One of Husband’s all-time favorite shows is The West Wing, but I never watched this show when it was on the air. He introduced me to it because he had the first five seasons on DVD and swore up and down that if I watched a few episodes, I’d be hooked. I went along with it and found myself pleasantly surprised and suddenly more curious about who exactly are the President’s closest advisors and how DC politics function on a day-to-day basis. Plus Aaron Sorkin — head writer for the first four seasons — has an ear for dialogue that is unmatched by anything else I have ever seen on screen, television and movies alike. The conversations between characters so closely reflect how real people talk to each other, and I appreciate that both as a viewer and as an avid reader.
The character of the President, played by Martin Sheen, is obviously one of the key roles in the show. His day is overwhelming from the second he wakes up in the morning, and his go-to phrase after every single major event — whether it’s a boon or a crisis — is “What’s next?” And somehow, through all of the seasons that I eventually watched, that line never seemed to get stale. Not like the drone of “Next” when you’re stuck waiting in a long line at a clothing store or at the movies, not like “What’s next?” as if you’re expecting the answer to be that Chicken Little was right and the sky is going to fall down. “What’s next?” with a little bit of energy and anticipation, with an undertone of “let’s go, let’s move, we’re burning daylight” (the last being one of Husband’s dad’s favorite phrases).
I like this because it implies that it’s more important to look ahead than to dwell. I say that being a “dweller” myself, who likes to analyze why whatever happened has happened, consider its significance (or lack thereof), and sometimes wanting to re-hash it multiple times until it has been fully processed. And while I cannot discount how important that process of internalization is for my own peace of mind, I have also been trying to practice thinking in such a way: “What’s next?” What is the next step? The next possibility? The next idea? The next goal? The next action item? The next to-do item on my list? I can’t always sustain that for an entire day, but I am certainly more productive within the hours that I can. I am also more excited and more willing, as if I’m bouncing on the balls of my feet instead of dying a slow death in a chair or in front of the TV or computer. It helps get me faster to “onward and upward” mode, even when the people around me may want to or need to linger longer in recovery mode. By the same token, it doesn’t allow me to rest on my laurels, either, because there is always something else to do to grow and improve.
Yesterday my sister called to tell me that she didn’t get the job for which she had recently been interviewed. I know she’s disappointed — understandably so — and at the same time I hope she is energized by the fact that she made a bold stroke in stepping actively toward a job she desired. Not a job she thought she might have to take for survival purposes, but one that got her excited by just reading the description. So… what’s next? I imagine Next will be another step toward something even better and potentially more fulfilling, if she continues down this path. If everything happens for a reason, then maybe what seems like a setback is not that at all in the big picture.
So for my sister and shared from my friend, a parable on maintaining perspective:
…an old Chinese farmer lost his best stallion one day and his neighbor came around to express his regrets, but the farmer just said, “Who knows what is good and what is bad.” The next day the stallion returned bringing with him 3 wild mares. The neighbor rushed back to celebrate with the farmer, but the old farmer simply said, “Who knows what is good and what is bad.” The following day, the farmer’s son fell from one of the wild mares while trying to break her in and broke his arm and injured his leg. The neighbor came by to check on the son and give his condolences, but the old farmer just said, “Who knows what is good and what is bad.” The next day the army came to the farm to conscript the farmer’s son for the war, but found him invalid and left him with his father. The neighbor thought to himself, “Who knows what is good and what is bad.”
And for each of us… What’s Next? We’re burning daylight, after all.