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A Life Map

Phillip Larking on Unsplash

Here it is the first Monday of this new decade. Hard to believe. For us overly analytical types, this is a time to start measuring where we are at, and this time the results (you guessed it) do not really measure up.

With this in mind, and with the help of Sunday's really sharp-edged journal entry (if you haven’t read about the Morning Pages in Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way, please get a copy or borrow one from one of your friends. In particular, the journaling tool could save your life. Really.), I thought I made this Life Map thing up. It turns out there are a million ideas of what a Life Map might mean, and, of course, at least one person has even written a book on the subject.

 

 

 

My idea of a Life Map is exactly the thing you might read about on this kind of a day in early January when you are thinking about where in the hell your life is going. What you want is some kind of a chart that will help you sail out of the melancholy place you are currently living in. I am not talking about the physical place you are living in, but more of that figurative home, you know the one (sometimes a long established career / life feels like what you imagine Death Row must feel like). And then you realize it is not going to get a heck of a lot better from here without some real changes. If you visualize your life as a mentally and physically draining trek up a long and winding path toward a mountain peak of unknown elevation, with endless, steep switch-backs along the way, then I am speaking your language.

The hardest part of this kind of journey is the inevitable feeling that there is no other path, and that this kind of steep ascent will continue until you die. So this is when something like a Life Map is worth considering.

OK. How do you start a Life Map? I am just making this up, and that is exactly the point: you must just make it up, but it helps to either get your trusty colored pencils out or pull up your favorite Mind Mapping Tool (If you don’t already have a favorite Mind Mapping tool, my personal favorite is iThoughts ). When drawing a Map — I personally enjoy drawing things, because I feel it gives you a bit more freedom than living in diagrams, but pick your poison (since I wasn’t ever a very good illustrator, and never picked up a very large collection of colored pencils, I like to use the Concepts application on my iPad. You might also have a favorite version of one of these tools.) — just use an approach that allows you to create a map in a single iteration without overthinking it.

Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

What you need is to honestly depict your current situation in something akin to a Road Map, and then chart yourself a high-level course that takes you out of the current mess you’re in. It doesn’t need to have probabilistically weighted paths! Just draw yourself a course as it comes to you, almost in stream of consciousness mode, and just keep drawing and labeling paths, with each path feeling like a better choice than the ones you seem to have at your disposal today. Imagine your life as it would feel if it didn’t feel so crappy, and then go from there.

Do you have a first draft Life Map yet? If you do, go back and challenge yourself: does the map feel good? Does it make you smile (yes, this stuff is better than your Kindergarten memories, and you can even use real scissors if you want)? If not ,throw it away, and do it again until you are staring at a map that makes you smile.

 

OK. You have a happier Life Map now, right? Now it is time for you to be the harsh (but fair) editor. Are the changes in your course at least somewhat feasible for you in the succession you’ve laid out? If not, can you add some baby steps here and there, so that the leaps from stone to stone as you are crossing that wide river -- that you thought you never could cross — aren’t as difficult.

Remember, you are committed to this map because it feels better, but it just needs a bit of refinement, and you will perhaps need some patience in navigating it. But it is your map now, and no one can take it away from you. The alternative is to continue to live in a bit of mitigated misery.

 

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