In a year that has been all about transition, this question has been top of mind for so many of us. What’s next for our jobs? What’s next for our kids? What’s next for ourselves?
It’s the kind of question that can cause all kinds of confusion and pressure. Asking ourselves “What’s next?” involves getting clear on what we want, analyzing what might be standing in our way and then crafting a plan to push through the barriers. None of that is easy. But the process presents us with an unprecedented opportunity to do something bigger, more exciting and more meaningful in the next chapter of our lives.
The trick is, you have to lean into the question. You have to make sure you don’t let anyone else answer it on your behalf. And you have to be willing to reshape what’s next over and over again.
I’m writing this because “What’s next?” has been on my mind for the past two years. I spent two decades in the automotive industry, and in that part of my career, each opportunity seemed to feed naturally into the next. Then, in 2018, the company I helped found was acquired by a company I’d already worked for. I could have stayed, but when a colleague asked me what I wanted to focus on, I was faced with the reality that I really didn’t want to continue on this particular path.
I had to ask myself, “What’s next?”
There were a few things I knew to be true: I knew I wanted to work with companies where there was sufficient capital, good market timing and a solid team. I also knew I wanted to work with brilliant entrepreneurs — people who were doing and thinking about things that weren’t anywhere on my radar.
There were also quite a few unknowns: How did I want to work with these brilliant minds and high-growth companies? Where could I plug in and make a difference? And what would my ideal working relationship look like?
So I started talking to people. I inserted myself into Charlotte’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. I attended events (pre-COVID). I sat on panels. I became a mentor. I started consulting, and I thought I’d found my answer to what was next. Consulting would put me in the room with brilliant entrepreneurs doing groundbreaking things. It would give me an opportunity to leverage my experience and expertise to help them grow, fast. And yet something told me I still hadn’t found it.
This is an important part of the process of defining next steps: It’s not enough to think in isolation and wait for opportunities to come your way. Part of figuring out what comes next is figuring out what you want to do, and that’s trial and error. It doesn’t matter how senior you are in your career. The discovery is always in the doing.
Eventually, doing the work brought me to my answer. I found what would come next.
A few months back, I took on a new client, a Silicon Valley tech startup called Fyusion. The company applies 3D computer vision and machine learning expertise to make images as intelligent as they are beautiful, and it checks all the boxes. It’s well-capitalized. The market timing is superb. There is a strong team in place, and it is indeed led by brilliant entrepreneurs. As I began working with company leadership, I saw them begin to orient and commit to the work I was recommending. And I realized, this was work I wanted to commit to, as well.
When it became clear to me, I made it clear to them: If they were interested in adding me as a full-time resource, I was ready and willing. I’m now proud to announce I am the senior director of product delivery at Fyusion.
I believe in this company, and I believe in my ability to add value in my role. It’s the right fit at the right time. But the past two years have also reminded me that I’m not truly happy if all I do is work. I’ve donated a lot of time to startups and women-led businesses to help the next generation of entrepreneurs in this community, and I don’t want that work to stop, even as I take on a full-time role.
To that end, I am building an organization that will allow me to donate my time, experience and resources to support the work of others. I plan to continue mentoring startups in Charlotte and beyond, and I’m looking for new ways to lift up female entrepreneurs and give them the support I didn’t have when I was starting out. If I can be even the smallest stepping stone in someone’s success, I want to do that.
I know it is a luxury and a privilege to be thoughtful in the work you choose to pursue. Not everyone has that chance, particularly in the world we live in now. But I also know there are many of us who have the opportunity to shape what’s next but don’t take it. This is not about going off the grid or finding yourself. This is about being intentional about what’s next so you can have the biggest impact on the world around you.
I’m excited about this next chapter of my career. I’m excited about my commitment to keep giving back. At the same time, I haven’t stopped thinking about what’s next. You shouldn’t, either.