writing

Life is a series of ups and downs, a roller coaster of emotions punctuated by memorable experiences. We move from one stage of life to another and another, often not realizing our worlds have changed until they start to change again. Create a life map to help chart your path, and to gain a greater perspective on the years behind you – and the years ahead.

Do you remember what happened in the springtime of your sixteenth year? Can you imagine how you’d like to spend your seventies, and could you pinpoint your victories and learning experiences for the last year?

When you can see your past and future unfolding before you on the page, it helps you to see your situation from a new angle. Problems and disappointments that seemed so overwhelming at the time shrink in significance when you view them alongside your victories in the context of a lifetime. Keep a record of both negative and positive experiences as you map your life in pictures and words.

First, get your supplies. Choose regular copy paper and create a book-style life map with pages, or go all out and buy a roll of kids paper at an office store to make a scroll-style map that unrolls both ways. A roll works best because you can spread it out long across the floor and get an eye-opening perspective of your life, but you can also tape separate pages together. You’ll also need a ruler and something to write and draw with, such as brightly colored markers, pencils, pens or crayons. 

You’re going to be creating a timeline that runs straight from birth through the present and into the unknown future. While the circumstances surrounding your early years might be a bit blurry, start your map at the present year and work backwards to add details as you remember them. Tell yourself that this life map is just a draft – you’ll make a final copy later – so that you feel free to draw, doodle, experiment with color and let your personality show. The point isn’t to create a beautiful work of art, but rather an insightful record of your life’s progression.

Prepare your map by drawing a line – your life line – horizontally in the middle of the page. Each page or every twelve inches of scroll paper represents one year of your life. You can start each page on January 1, on your birthday or another meaningful event, such as the start of summer. Mark out twelve months. You may just want to begin your life map with one year, the current one, or you may want to create several pages up front to start your life map with a little momentum.

Now, using plenty of colors and creativity, add in the positive and negative experiences that have happened in your life. While counting small victories is important on a day-to-day basis, save your life map for bigger wins and losses. Items on your life map can be concrete and easy to draw (got a dog!) or they can be nebulous with no distinct image (working too hard). Let your imagination flow as you color in the highs and lows of your recent year. Create vivid images, cartoon characters, sweeping brush strokes or blocks of text to tell the story of your last twelve months.

Work your way backwards and fill in your previous years; depending on your age this may take a while and be a multi-day coloring project. You’ll find that your memories of both good and bad experiences of the past have dimmed, and that’s okay – the pages of your current years will always be more full.

Grab a pencil and now work forward, imagining your future. Will you take a trip to Africa next fall? Be promoted to manager within 3 years? Married by 35? Sketch in the experiences that you hope to have in the future.

Now, as you travel through life, you can stop every few months to update your life map with new images and colors. You’ll be able to see your progress and setbacks, along with general themes and tones. You might be surprised at the events, actions and circumstances that make it onto your life map; use these points of light to help plan your continuing path through happy times and sad.

Image: roco julie