Looking At That Map
I’m here! Week three of committing to publish a new essay every Thursday. It’s been a busy few days, but I’ve got some awesome ideas for you. This week's topic? Maps! One of my readers reached out to me about feeling stuck. He’s far from alone. So many people are afraid of taking that first step. This essay is all about finding the humility to get started.
There Are Two Kinds Of Hikers
There are two kinds of hikers. The first, will wander over to the visitor’s center with their twenty-pound North Face backpack, pick up the official map, and study it religiously. Upon reviewing every conceivable option, asking the nature guide, and surveying fellow hikers, they’ll eventually come to some calculated, rational, decision, before finally starting down that “perfect path”. Then there’s the second kind of hiker. These people will glance at the trails, they wont bring a map, and will start walking north.
At the end of the day, if you were to ask each hiker about their experience, you might hear the following responses. The first hiker would say, “Today sure was great! We picked the best path, saw what we planned to see, and made it back in time to stop at our favorite milkshake spot on the way home.” The second hiker would say, “Today sure was great! We got completely lost, we saw things we never expected to see, and we made it back.”
Now, who had the better day? Hard to tell based purely on their responses. But the point isn’t about who had the better day, rather, it’s to show there are two contrasting approaches to making decisions. Some days, we’re that first hiker. We speculate, calculate, mitigate, and maintain a strict schedule. Then there are days and choices where we just lace our boots, hope for the best, and go.
The Road More Traveled
You’ve without a doubt heard Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken. Frost writes, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Beautifully written, Mr. Frost, but for the record, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a well-traveled path. Deciding takes mental horsepower and if we let the wisdom of the crowd be our guide, we can usually save some energy. That’s why Yelp works. Why then, do we love the path less traveled?
I think I have an answer. And, I apologize for taking a ridiculously roundabout way of sharing, but hear me out. I found a podcast last week called 10,000 hours, based on the Malcolm Gladwell book, Outliers and the theory that to become “truly great”, you must invest 10,000 hours of practice. The guest on the podcast was my blogging hero, Seth Godin. Seth spoke on many subjects — authenticity, self-awareness, bravery, but the metaphor that I took away was this idea of “looking at the map.”
If you’ve been hiking, you know what I’m talking about. There comes a point when you have to stop looking at the map and go. Seth, uses this idea to encourage people to ship their work.
My last two essays have focused heavily on the idea of morality and the role it plays in shaping who we are. One of my favorite authors, David Brooks, writes that to in order to develop morally, we must use inverse logic.
“Failure can lead to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.”
When you stop “looking at the map”, you surrender. You stop the incessant planning, wishing, calculating, and you submit to whatever happens next, fully embracing your ability to handle whatever comes your way.
Taking the first step can often be the hardest. That's why building momentum is important. If you can get over that initial friction, you might discover that maintaining your practice is easier than you think. To my reader who feels stuck, only you know yourself well enough to determine if you’re ready to take that first step. What I can tell you though, is that doing this requires you to find true humility.
Humility is not thinking little of yourself, and telling yourself you don’t deserve something great. True humility is believing you deserve something great and still being okay if you don’t get it. Additionally, if you do get the award, recognition, praise, etc. true humility is the ability to remain unchanged as a person. Lots of people ask, “Who am I?” to deserve such-and-such thing, and then they let the negative self-talk discourage their inner desires. True humility knows the answer and remains consistent no matter the outcome.
Letting Go Of The Map
Malcolm writes about this, Seth writes about this, David writes about this, and I’m writing about it now. In order to do “that thing” you really want to do, you’ve got to stop looking at that map. Find the courage within yourself to accept whatever challenge comes down the path. Practice the humility to dare for greatness and still be okay if you come up empty handed.
Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art writes, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.” How many lives are you living? There’s only so much you can learn from looking at the map. The rest, you’ll just have to figure out for yourself.