limited to our personal lives. The constant milestone madness is everywhere. A good friend of mine is on the partner track at a well-known consulting firm. People can’t stop asking if she’s up for partner this year. For my fellow entrepreneurs, the what-next question is constant too. Everyone wants to know your growth plan, your exit plan, your plan to go public.
Are you as exhausted as I am?
I get it. When people ask these questions (personal or business-related) they’re trying to be nice, interested in your work, or are genuinely curious (if they want to promote you or invest in your company).
But we’ve created a world where no one is happy where they are. No one stops to ask how you’re doing in the moment or what interesting work you’re accomplishing. And the repercussions of this what-next syndrome? We’ve forgotten how to mine the moment for what it is: a chance to appreciate the good and learn from the bad.
Study after study show that Millennials want to be promoted quickly. They expect raises and conversations about what’s next on a regular basis. And they’re not to blame for that attitude. We are (their managers, leaders, GenX-ers and Baby Boomers who have come before them). Instead of focusing on the best lesson an employee learned this year in performance reviews, we have conversations primarily focused on getting to the next level. Instead of asking someone what cool thing they’re working on right now, we ask them what job they want next....
Susan LaMotte is the founder of exaqueo, a workforce consultancy that helps startups and high-growth companies build their cultures, employer brands and talent strategies. Contact exaqueo to learn more about how we can help you build a workforce strategy that’s aligned with your company culture and develop an employer brand that will allow your business to scale the right way.