Believe For A Moment That Anything Is Possible--what would your perfect life look like in two years? If you are facing a 'what's next' moment, consider life mapping as a way to create a visual roadmap of your ideal future.
Kate and David Marshall, authors of "My Life Map: A Journal To Help You Shape Your Future" teach you a simple method of planning your future and finally getting clear about the kind of life you want.
Kate and David Marshall, co-authors of My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future, explain a simple method for life planning for people at any stage of life.
Commitmentnow.com: What is a life map?
Kate: Life maps, as we make them, are timelines that look like a slice of 6-layer cake. The year/age timeline goes along the horizontal top of the page, like icing, and rows for different parts of your life—family, friends, learning, work, service, and play—go underneath, like layered cake. You fill out what you want to happen in each of those areas of your life, over time.
In My Life Map, we offer maps that cover the next ten years and a map that covers your whole life, looking back at your past and looking ahead all the way into old age.
Commitmentnow.com: How did you both discover the
benefits of mapping your life?
David: The process we lay out in My Life Map is the combination of a charting technique I learned as a teenager, and inquiry exercises Kate and I developed together.
My father was a Methodist minister and educator. He used a charting
technique to teach urban and rural development courses and to study social
As a young adult, I started adapting the charts to plot out my plans for the future. They helped me visualize big-picture life goals and work towards them. I’ve saved them all, and regularly look back at them to see what I was thinking over the years. It’s amazing how much of what I planned in my early years has come true.
Kate: A few years ago,
when I was facing an empty nest after many years focused on raising our kids, I
was looking for tools to help me figure out, “What’s next?” I tend to use
visualization and intuitive approaches to decision-making, but this time wanted
a more concrete plan.
David’s life charts alone were not enough to get my juices flowing, so we worked together to combine our approaches: journaling and visualization exercises first, then maps to sketch out the vision.
The life maps helped me portray the insights the exercises inspired, in an efficient and tangible way. The process flowed naturally.
Commitmentnow.com: You write in the back of your book, "Life isn't about
finding yourself. It's about creating yourself." How can a life map help a
person create themselves?
David: “Finding yourself” assumes that you are already set in stone and just have to blow off the dust to reveal who you are. Life is not like that. It’s more like a blank canvas (or a partially filled canvas, depending on your age). Your painting depends on the colors, textures, and brush strokes you choose.
Whether we consider ourselves “planners” or not, we make decisions every day that affect how our life is organized and what direction we’re moving in. Life maps help us flesh out a vision for our life, and give us something concrete to refer back to when we have decisions to make along the way. It’s not a one-time thing; we can continue to create, redefine, and reinvent ourselves.
Commitmentnow.com: How has life mapping impacted your
David: When I was young, I knew I wanted to make a contribution to the world, but I didn’t know how. I saw big potential for global changes through the microcomputer revolution in the late 1970s, so started selling Apple II computers during college. I worked in the high-tech field for many years, but over time began feeling that the tech revolution was no longer the right way for me to make a contribution. I wanted something more fulfilling, so I re-did my map.
Mapping out a new plan helped me make a midlife career shift to book publishing, both co-writing journals that foster family communication with my wife, and working at a small publishing company whose mission is to “create a world that world for all.”
Between the books I write with Kate and my publishing job, I’ve finally arrived at the place I envisioned for myself so long ago. Mapping my life as a young adult and updating it frequently, helped me arrive at my vocational bliss.
Kate: Life mapping has
helped David and me develop a common vision for our retirement years. We each
did our own maps, then talked about them to coordinate our ideas on when to
retire, where to live, and what kind of grandparents we want to be. The fun
part was sharing ideas for adventures that excite us, such as overseas teaching
Plotting ideas for the coming years gives me things to work towards and to look forward to. We’ve got a ways to go before retiring, but when we come to forks in the road, we can ask, “Which way takes us towards our vision?”
Commitmentnow.com: Do you believe a person can really
map out their life? What about people who set goals, but failed to reach
them, or have bad or unfortunate things thrust in their path that they didn't
Kate: You’re not mapping out what absolutely must happen in your life. We can’t know that. What you are doing is clarifying your values and what you want to work towards in the coming years. You absolutely will not be a failure if what you write for your future does not come true—don’t put that pressure on yourself.
You can pretty much count on life throwing you some curve balls—you lose your job, your perfect husband has an affair, or your child gets sick. Life can surprise you with some unexpectedly good things, too—you meet a wonderful man, your third time through rehab works, or a stray dog wanders into your heart. That’s why life mapping is not a one-time thing. You regularly revisit, revise and adjust them. I use the month of January to revisit my maps every year. Companies re-do their Strategic Plans on a regular basis to adjust to new realities. So should people.
Commitmentnow.com: What words of encouragement do you
have for those who once had many goals, but who have given up because
nothing worked out as planned?
Kate: Some people stop setting goals because they’re afraid of being disappointed. Forgive yourself for an imperfect life. Last year, I lost three pounds instead of ten. Was that a failure? Should I never try again? No, I lost three pounds that I wouldn’t have lost if I hadn’t set any goal.
My work goals took a serious hit when I took years off to raise kids. Am I a failure? No, sometimes big goals aren’t reached because they conflict with other goals or values we hold. I discovered that choosing family goals over work goals brought me greater happiness.
Rather than say you are a failure for not accomplishing grand goals set in the past, ask yourself what you really need to feel that you have had a successful life. Work towards that.
David: Some ambitious goals may need adjusting, but that doesn’t mean that you should stop reaching for happiness.
