Over the last year, I’ve been overwhelmed with possibilities for my life. New opportunities have been arising, and I’m interested in pursuing any number of these, and doing so might change the direction of my life.
The trouble started when I was much younger.
I always had a variety of interests, skills, and talents, and focusing too much on one area of my life could have meant that I’d be missing out on discovering something exciting in another area of my life.
Society dictates that we choose one thing — a potentially lucrative path, perhaps — and follow that interest through college into life-long careers. I obeyed society, and made a choice when I was probably too young to do so. And then changed my mind, several times as I moved forward with my life after college.
Having many interests still plagues me to this day, in a way. To be honest, I like living this way, and pegging down one thing to focus on for the rest of my life is too limiting. But with an overwhelming array of possibilities, I physically cannot do every single thing.
A few months ago, I decided to organize my passions and interests. Rather than making a list and prioritizing, I put my potential pursuits into a graphical form, with no tools other than a piece of paper (within a Moleskine notebook I use to jot down ideas) and a pencil with an eraser.
You can see the result below. And the exercise provided much more clarity than I expected.
Step 1: Assemble your materials. I used a small notebook, but with all the random interests I wanted to include, I should have used a larger sheet of paper. A 5½"x8½" page of a planner could do well, or you might need a page of letter-sized paper.
Choose a mechanical pencil with an eraser and a 0.5mm point for precise writing. You’ll need that eraser, too.
Step 2: Write or draw a description in the center that reflects the purpose of mapping your life. I used “Things I (would) like to do (sometimes)?” because it would allow me to include as much as possible. You never know what you’ll discover once you go digging in the caverns of your mind.
You might choose something like “career options” or “my passions.”
Step 3: Categorize your mind. The thicker arrows in my life map point to the main categories of things I (would) like to do (sometimes). Put your passions and interest into broad categories. Mine include photography, writing, investing, family, music, education, and running a business, among others.
On paper, space those categories around your center, and draw a thick arrow from the center to those words.
Step 4: Dive into the details. What specifically is interesting to you within those categories of activities? I included links from photography to shooting, one primary aspect of photography that’s important to me. And then I got even more specific, identifying certain subjects I like to shoot.
Think about the specific activities you like to do or certain aspects of each category that are important to you, and surround your category on paper with these activities. Draw arrows from the category to the activities.
Step 5: Look for links and crossovers. For me, running a business is connected to a item “under” photography, a photography studio. Under teaching, I have a topic, “personal finance,” and that’s also linked to my main category philanthropy. The result of that double-link is the Plutus Foundation.
Connect more of your activities and passions with more arrows to get a good idea of how your life is interconnected with itself.
Step 6: Step back and get a good understanding. On my map, I see that teaching has multiple links, and may be the most-linked word on my life map. This makes sense to me; I knew that I wanted to teach from the time I was very young, and although I have a varied selection of interests, a lot of what I do comes back to teaching. I spent twelve years owning or writing for a personal finance website which, in the end, was another way for me to teach.
Evaluate your life map. Look at the items that you’ve mentioned the most, look for themes, and mark those with something special, like a star.
Step 7: Make decisions based on your life map. When an opportunity comes your way, think about how it fits on your life map. Is the opportunity something that fits with one of the things you find most important? If not, is it worth revising your life map?
That’s one of the reasons you need to use a pencil rather than a pen. This can be continuously updated, but at the same time, you should consider the map sacred at some point; you don’t want to change your overall design on a whim. But it never hurts to add things into the corners as you life your life and discover more aspects of yourself (which will continue until the day you die).
Step 8 (optional): Share your life map. After I created the initial version of my life map, I shared mine with my friends on social media. Not only did the map help me understand more about myself, but my close friends who were interested in my life also received some insight about me that they might not have known by talking to me in general conversation.
The only reason to do this, though, is if you’re looking for some support from your friends. Your life map can be a personal document, and you may not want everyone or even just a few people to have such a deep look inside your mind.
The life map can be a great resource, allowing you to understand yourself on a level on which you may not have been before. This is an important piece of self-reflection and self-evaluation on the road towards realization of everything of which you are capable.