One of my coaching clients stopped me cold a while back with an observation. We were talking around the concept of having a broader vision and not just moving from one thing that needs done to the next one in line. “I want to do the next right thing,” she said thoughtfully. “Not just the next thing right.”
Wow, I thought. What a beautiful distinction. To do the next right thing is a powerful action. It’s choosing what’s important, what’s real and meaningful. There’s choice, here.
We can easily, of course, take on whatever task presents itself. We can very honorably complete that task correctly and legitimately feel good about our accomplishment. And doing things right is no trifling matter; it’s a good thing.
But it’s not necessarily the best thing.
Because the only choice that matters is the choice of doing the next right thing, not the next thing right. That means choosing the action that has heart and soul, meaning and purpose. The action that’s grounded somewhere deep inside our personal values, our authenticity, our understanding of what’s “right” and what’s good, what’s just and what’s true.
If we’re standing completely in touch with our values, the next right thing effortlessly appears. We just know in our bones when we see it. But if we’re not checking in with those values; if we’re not honoring them in the things we choose to do; if, alas, we’re not sure what values we really hold next to our hearts — why, then doing the next right thing is no easy task. We must resort to doing the next thing right, and falling short of our potential.
So my client captured this concept from a clip she’d seen of Michael J. Fox and Bill Murray playing golf. Michael talks about doing the next right thing, and the truth of that statement captures Bill. “I like that,” he tells Michael, “as opposed to ‘do the next thing right’? … I want to copyright that.” Obviously it resonates with him.
And here, miles away from that interview on a rainy workday, it resonates for me, too, raising goosebumps on my arms and sending a shiver down my spine. I even feel the prick of tears that, for me, indicates I’m in the presence of something so fundamentally correct and true that I cannot ignore it.
What a beautiful turn of phrase, so subtle as to risk being missed entirely. The concept isn’t new, really. Writer Anne Lamott once penned, “I took a long, deep breath and wondered as usual, where to start. You start where you are, is the secret of life. You do the next right thing you can see. Then the next.”
If you look, you’ll find plenty of places that take the concept to heart. There’s the Next Right Thing project, part of the Creative Visions Foundation, whose primary mission is to connect children in medical need with people who can help. Now, there’s a living example of the next right thing.
But it’s been around for a while. It’s a guiding principle of Alcoholics Anonymous. Martin Luther King once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” And Theodore Roosevelt told us that “in any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing.”
So I suggest we think on these things. Are we doing the next right thing? Or are we doing the next thing right? How much more powerful and fulfilling would our lives be if we were to look around for the next right thing, not just the next thing.
Doing the next thing right is surely valuable. But doing the next right thing is simply priceless.
~ Jennifer Crow