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The art and science of map reading


This weekend I went to stay with a friend who lives somewhere west of London. I had her postcode so I popped it into my satnav, put my overnight bag and the dog in the car, fired up an audio book and off I went. When I arrived, she said "How did you get here?". "No idea. I just followed the satnav's directions".

Now, don't get me wrong. I think satnavs are great. They save us time and headspace and they let us focus on the road ahead without worrying about the broader landscape. Trouble is, we miss a lot. And that's what I think a lot of us do in our careers - bumble along on autopilot.

The benefits of having a good map

I love maps. I mean proper Ordnance Survey maps with field boundaries, bridle paths, contours and rivers scattered all over them.

For me a map has quite a few benefits over GPS.

First off, a map holds many possibilities within it. You might know where you want to get to but it's your choice about which route you take. Last year, I undertook a 30 mile walk (in chunks) from where I live now, near Chichester, to the village where I grew up, near Horsham. Each stage of the walk was completely unplanned. I had a map and I knew the general direction I needed to take to get to my eventual destination. Off I would head with the dog, calling my husband at the end of the walk and letting him know where to pick us up. It was an adventure and we didn't know what each route was going to offer us.

Another benefit of having a map is that it enables you to look at the big picture. You can see where the hills are that you might need to climb. You can see where the rivers are that you might need to cross. You can see where there will be things that you need to navigate around and you can plan your journey, either based upon your preferred route or your preferred destination.

I also love the fact that a map forces you to slow down and create some space and time to consider your journey. Rather than blindly trusting the satnav ("Why are we going this way?" "There must be roadworks that the satnav knows about") you take some time to spread out the map and plan your route.

And, finally, if you get lost, you can find a landmark on the map that will let you know exactly where you are and recalibrate. Like the time my husband (yes, it was definitely him) got us lost in the Outer Hebrides in a landscape of interweaving lochs. We couldn't find a route back to the path that wasn't blocked by water. We were starting to panic when I suddenly saw some stepping stones ahead of us and was mighty relieved to see the same stepping stones marked on our OS map. We were safe!

One look-out when using a map

Now, my husband is getting a slightly bad rap in this blog (we do a lot of walking and map reading - I'm sure he has some stories about me too!) but he has a dangerous habit of making the landscape fit what he's seeing on the map. So if the path is going off at a slightly different angle to the map or the hill is in the slightly wrong position, he optimistically thinks it's some kind of "fudge" on behalf of Ordnance Survey. Not likely!

Deep down, he knows it's wrong but he wants it to be right and he wants to appear confident in where we're heading. And this is when we get lost (see previous anecdote).

So what does this mean for my career?

Good question.

Think about your career for a second. Maybe you know where you're heading and maybe you don't, that's fine. The point is that you get to choose your route and your final destination. Will it be long and flat? Or will it be shorter but hillier? Will there be things that you need to navigate around? Where do you really want to end up?

Remember, if you use a map, it will offer you:

  • different route possibilities
  • context (the big picture)
  • time and space to consider the options
  • ways to get back on track when you're lost
  • reassurance that you're in the right place and going in the right direction

And this is what I'm here for. Think of me as the career cartographer who teaches you you how to read the map of your career and choose the right route and the right destination for you.

By reading my weekly articles, you're starting to understand your own map. If you're interested in taking the next step of working with me to find your route and destination, find out more about your options here or book a free 45 minute Discovery Call with me here.

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