Why Your Next Step Isn’t What You Think

by Alli Polin on May 12, 2015

your next step is not what you think

I watched my son’s eyes open wide when he saw his new LEGO set.  He begged to start immediately building and invited his good friend from across the street to join him. Together, they unloaded all of the packets of LEGO and instruction books.  I could hear from down the hall as his friend took control, “This is what we need to do first, sort by color than shape.” 

At dinner, our son told us in no uncertain terms, this is how you do LEGO, his friend told him so. Funny to hear because he’s put together countless LEGO sets before this afternoon and did just fine.  My response? “So what? It’s one way, not the only way.”

I then asked the $92,000 question:

“What do you think you need to do next?”

He began to assert his friend’s expertise:

“Jono said color first…”

I reframed my question:

“What’s another way? It could be color or something else.”

How often do YOU assume that you know what to do next because someone told you so, or it’s what everyone else did before you?  Is their life exactly like yours? Do they think, believe and breathe exactly what you do?  Do they have a super secret instruction booklet for success? (if so, please share)


Here are the three things that determine your path and your next step:

  • Values
  • Vision
  • Perspective

That’s it. Forget sorting by color, shape or size – they’re all “a” next step but not necessarily yours. (Don’t worry, in the end, you’ll still get a super cool LEGO starship.)

If you think your next step is what someone else tells you it “must be,” ask yourself, check in with your gut. Most likely, your next step isn’t what you think because you’re not thinking or questioning, you’re following.

Do you want to live and lead on your terms? Own it.  I’m not saying that you should ignore advice or a mentor’s experience, but it’s okay to question and adjust. You know more about your next step than you may think. 

Why Your Next Step Isn’t What You Think


Whose values are guiding you?

When you lose touch with your values, it’s easy to get caught up in a race for success.  Unfortunately, you may not even realize that you’re using someone else’s definition of success as the blueprint for your choices and actions. 

You can google “values list” and you’ll come up with just shy of a billion results. A billion. Every list you click on, you’ll see hundreds of things that you should value and probably do. How do you discern what’s most important, your strongest values, when they all sound relevant?

It’s your values that determine your actions. When your values and actions are out of sync, it’s when you start to feel like a zombie instead of human. Even subtle differences in values can lead to a course of action either feeling inspired or like energy zapping effort. 

One person values safety, and you may value adventure

Another person values organization, and you may value inner harmony more. 

Yet another values wealth while the concept of freedom speaks louder to you.


Here are some next steps that I hear a lot:

“I have no choice but to work late.”

“I need to buy new clothes for the season.”

“I must get on Twitter today or they’ll forget about me.”

Just like I asked my son, ask yourself…”Really??”

Have to

Need to


Think about your values as your personal instruction booklet to determine if you sort by color, shape, or wing it. It’s how you move past the “must,” “need to,” and “have to” in order to figure out your “want to.”

TIP: You won’t find your values on a list.  Look at your life to discover your values in motion.


Having a goal is not the same as having a vision. 

Part of a vision is about the experience of getting to your goal.  

You don’t run a marathon without training for it.

You can’t publish a book without writing and editing.

You will never run a successful company without transitioning from idea to reality. 


For my son, his vision for building his new LEGO set was to do it with a friend, not only to have a new model in his collection. For one of my clients, her vision was not only to work for a nonprofit, but also stretch her skills in new directions. 

You probably know what it’s like to have a gap between your vision and your experience. For example:

Have you ever taken a new job and it’s nothing like you expected?

Have you ever dated someone who seemed perfect, until two months in when perfection became smothering?

Have you ever planned a trip for months only end up running around seeing all of the must see attractions and feeling let down?

When you go after something “at all costs,” it’s too late when you realize that the cost was too high. Is it really worth stomping on your values to tick a box on your to-do list?

The most robust visions encompass the adventure; feeling, seeing, and being are all accounted for and equally important. 

TIP: Create a vision not only for your end goal, but also for the journey. 


Your next step is less about your circumstances and more about the way you see them. 

Call it what you want, your perspective, your attitude, your mindset… If you see roadblocks and limits instead of possibilities and potential, you’re stuck. Even if you know what to do, you’re not going to do it with gusto but instead you’ll be leading the way forward with limitations. 


I know far too many people who think that their next step is giving up.  I assure you, there is always a way forward, you just have to look for it. 

My son believed that his friend had it right, that there was one best way to build a LEGO set despite his personal experience. I’ve seen incredibly smart leaders get stuck in the belief that their boss knows best. (Sorry if I’ve offended you, bosses)

I also know people who get stuck in a rut and don’t even know that they’re there. The next step that seemed so obvious is no longer the right step at all. 

The last time I tried to lose weight, I cut out sugar and exercised three days a week. Why isn’t it working?

Top talent is walking out the door. Last time we offered a salary increase and they stayed.  Why are they still leaving?

What rut have you fallen into?  What are you still doing because that’s the way you’ve always done it?

TIP: When you only see limited options, your perceived next step may not light you up.  To multiply your choices, shift your perspective.  Your next step will absolutely, positively become clear. 

I hear it all the time:

“I have no choice.”

“It always worked for me before.”

“I was just following directions.”

It could be that sorting by color is the way to go and maybe it’s not. It could be that the color sort worked last time, but this time there’s a better way to go. Awaken to possibilities and have the courage to give it a go.

Values, vision and your perspective are three powerful ways to tap into meaningful action. Blindly following orders will inevitably leave you unfulfilled. Now is the time for clarity, confidence, creativity and your next step (the one you’re inspired to take). Lead on! 