One of my favorite maxims is “the past is approved and the future is open.” Start with a clean slate. Don’t become a victim of the past, no matter what the set-backs have been.
planned to get fired, but I’m glad I did once; it made me stronger and wiser in
future jobs. I doubt anyone expects to be divorced three times or lose a
fortune in the stock market, but setbacks happen. A life map helps you
articulate what happiness and purpose mean for you, and to keep focused on that
even when you go down unintended paths.
If one road doesn’t work, keep trying others. By focusing on the future, it’s easier to return to the present with more mental and physical energy to tackle the challenges of the day. Don’t stop believing in yourself; be persistent and resilient in pursuing your dreams.
Commitmentnow.com: What advice do you have for those who
feel time has passed them
by and it is too late to achieve the goals they once dreamed of?
Kate: How badly do you want it? What’s stopping you? Yes, time has passed, but see the open years you do have left on your map? David’s 82-year-old mother is working on her ten-year map now. As George Eliot said, “It is never too late to be who you might have been.”
There are people who accomplish amazing “firsts” later in life: Clint Eastwood directed his first film at 41; Ray Kroc started McDonald’s in his 50’s; Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first novel in her 60’s; Grandma Moses started painting in her 70’s; and 99 year-old Leo Plass graduated from Eastern Oregon University in 2011.
If there are real obstacles to your original dreams, would aspects of them be possible in the time you have left?
Maybe your dream of moving to New York to be a Broadway star is no longer practical, but would it make you happy to act in a regional theater?, make costumes or rehearse lines with a high school troupe?, or develop a YouTube following by making “how to” cooking videos?
Commitmentnow.com: What challenges can those
who map their life sometimes face--how can those challenges be overcome?
Kate: Life mapping traps to avoid:
1) Perfectionism—thinking your map needs to be perfect, so avoiding the whole thing. Don’t; it doesn’t have to beautiful, or final, or perfect. Jump in with a pencil, not a pen, so you treat it like a draft.
2) Fear of Failure—fearing shame or embarrassment for possibly missing goals. Praise yourself for having the courage try—there’s honor in that, no matter the outcome. Keep your maps private, if you want, but studies show that people who share their goals and have a support system for them are more likely to succeed.
3) Fear of boredom—thinking that planning makes life too predictable. Life will continue to surprise you, whether you want it to or not. Mapping just suggests how to respond to opportunities and surprises that appear. If spontaneity is important to you, say so when you outline your values, and allow yourself wiggle room.
4) Setting it and forgetting it—filling out the book and then shelving it. Life mapping work best when you look at your map frequently. Put a copy on the bathroom mirror or frig. Review it in detail every year, on your birthday or over New Year’s, and revise when needed.
Commitmentnow.com: Explain the difference between subject maps, ten-year maps and whole-life maps? What are some of the subject maps covered in this book?
David: There are three kinds of maps in My Life Map:
1. Subject Maps: a set of six
maps going out ten years, each covering a different aspect of your life
(family, friends, learning, work, service, and play). This lets you start with
certain themes of your life that you’ve already done some thinking about or
that are most important to you.
Participants in a book club on www.BlogHer.com revealed that they best liked the subject maps on Learning (many want to learn sign language, knitting, and piano), Service (we expand the term to include service to family, voting, donating money), and Play (many had been neglecting play and vowed to give themselves permission to play again).
2. Ten-Year Map: one map that summarizes all the subject areas of your life onto one combined map. This one lets you consider the highlights, milestones, and balance you want over the next ten years
3. Whole-Life Map: one “big picture” map covering all subjects, over your whole life span, from birth to death. This one lets you see highlights, patterns and themes in your past, present, and future. It has less detail than the ten year maps, but stretches you to look at the complete gift of your life. Seeing your whole life on one page can be awe inspiring.
Commitmentnow.com: I love the questions you present in your book, such as "if you could make one wish for a family member come true, what would it be, and for whom?" and "what imaginary degree would you award yourself for something you will master in the next ten years." How did you formulate these questions for the book, and what can answering them offer readers?
Kate: We love to ask
questions. Our motto is: Everyone has a story to tell and someone who wants to
hear it. My Life Map is our seventh
guided journal, so we have a lot of experience coming up with questions that
allow people to express themselves in new and insightful ways.
Blank life maps can be intimidating if that’s all you start with, so we took our time thinking about what would help you gently reflect on your past and warm up to imagining the future. The questions not only elicit images of specific people, places, things, but also conjure up feelings, dreams, and senses that make for a richer, deeper, and more imaginative portrait in your maps.
Commitmentnow.com: What message would you like to send out to those interested in purchasing your book?
David: Life planning is not as scary as you think, especially with a tool like My Life Map. As we say in the book, “if the idea of long-term planning terrifies you, and it might, take a deep breath. You are not being asked to make irrevocable decisions, or to let go of spontaneity in your life. You will not be a failure if what you write in this book does not come true. This book is simply a dialogue with yourself.”
About the Authors: Married for nearly 30 years, Kate and David
Marshall are co-authors of My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your
Future, a new life planning journal that guides people at any stage of
life through a process of reflecting on their past, and clarifying priorities
and goals for having the life they want in the future.
The Marshalls are also co-authors of five other guided journals for celebrating family, relationships and personal growth, including bestsellers What I Love About You, The Book of Us, Picture of Me, and The Book of Myself. Their newest gift journal—What I Love About You, Mom—comes out in March 2013. www.marshallbooks.net