Personal Finance FAQ

There is No “Next Level”

Life isn’t one of these.

“I notice that you got it. You notice that I want it. Know that I can take it to the next level baby.”
–Nicki Minaj

Yes, I feel dirty for quoting a Nicki Minaj song, just for the record.

How many times have you sat in a meeting and listened to someone providing a “motivational speech” about how the team or the company needs to take its performance to the “next level?” Been in a relationship and pondered when and how to have the discussion about taking the relationship to the “next level?” Watched a sports game and listened to the announcers talk about how a player has taken his game to the “next level?”

Life is not a Dungeons and Dragons game. You don’t get to level up when you get so many experience points or slay so many demons. You don’t suddenly get a new superpower when you add points to your charisma, strength, or intelligence.

The term “next level” is a platitude.

People use the term “next level” because they have no idea what they’re trying to improve.

Think about the times you’ve used that term in your life. How many times, when you used it, did you have a clear, concrete idea about what the “next level” actually looked like? Probably, the answer is close to zero.

I posit that close to 100% of the time, when someone uses the term “next level,” he’s waving it about as a platitude in the same way that the weatherman waves his hands up and down on the TV screen to show a specific area. There’s no “next level” roadmap or “next level” infographic that shows you how to get there or how to know you’ve arrived.

Instead, the “next level” is lexicon for “I have no idea where I’m going and I’ll have no idea when I get there.”

It’s the hand-waving verbal version of Three Card Monte, except that neither the person who invokes the phrase nor the person who hears the phrase “next level” has any idea where the ball is actually hidden.

Why do people use the term “next level?”

  • They don’t know how to move forward. They know that they need to go somewhere but have no idea in which of 360 degrees that somewhere lies. So, instead, they use “take it to the next level” as a call to action, to spur something. We used to call that “all thrust, no vector,” meaning that you were taking action simply for the sake of taking action.
  • They don’t know how to measure success. I assume that when someone invokes the term “next level” like some sort of magic incantation, they want to improve something. If you were happy with where you were at, you wouldn’t be seeking another level. But, they also don’t know what improvement looks like or what the goals of improvement consist of.
  • They’re afraid of inertia. An object in motion stays in motion, and an object at rest stays at rest. So, scared to death of the perception that they’re sitting on their haunches waiting, they imply action. To them, it’s more important to be perceived as doing something than actually accomplishing anything measurable.
  • They don’t have a plan of action. By summoning up the magical power of the “next level,” the summoner is hoping that others will come up with the definitions and the way forward.

However, all of these simply point to one clear missing ingredient.

  • They don’t know where they’re going. If you know where you’ve been, know where you are, and know where you’re heading, then you don’t need vague references like the “next level.” Instead, you can clearly articulate where you’re going, how you’ll get there, and how you can know that you’re making progress towards that goal.

The next time you’re about to hop on the train to the “next level,” stop to think. Is that really what you mean?

What “next level” in your life do you want to reach? Tell us about it in the comments below!


Jason Hull, CFP®, was the co-founder of Broadtree Partners, a firm that acquires $1-5MM EBITDA companies. He also was the co-founder of open source search consultancy OpenSource Connections, a premier Solr and ElasticSearch firm. He and his wife FIREd (financial independence retire early) at 46 and 45, respectively. He has a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a MBA from the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business.

You can read more about him in the About Page.

4 replies on “There is No “Next Level””

Jason, I could not agree more. I recently sat it on a meeting at work where my boss was saying words like “improving optimization”, “clearer communication”, “taking it to the next level”, kicking it up a notch, etc.

People use silly terms in management instead of tackling issues head on

Not just in management. I know I’m guilty of using lazy, meaningless shortcuts in my personal life instead of saying what I really mean (LOL springs to mind!).

I agree most with the “inertia” point – we talk so we can fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing something, because talking around an issue (like money), or liking a Facebook status is so much easier than actually taking concrete action.

James Altucher talks about “the Internet loop.” I’m very guilty of it (after all, someone might have commented on my last post, and I have to check!), and if I don’t set myself mini-targets (write a section, or write X words, etc.), then Monkey Brain can take over and convince me that I’m accomplishing something by being on the repeated Internet loop all day long.

One of Monkey Brain’s favorite sayings, by the way, is “procrastination is the key to tomorrow.” Except he’s not that eloquent.

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