What are your choices when you're at the edge of the map?

© Can Stock Photo / edharcanstock
It might be hard to remember the last time you looked at a physical map.  Maybe you were on vacation, and you pulled a map out of a guide book or you picked up one of the tourist maps you get at hotel desks or information centres. The thing about a paper map is that it has edges. Your map program on your phone will just move the edges and re-centre so you are back in the centre of the picture.

Life is more like the paper map. Sometimes we get to the edge, and we have to make choices about what to do next. Essentially we have only 3 choices: turn around and go back; go forward without a map or go looking for another map.

Sometime between 40 and 60, maybe several times, you will come to the edge of your map. It can happen earlier or later, but it will certainly happen that in the middle of your life, you will run out of map. Your plans will or will not have worked out, and you'll find that there is no clear route from where you are to where you are going. You probably don't even have a destination. If you're going to have a family, you probably have them now. If you're in corporate life, your options are probably limited. You've come to the edge of your map.

So now what? You can go back to what you've already done and explored and do more of that for as long as that works (the world on your map is also changing, so when you go back you might find that your map is out-dated). You can go forward without a map. This is a lot like going backwards. In unfamiliar territory, we tend to grab on to what we can recognize. So we create a future that looks like our expectations of our past. This means we live out as 60 year olds the perceptions that our 30 year old selves had of 60 year old people.

The third option is to make a new map. It's the hardest at first. You have to be willing to admit that you've run out of map and you don't know where to go next. You have to think carefully about what you will pack for your journey into uncharted territory. You have to step forward knowing that the map you are making is incomplete and probably incorrect in places.

There are no fairy tales where the hero is in the middle of their lives. There are no guides to success for the middle-aged manager who has gone as far as she is likely to go. There are no maps for living successfully and purposefully for the whole of your life. But if you're lucky, you'll find someone who can teach you how maps are made.


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