The Map of Your Life

So, I’m reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed (made into a movie with Reese Witherspoon in 2014). It’s all about her adventures, and misadventures, walking the Pacific Crest Trail in the States and her 1200 km pilgrimage back to herself. There are blisters and bruising, a wild bull, rattlesnakes, treacherous snow and ice, and an awful lot of map reading.

This has got me thinking about the map as a metaphor for how we move through our lives.

And it begs these questions for you today, gentle reader:

Do you use a map to guide the overarching navigation in your life? Is it something you’ve worked hard on and consult frequently? Or is it buried under a pile of junk in the back seat, coffee and ketchup-stained, with pieces missing?

Or, maybe no map exists – you’ve never felt the need to plot out the rest of your life. Perhaps you would say you’re living in the moment, stepping forward mindfully, but without needing to target a final destination

If you’d asked me a couple of decades ago if I had a map and knew where I was headed in this life, I probably would have said something like: “Hell no, I’m just trying to survive.” If my life path was an actual trail, I was walking head down trying to avoid tripping over boulders, rarely raising my eyes to enjoy the view. I’m sure I passed over the same terrain a thousand times without making any headway.

There was a lot of wandering around in circles. Well-meaning people would stop me, stare incredulously when I turned my pockets inside out—“Really, no map!”—and then quickly unfold their trusty guide, a tight square with crisp edges. I saw a final destination that these people called “happy” on their maps and stops along the way called “salary and benefits,” “marriage,” “house,” and “children.” For awhile, I thought maybe this generic map might fit for me too. Stay on the beaten path, so to speak.

I realize now that not only didn’t I have a map of my own, more importantly, I wasn’t in touch with my inner compass. I didn’t have a sense of what I was actually good at and who I really wanted to be in the world, let alone where I wanted to end up, or how I was going to get there.

I would have ideas that made their way into my journals over the years, but I remember writing them and they seemed like the stuff of fantasies. I found one of these journals recently and here’s what I read: “I have so many dreams, but I don’t feel good enough for any of them.”

Whoa. That’s heavy.

I feel heartsick for the young woman who wrote that, and also so passionately motivated to help others who might feel the same way. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, I now firmly believe we are all worthy of our biggest and brightest dreams.

“When you get to a place where you understand that love and belonging, your worthiness, is a birthright and not something you have to earn, anything is possible.”

—Brene Brown

So, if I didn’t have a map, how was I making decisions about “travel?” Simply put, I let circumstances, other people, and random offers dictate my path. Until I made the leap into my own writing business, I don’t think I ever once “followed my heart” into any work that paid. I took jobs because they fell across my path, or someone else seemed to think it was a good idea. When I look back now, I realize that many of my life decisions were fear-based. I jumped on passing bandwagons because I feared other ones wouldn’t come along. But they weren’t my choosing.

Back to that sense of worthiness. People who feel worthy make intentional choices. They are able to figure out what they want and take steps to get there because they believe they are worthy of the life they want. And they believe they are capable of creating it.

Making intentional choices is scary. You have to be willing to open doors when you have no idea what’s on the other side. And you have to trust that you can actually achieve or accomplish what you want. (This six-minute video called The Parable of the Trapeze is one of the best things I’ve watched on the topic of trust – check it out!)

It’s easy to say yes to things that are offered to us because someone else thinks we’re a fit. We could spend our lives doing that. Some of us do. It’s harder to figure out if the thing being offered is what we actually want.

This reminds me of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (considering it’s a New York Times bestseller, I’ll bet some of you have read it!). She writes about reducing clutter and reclaiming your space by deciding if the things around you bring joy. If they don’t, you thank the object or the piece of clothing, and get rid of it. Imagine if we did this for all of our time and energy commitments? Does being on this Board or committee bring me joy? Does the work that pays my bills spark joy in me?

This week, take the mile-high view of your life and look down on it. Is your life your own? Are you making intentional choices or are you consulting someone else’s map? Do you have a sense of your inner compass? And have you discovered your true north?

“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave.”

—Cheryl Strayed, from Wild


Originally published on my blog “This Sweet World”

Photo credit: Daniel Silantev

Author: Renée Hartleib