In the summer of 2000, after graduating from law school and taking the bar exam, I traveled with a friend to Italy for three weeks. For every city on our itinerary, we bought a Streetwise Map — compact, color maps that showed detail of the streets.
The Streetwise maps were my favorites. Easy to read and laminated, so they lasted a long time. They have an index of streets and maps of the public transit stops in the city. I bought one for every place I traveled, and even for New York City and the Hamptons. We had no cellphones with us on that trip. We relied on those maps and a couple of guide books to get around a country where we didn’t speak the language.
We had some moments where we got lost, but clearly, we survived.
How to Develop a Sense of Direction
Navigating by map is a crucial life skill that helps you develop a sense of direction. You must learn to read the map, see where you want to go, and then orient yourself spatially to navigate there. At first, you navigate by following the map. You may get lost, but in getting lost you discover new areas and new shortcuts.
Getting lost is part of the process of learning the territory and finding your way. After a while, you don’t need the map anymore. You know what the options are for where to go, and several ways to get there.
What You Lose When You Follow GPS Navigation
Today we walk around with a GPS system in our hand (and often in your car, if you have one). You can plug in where you want to go, and the GPS will give you step by step guidance along the way to your destination. Even if you don’t know where you are, it knows.
You may get to your destination more efficiently, but it will come at a cost.
You lose the opportunity to explore, and to decide if where you intended to go is really the best destination for you. You don’t develop your inner navigation system or your sense of direction. You become a follower.
I use the Google Maps app on my phone the same way that I used those laminated maps. I plot where I am and where I want to go, and I figure out the best way to get there. Along the way, I keep my eyes open: maybe there’s a street I want to explore, or I discover a different place I want to go.
Your Vision is Your Map
Your vision is your map for your life.
A map is simply a representation of the area. It is not intended to be a directive of where to go and how to get there. In fact, different people might draw different maps of the same territory. The process of selecting a destination and navigating there is personal.
As a culture, we have grown so accustomed to GPS that we are at risk of losing access to our internal navigation systems. Cultivating your inner GPS and your sense of direction is a crucial skill if you want to choose your own destination and navigate on your terms.
This is true on the literal path and the figurative path.
Are you traveling on your terms, or are you blindly following what someone else laid out?