What Do You Do Next?

Having been glued to the Olympics, I have a little Olympic withdrawal right now.  But as all I had to do was sit on my butt for a few hours watching world class athletes and competitors doing their thing, I can only imagine how it is for them. What the hell must they be feeling?

Having worked so hard for so long, surely those who won medals would be feel amazing?

Win or lose, a rosy experience isn’t guaranteed

Denise Lewis won her gold medal in the 2000 Olympics Games and explains how she felt having returned to the Olympic Village after winning – “[I remember] sitting there thinking, What are you going to do now? You’ve done it, what are you going to do now? And that feeling alone made me really, kind of, a bit depressed.”

Take a moment to watch this fascinating film from the BBC, where Olympic athletes talk about the highs and lows of medal-winning, shining a light on the feelings of loss, emptiness and even depression that can take hold when the euphoria of the medal win passes.

So what’s happening here?

They’ve worked incredibly hard. Trained incredibly hard. Made sacrifices for their sport. Altered their lifestyle to suit their goal.

It’s hard not to define yourself by something like that. It’s hard not to form your identity around what you’re doing and to see who you are through the lens of your purpose.

And that’s the problem.

Defining who you are by what you do in pursuit of a goal will leave you empty

When that goal passes – regardless of whether you achieve it or not – there’s nothing to tie your identity to any more. You’re suddenly lost.

People even define their identity by what they think reaching their goal will bring them. “Once I get there it’ll all be different” is the logic, but as four times Olympic champion Michael Johnson puts it, “It doesn’t mean that all other aspects of your life are now set, and that you’ll never have another problem. It doesn’t work that way.”

This isn’t exclusive to Olympians – it applies to mere humans like you and me.

Whether you define yourself by your work, by a significant relationship or by a purposeful goal, when that thing becomes part of the past your present loses meaning and your identity loses its context.

This is just one reason why I continue to believe that goal-setting is a flawed way to live a life, but if you find yourself in the position of getting past the event horizon of a goal, and wondering “What do I do next?”, here are some ideas to get you through that quandary without losing yourself.

1. Why Did You Do It?

Why did the goal you’d pictured matter to you in the first place? What was it about what you were working on that made you want to work on it to begin with?

Hint: Look deep for what’s important about what you decided to do.  The best answer here won’t be about outward success, recognition, approval, validation, etc.  Those things can be pretty cool when they happen, but aren’t great reasons for doing things.

What quality made you set out to do what you did?

2. Acknowledge Potentiality

Whether you won or lost, you’ve come this far. You’ve achieved several metric fuck-loads of stuff in your life that you don’t give yourself credit for. You’re equipped with a stunning ability to learn and grow. You’re built to move forwards.

Reaching the end of a goal can feel a lot like bereavement, and while it can feel like the end of something significant you have almost unlimited potentiality beyond that.

Genuinely acknowledging your own potentiality can rejuvenate, replenish and refuel like nothing else.

3. What Means Something?

Ask me “What do I do next?” and I might ask you “What do you really want to do?”

2 things about that question.

Firstly, note the word “really”, because for what you do next to feel like it matters or for you to get behind it with everything you’ve got, it has to mean something. It has to resonate with you in some way, right?  Without that, why the hell bother?

Secondly, you already know what has meaning to you.  You know what resonates.  You know what matters.

Even if you won’t yet admit it to yourself, you know

Behaviour that stems from what matters to you will always, always, always work out better than trying to shape what matters to you from what you do.

4. What Will Add Value?

You don’t exist in a vacuum and neither does what you do. So your choice is really about whether you do something of value or not.

That value is up to you to define and can be aimed at an individual, a family, a group, a community, a system or the world, just recognise that value is the only true currency in the world.

Without value there’s no change, no impact, no meaning, no relevance, no actualisation.

5. Ramp Up The Texture

I’m a firm believer that the quality of your experience counts more than hustling. You can work your ass off for as long as you want, but if you’re miserable doing it then everything will suffer. You most of all.

You don’t have to wait to ramp up the texture of your experience; you can start right now by appreciating the small things. Go and have fun. Laugh yourself silly. Play for the sake of playing.  Surround yourself with awesome people and catch yourself at your best when you’re with them.

6. Decide to Start

While pausing to gather yourself is a valuable thing to do, what’s more important is the decision to pick yourself up and begin.

That might seem almost impossible when you’re feeling deflated, lost, empty, demotivated or depressed on the other side of a goal, but it happens naturally and almost imperceptibly if the driving force is what matters to you.

With meaning as your engine it doesn’t matter if you’re unsure about what to do next, whether you’ve thought it through fully or whether it’s the “right” thing; moving forwards becomes more important than staying still.

After I’d pieced myself back together after my breakdown in 2001 I wondered what the hell I could do next.  And when I felt that The Confidence Guy (a site I’d spent 5 years building) was no longer a good fit, it left me with a big question about what was next.

In both cases, I made a deliberate choice to start

I can’t put it any better than this quotation from musician Seymour Bernstein in his book ‘With Your Own Two Hands’.

At this low point, we have only to let music itself take charge. For every challenge we can possibly want lies before us in the vast and inexhaustible repertory that cannot but replenish our spirit. For true musicians, depression is temporary because their music is permanent.”

How do you get through a post-goal dip and figure out what’s next?


  • This rings so true with me. I always end up feeling more disappointed than expected when I finally reach my seemingly unobtainable goals. Completing my first marathon is a great example of it. I had put that goal up on a pedestal for so long and honestly believed I was incapable of achieving it. Once I finished it and realized that it wasn’t really a big deal at all and much, much easier than I ever expected, I felt pretty disillusioned. Now I just have to keep upping the ante and have become a bit of a thrill seeking in the process. I’m learned that it’s much more about the chase for me than it is about the prize. As long as I keep chasing something, anything really, I’m quite content. I’ve added the goal of goalessness to the top of my bucket list, and I’m happy in my belief that I will probably never get there so that I can always leave at least one box unchecked to keep me going. 🙂

    • It’s true that you haven’t even touched the ceiling of what you’re capable, but please don’t think that running a marathon is “nothing” Laura Lynn! It’s a big achievement – something I’m certainly not capable of doing right now.

      I guess that’s another point to make, and it’s one that I’ve seen is hard for people. Honestly recognising your achievements and giving yourself credit for them.

      I like the paradoxical premise you’ve left us with. Adding a goal of goalessness that you don’t believe you’ll reach – that does my noggin in a little bit…

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