“Now what? This.”

Imagine you’re a young chef and it’s your dream to work for Heston Blumenthal, to be a part of his gastronomic experiments. Now imagine that you achieve that dream immediately after coming out of university. You get a position as a Chef de Partie in one of his restaurants.

You had a dream. You achieved it. Now what?

After you’ve achieved such a prestigious position your dream is going to change and evolve. You got in on the ground floor. So you make it your mission to ascend. You give yourself several years and set your sights on the position of Sous Chef.

The months and the years fly. You work, observe, learn, study, make mistakes and get better. A few times you come close to quitting. But every time you make a deal with yourself and continue on. And the hard work pays off. A Sous Chef position opens up and you get offered the role.

You had a mission. You completed it. Now what?

Dinner, the restaurant you work at, is up for review by the Michelin guide. On the surface, it seems like you’re a shoo-in to retain the two Michelin star ranking. But nothing is certain when it comes to retaining the highest commendation in the culinary universe. So the whole team, over the next few months, has to step it up, even more so than usual. You all have to be on top form. You will not lose those two stars.

The Michelin reviewers come by, and when this year’s version of the guide is released you see that Dinner has held it’s position. You and the rest of the team had the retention of those stars in the centre of your mind. Over the past few months, nothing else has occupied your attention. But you’ve all secured them for another year. Now what?

The last six months were stressful. You worked as hard as you’ve ever worked in your life. Now you want a change. As much as you love working in a multiple Michelin star establishment, you cannot deny that it is taking its toll. You get to thinking and decide you want to move to the South West and open up a small, intimate restaurant in a small town. So you begin your research.

In the few hours you’re not working, you’re looking at different towns, seeing what others before you have done, trying to figure out your schtick, what your unique offering is going to be. You’ve weighing different designs and styles and thinking about exactly how to structure your menu and the dining experience.

Another year passes. You have a concrete, meticulously researched plan. You have some capital saved up and you know you can get the rest from the bank. After scouting a few locations you find the perfect spot. The time is now. You hand in your notice and leave the restaurant and the team that taught you everything behind.

The opening goes well, but now you have to sustain the momentum. You’ve opened your own place. Now what? Well, you have to survive, to stay open. You have to ensure that you keep getting better, that your team keeps evolving, that the experience gets more mind-blowing with every season that passes and with every guest that walks through the door.

The above process, working up from an apprentice to someone who runs their own successful restaurant, takes years. Decades. And it’s never a clear run. It’s a journey fraught with risk and uncertainty and pain and mistakes. And at the beginning of such a quest you never really know what exactly it is you want, or what to expect after you’ve attained it. 

But is it even possible to know in advance? Do you have to go through years and years of work just to find out what it is you’re really after? Maybe. Maybe not. But one exercise that can, in part, help you to see what your ultimate objective is, to see through the fog of the future, is a simple thought experiment.

Ask yourself, “What does ‘success’ look like?” Define it in as much detail as possible. Now tick it off. Imagine you achieve it. Then ask yourself, “Now what?” In essence, you’re working through this process:

  1. Imagine and define success.
  2. Imagine you’ve achieved it.
  3. Re-imagine and re-define what success looks like.
  4. Repeat 2) and 3).

You keep repeating this process until the third step resembles something like the end of our chef’s journey above. He went from wanting to work at a prestigious kitchen, to wanting to occupy a higher position, to helping them retain their Michelin stars, to wanting to open his own place, to wanting to keep his own place operational and successful. In the end, his definition of success was to be able to keep doing what he was doing. His answer, after achieving success, to the question of “Now what?” was “This.”

That’s what you need to figure out. What version of success is the one that you never want to move on from?