I wonder if we are still giving children and young people the message that a "successful" life is and should be a straight line?
I know I certainly got that message when I was growing up. And for a very long time, right into my early 30's, I defined myself as a failure. By the time I finished high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do next. I just knew I hated school and would never go to school again.
So I started working full time in an office. It was an entry level job with a good company. All I had to do was work hard and apply myself and I would get a chance to change roles, get promoted and even go to day-release college, paid for by the company. I hated it.
What I learned was, I couldn't do work I didn't care about, regardless of the pay cheque or opportunities. So I went back school to finish Grade 13 (prerequisite for university at the time). I still had no idea what I wanted to do. My sister pointed me in the direction of a program that focused on the outdoors. Since I loved being outside in nature, I enrolled.
By the 3rd year of a 4 year program, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. I had a work term coming up. All I knew was that I wanted to spend it outside of Canada. I was dreaming of Australia, New Zealand or Europe. Turned out to be the U.S. It was closer to home than I had wanted but it was outside of Canada, so I accepted a teaching internship at an environmental learning centre. And everything clicked. Literally, I felt my inner world click into place.
Every element of my life that meant anything to me, that I cared deeply about and filled me with joy, suddenly turned on. All of a sudden I had a deep, burning passion. I found my bliss. I found my career. I became an environmental educator.
My university program prepared me perfectly for what I was learning in this teaching internship. That 4 month internship led directly to a 4 month summer contract, which included program design and implementation. All of this prepared me for my 4th and final year of the undergrad program. I came out of university with an outstanding CV and within months of graduating, I was working in my chosen field.
But I still felt like a failure because it took me so long to get to where I was and I hadn't walked a straight line path. I felt I should have been able to do this faster and better if only I was smarter, worked harder or learned faster.
I started teaching at a leadership centre in the summer months between school years. There, I got introduced to story mapping. This is the process of looking back in time and mapping the journey that got you to where you are in the current moment.
The first time I did this, I mapped the story of my whole life, from the time I was born to the day I did this exercise. It was a revelation. While I had lived my life up to this point with little to no clarity and no plan whatsoever, I had actually been on a journey that prepared me for the life I was living and the work I passionately loved. The journey was beautiful. It looked like I had actually thought carefully and planned out the whole thing to get me to where I was in that moment.
In reflecting on my story map, I had an instant, deep and unshakable knowing I was in exactly the right place, living the right life, being my authentic self in the world. I stopped defining myself as a failure. I started accepting that some lives, mine in particular, are successful when they follow a wandering path, rather than a straight line. I looked in the mirror and saw success.
That deep sense of knowing has supported me in the 3 decades since as I continue on the hero's journey that is my life. My path continues to wander. I have taken many extremely unexpected turns. I have navigated two major phases of transformation. And I have returned to the story map exercise to help me gain clarity, make meaning of my experiences and most importantly, to anchor the knowing that I am in the right place, at the right time, experiencing the right things for my authentic hero's journey. In the end, all will be well.
The global pandemic has disrupted pretty much all of our lives. For some, that disruption is huge and may even feel catastrophic. If you are in a place where you can't make sense of what is happening, you don't know what to do next, you may even feel like you've wasted your life up to this point, I strongly suggest you map your story. To help you, we created a module called, "Answering the Call". It's Chapter One of our Hero's Journey program.
I am positive when you step back and look at your story map, you will gain perspective, you'll see connected dots you didn't know were there and I hope you feel that deep sense of knowing that you are in exactly the right place at the right time. You are perfectly prepared for whatever life is presenting you. In the end, all will be well.
And when you do this, let me know how the experience was for you. You'll find me and others who are living their lives on purpose, the hero's of their own journeys, in the Flow Network Community on Facebook.
Keep shining. The world needs all the light we can generate.
#livinglifeonpurpose #herosjourney #flownetwork #ubu #consciousleadership #selfreflection