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Rhodes May 12, 2015 at 8:10 am


Great new post. Values, vision and Mindset..the three building blocks to not only leadership but life itself. Life is about the choices we make, good or bad. We make them and we own them based on how we see the three blocks fitting together. Learning from others is a vital piece of the knowledge puzzle at the same time we need to mold that knowledge to be part our mindset. My Daughter is a Lego fanatic and what I love the most is when she builds without instructions, that’s where we really see her view of the world.
Thanks again for all you do.


Alli Polin May 12, 2015 at 9:28 pm

Life is most definitely made up of a series of choices… big and small. It’s amazing how much life and leadership are intertwined. Leaders are not only found in offices but in our homes, communities and personal relationships. It’s about leading from who we truly are and owning our path instead of blindly following someone else’s.

Love to hear that your daughter builds without instructions too. We have a bunch of sets but also approximately a zillion loose blocks and those are some of my favorite creations of all.

Many thanks for your insights and support, Tom!


Jon Mertz May 12, 2015 at 8:55 am


Each of these three elements are so important in leading your life and making necessary changes. Values, however, is central. As you highlight, it is easy to be on someone else’s values track rather than our own. It is so important to write your own values and beliefs down and then find opportunities to use them in the right places.

Great read! Thank you.



Alli Polin May 12, 2015 at 9:30 pm


Thanks for your comment! It can be hard to uncover your values and separate them from your parents, your spouse, school, on and on. When you finally figure it out, decisions become easier, your heart has more peace and the path unfolds. I agree, understanding your values is not some buzz phrase but a meaningful activity that can be transformative.



John Bennett May 12, 2015 at 11:05 am

I wrote it on last night’s #SocialLeader Twitter chat and it’s so true: Your blog posts have an incredible ability to get their readers really considering the material, adapting it to help with improving, with being more content while not being satisfied!

Putting your values, vision, and perspective together with Dan Pink’s mastery, autonomy, and purpose (very compatible lists of 3), there is the motivation AND path to get going – towards unstoppable!!! Of course, not every step will be the optimum choice; but we’ll learn from them and continue to grow!!!

Sure wish I could participate in the course starting in just a few days; but there’s this house in Connecticut to sell and one in Virginia to get built. Much too busy!!! If YOU are considering participation, DO IT!!! Your growth will be far greater that you expected.


Alli Polin May 12, 2015 at 9:33 pm

I’m an enormous fan of Dan Pink… ever since I heard him speak years and years ago. Thanks for sparking me to re-read some of his work!

I think you make a great point, every choice will not be the right one. How we move, learn and shift from there is incredibly telling.

All the best to you with your move!!! Greatly appreciate your tremendous support and connection.

~ Alli


Karin Hurt May 13, 2015 at 8:42 am

This is actually the biggest life lesson I wished I learned sooner. I was convinced that I needed to get married right after college graduation, and take that “good job” at the bank, because that was the map that had been ingrained for so long.

As it turns out, the bank job only lasted a year, it wasn’t me by any stretch of the imagination… and well, the marriage lasted longer, but shouldn’t have.

When I got divorced I went through an entire process of redefining, and rebuilding, much of which felt like going backwards to go forwards. I’m much happier now… and my life looks nothing like the “instructions” I thought I needed to follow.


Alli Polin May 14, 2015 at 6:06 am

Thank you for sharing this powerful personal example. It’s so easy to get caught up in everyone else’s wants, dreams and wishes for us. It’s also amazing what happens when we learn to break free and do what’s right for us.

Thanks, Karin!


LaRae Quy May 13, 2015 at 12:03 pm

Words of wisdom here, Alli!

Assumptions are a huge culprit in the way we place self-limiting barriers around ourselves. We assume we cannot or should not, and as a result, we don’t.

Great advice to your son, and seasoned leaders as well—awaken to the possibilties and have the courage to give it a go!


Alli Polin May 14, 2015 at 6:10 am

That’s it! It’s the assumptions not only about others that dig a hole but the ones we hold for ourselves (often without even realizing it.) I think most people don’t even realize when they stop questioning what’s possible and they are just going through the motions until something shakes them awake.

Thanks, LaRae!


Terri Klass May 13, 2015 at 2:28 pm

Your post really made me think, Alli about not allowing other people in our lives to dictate our direction. It can be so easy to just give in instead of following our own unique values, vision and perspective.

I also thinks it takes self-confidence to be honest with ourselves about what is important. For me, connecting with colleagues and clients face to face IRL or in hangouts will always boost my confidence and energize me.

Thanks and will definitely share with my network! 🙂


Alli Polin May 14, 2015 at 6:16 am

Today my daughter came home from school telling me about an exercise she did in class. She had to boldly walk through a lineup of her classmates while they laughed at her and she had to hold her head high and be confident. Their laughter was not a reason to stop but fuel to keep going. I appreciate the life and leadership lessons her school is intentionally teaching. You’re right – it is so easy to give in, drop our heads down and let other people choose our experience.

I also get a ton of energy when I connect voice to voice and even better, face to face. Energy really does grow!

Thanks a ton, Terri!


John Bennett May 14, 2015 at 9:13 am

Great quote: “Their laughter was not a reason to stop but fuel to keep going.” Such an important impact on our approach…


Chery Gegelman May 13, 2015 at 11:58 pm

Stuck in a rut and not knowing it, taking the advice of others when our hearts and guts say otherwise… Been there! (And without the awareness, the right questions and the right coaches – it is amazing how easy it is to end up back in those places without realizing it.)

Great post Alli!


Alli Polin May 14, 2015 at 6:18 am

As you wrote in our book, Energize Your Leadership, there is wisdom in our gut… we just need to listen and act! It can feel tough but absolutely positively worth the effort.

Thanks, Chery!


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