What’s on Your Life Map?

I was coaching a client recently, and he said something fascinating. “That wasn’t on my life map. I hadn’t even thought of it.”

I asked him more questions, and he explained that he had this idea of a life map. He knew where he wanted to go, and he had several ways to get there. (My role was to help him see other alternatives, for destinations and paths.)

A life map is a great metaphor. Maps show you alternative paths to your destination. Maps might provide you an idea about the distances between locations. And, if you’re like me, you like seeing the variety of names on the maps.

The problem arises when we think there is just one path on our life maps.

Years ago, I met a woman looking for a new job. I asked her what she wanted to do and she said, “I’m a Cobol programmer.”

I said, “So, you want a job as a developer, right?”

She frowned and said, “No. I want a job as a Cobol programmer.”

Oops. She had one destination and one path on her life map.

Each of us has our destination. (I have several possible destinations.) The real key is how many paths do you have to achieve your destination?

Every map has alternatives. In this map, it’s about backup paths for interconnectedness. For ourselves, it’s about alternative paths.

That woman who was determined to remain a Cobol (and nothing else) programmer had one and only one path. She treated her life map as a directed graph. (A directed graph starts in one place and ends in another, following a directed sequence. Not necessarily linear, but directed.) She had one alternative on her life map.

But, life is an undirected graph. We try something, we decide if we want to do more of it and if so, we continue. Maybe we add something else. Maybe we back up and try an alternative. There is no defined start or end.

Before I settled on the management part of my career, I had this career path:

Developer->project manager->developer->manager->project manager->tester->project manager->manager->director->developer->manager.

I stayed in what we might call the “platform” side of software products: operating systems, embedded systems, that kind of thing. But, I had an undirected graph for my career.

I don’t know what the “right” idea is for your career or your life. I know that for me, exploring the undirected graph excites me and fulfills me. I like exploring my life map.

The more options I create, and the more experiments I try, the deeper my life map alternatives are. The deeper my alternatives, the more adaptable and resilient I am.

That is the question this week: What’s on your life map?

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