Life is a journey, don’t we need a map?

By Steve Fisher

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. Steve Jobs

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All photos in this post are from life and travel in Rio de Janeiro, May 2013

Imagine setting off on a long journey to the place in the world you most want to visit. I have India in mind. Please pick your own dream destination. Imagine the places you’ll visit there and the sites you’ll see. The activities you’d like to enjoy. All the interesting people you’ll meet. Local food you’d like to taste and so on. You would of course want a detailed map and itinerary for your journey right? It’s simply impossible to imagine navigating an unknown continent or country or even one particularly charming neighborhood without one. Without a map and a plan you would be lost constantly. And you wouldn’t get to see the places you want to see or do the things you want to do.

What about this big journey known as life? Isn’t it even more important than that dream trip to South America? Don’t we need a map for that as well?

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We get to take our journey through this world just once and there are no do-overs. Of course we don’t want to get totally lost. We want to avoid injuries, whether to the body, mind or spirit, and of course we don’t want to die young. And, like other journeys, we don’t want to miss out on all the wonders of life in this world.

Imagine taking that dream journey to South America and missing out on the Inca Trail or the natural wonders of Patagonia. You would of course feel some regret on the flight home. Now imagine how much bigger the regret will be if we near the end of life’s journey and realize we didn’t get to go most of the places we wanted to go or do the things we wanted to do. In life, as in travel, we need a map and itinerary.

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And shouldn’t these be ones that we choose (or make) ourselves? When planning your dream trip to South America would you simply follow the same route as your friend at work did on her trip? Or follow step by step the exact route and stops recommended in your guidebook? Naturally you would consult friends and family who had visited your destination. You might want to review some travel blogs or other online information sources. And you’ll probably want a guidebook as well. But would you base every step of your trip on someone else’s recommendations? Of course not. You would seek information and advice but come up with a plan based on your own interests, priorities and traveling style.

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In life as well do we really want to live according to someone else’s map? To simply follow a route dictated to us by our parents or society or religion? Don’t we want our own unique map and plan for our journey through this world? One that reflects our own unique personalities, values and goals. I sure do. In fact, the subtitle of this blog is “Thoughts on travel through this world.” For me at least it’s hard to think of an issue more important than this one.

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Actually, if we think about it a bit more, maybe we want several maps, one for each important part of the journey. For your dream trip to South America you might want one map for trekking to Machu Picchu, another for exploring the fabulous Argentinian wine region at the base of the Andes, one more for the beaches of Rio (there are 27 beaches and 45 km of coastline in this one highlight alone!).

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In the same way, with our lives, we may very well want separate maps for where we want to go professionally and financially, in our romantic and social relationships, educationally and culturally, emotionally and spiritually and so on. Naturally what areas are important is different for each person. One person on a trip through South America may want to spend most of their time in mountains and other beautiful natural areas, another might be more interested in exploring cities and other culturally rich destinations. In the same way which areas of life we prioritize will of course vary by person.

It is important to decide though. Life is the most important journey we all take. With a map for each part of the journey, we’re more likely to arrive at our destinations and enjoy the journey.

And, as with any long and complex journey, we would probably want to plot out stops along the way. “See South America” is just too big and unfocused! In fact, with a plan that vague you probably wouldn’t see very much of it at all. And more importantly you wouldn’t see the parts most important to you. In the same way, for our journey through life, it’s not really enough to “get a job and start a family” and call it a plan, is it?  For each important area of our life (social, professional etc.), it makes sense to plot out both destination and a route, and important milestones and destinations along the way.

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For instance, take your own professional and financial goals. For most people, there’s probably some distance between where you are now and your objectives. What are the major steps between where you are now and your target? What’s the next step and when can you take it? For financial goals, this can be as simple as a specific amount to save and invest each month.

The big thing about big things, I think, is that accomplishing them usually consists of lots of small steps…most of which are actually quite easy. Things almost anyone could do. The key I think is to apply sustained discipline and focus. And to start with a map, a plan for where we want to go in each area of life.

Even with big goals like starting a business, or building an investment portfolio, or traveling the world, most of the individual steps are actually fairly small and ordinary. But it’s important to keep making steps and to head in the right direction –

a map + focus + discipline = anything is possible! 

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Naturally each of our maps should be flexible and dynamic. With your dream South American trip you wouldn’t want to follow the route mechanically, no matter how much thought and preparation went into creating it. You would make adjustments based on new priorities, local conditions, new information etc. Say you wanted to spend a few weeks in Rio and try to visit all 27 of those beaches (I fell short during a month there in 2013 but the 17 I got to were FABULOUS). You would of course adjust your priorities as you learned more about the natural beauty, cleanliness and safety of each beach. And with life, our maps can and probably should change as our values and goals evolve. It’s natural and probably beneficial for our character, values and life priorities to evolve over time. And, our life maps and itineraries should of course be updated to reflect these changes.

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Don’t we want some though? To take a scenic and rewarding journey through this world. A route created by us and for us. Not one chosen by our parents or society. And not one that happens just by aimless wandering around.

Where do you want to go in this world? And what does your own map look like?

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