I started losing my map in 2008.
Over the years, holes started to appear and chunks with the direction of where my life was meant to head towards started to go missing.
Then in May 2014, on the return from my trip around Asia and Europe, whatever remained of my map dissolved before my very eyes.
It was a slow and disorientating experience and I fell into a ditch.
I would love to say that I returned home victorious. Alive! Bursting with happiness and excitement! A zest for life! Enlightened!
But I didn’t.
I came home feeling like I wasn’t ready to be back in Perth, but I had no idea where I wanted to go.
When I returned to my little room in my parent’s place wearing my worn out travel boots, my buff that smelt like Finnish snow and my backpack that contained my life for the past 7 months, there was this unusual and claustrophobic-like sensation.
I then took my time easing into meeting up with friends. All of them very happy to see me, and I too was happy to see them and catch up on what has been happening at home. But I felt like I was on a completely different page to everyone.
Everyone had their maps intact. People were moving up in their careers, they were engaged, they bought houses, they had kids. I didn’t know what I wanted.
I was at a friend’s get together, weeks after returning to Perth, when I realised that whatever map I had at the beginning of the trip, didn’t survive the flight home.
Amongst all the excited discussions about house renovations and wedding plans, when the conversation fell into my corner, I just said,
Well, life couldn’t get much worse. Got no job, got no money, got no house, got no boyfriend…got no idea what I want to do with my life.
As soon as the words came out of my mouth I just tilted my head back and laughed loud and whole heartedly.
It was only a little over a year ago that I had everything sorted. I had a successful job in a corporate law firm, I was in a long term relationship, I was playing state indoor beach volleyball and I had paid off my car loan and was saving for a deposit for my first home. Life on paper was good.
I think my friends thought I had gone a little crazy and perhaps a little scary. But the feeling while I said it was just so funny. Given what I had, it sounded ridiculous, but it was so true.
I also felt relieved.
I realised that once I had acknowledged this fact to myself and openly to others, I was no longer feeling ashamed. And in fact, even though my previous life on paper seemed good, I was miserable. In light of this revelation, I thought back to one of the most honest statements I’ve ever heard. It was something my friend Anne would say all the time while Kev and I stayed with her and Jian in London.
It is, what it is.
Yup. It is, what it is. This was my ditch. And now I had to get out of it.
What made me smile was knowing that getting out of a ditch without a map meant that anything was possible. I didn’t have anything holding me down, I didn’t care about other people expectations anymore, which on hindsight, I realised, was what my old map was based on.
After the initial sadness, regret, anger and the tragic moments of me crying out ‘Why?!‘ I became excited because it dawned on me that after losing my direction,
I can draw up a new map!
So I spent weeks chatting to my best friend, Chia, about goals, life, love and about what makes me happy. I became a little overwhelmed with all the possibilities, and I reached my first hurdle of becoming stuck.
I didn’t want to make a mistake when drawing up this new map and that fear caused me to avoid making any definite choice/decision.
But Chia helped me draw out my very first draft of my new map.
I teared up in happiness when I saw it. It was simple, but that’s what I loved about it! It was the start of something new. Something that didn’t have any input or influence by family, friends or society expectations.
It was mine.
So what to do when you’ve lost the map and you’re in a ditch? – Draw up a new map!
From trial and error, I’ve identified 5 things that I try to focus on during this scary-exciting period:
1. Admit to yourself and accept that you have lost your map and you are in a ditch.
If I continued to pretend to myself, my family and to my friends, then I was going to continue to hold on to the ‘idea’ of my old map and remain lost and in the ditch;
2. Put aside pride to ask for and to accept help/directions.
Most of my life, I kept my problems to myself. I am all good with being fun, happy and all open with people, but the true gritty, hard issues I had always figured out by myself. Yes, it teaches you to be independent, but being lost and in a ditch is already emotionally and psychologically hard, making it even harder to think straight. Be nice to yourself and seek out your partner, family or friends to help you bounce ideas around and to at least let them know where you are at, so they can be supportive and not demand more of you during this time; This leads into:
3. Be a good friend to yourself.
I know that I am the meanest, bitchiest, slave-driver to myself. I expect immediate results. I do not accept mistakes or changing my mind or ‘piking out’ on commitments once I’ve committed. Though this is great work ethic, it’s not great for when you are trying to figure out what you want to do. You are starting something new, something not done before! You are an explorer, a scientist even, and all those explorers and scientists have tested, tried and failed at things and that’s ok. You learn from those experiences. So make those choices, make those mistakes and give yourself a pat on the back for trying.
4. Dare to think and do the things that makes you happy.
When you don’t know what you want, focus on what you do know, and pursue the things that make you happy. So long as you’re doing what makes you happy, you’ll be… well.. happy. This sounds easy and wishy washy but it’s actually the hardest, which is why a lot of people either look over it, dismiss it and make up excuses for not doing it. I know I did (and still do at times). I’ve tossed and turned over going back into law or a professional office job because I have the experience, some elements I enjoyed, and I needed to make a living if I were to be able to start my life again (and to travel). But when I thought about it and when I interviewed for it, it made my stomach sink. So I knew that this path was not going to make me happy at this point in my life.
By exploring and reconnecting with things that make me happy, it has helped me tailor my job search to something that I will enjoy doing and the job search journey has become exciting for once! You can read up on how that’s going in the Work part of this site and you can see what things I’m considering when I’m looking for the perfect job in my post on The 5 intangible benefits from the perfect job.
5. Understand and remind yourself that the map is a work in progress.
Circumstances change all the time. I’m beginning to realise that, that’s life. If your map does not evolve to reflect the terrain that you’re currently on, the map is wrong. Having the wrong map is worse than having no map at all. If you have the wrong map, it will take you to a place that you don’t want to go to, or it will just make you even more lost.
When Google maps tells you that the restaurant is in front of you, but then you look up from your phone and see no building, from my personal experience, it is a lot more productive and fun to turn off your phone and let your self wander – you never know what you may find!
Let’s be brave and do some wandering together!
What do you guys think?
Have you ever had the experience of your life becoming unclear? What happened? How did you cope with change?
I would love to hear the stories of people who have come unstuck from a situation that initially felt hopeless, or even stories where you may be currently in a ditch and don’t know where to start?
Are there any other tips to add to ‘What to do when you’ve lost the map and are in a ditch’? This is a work in progress for me!
Let me know in the comments section?