‘Your career will be more of a winding road than a linear path.’ As a Career Counselor, there are times when I feel like a broken record. Students’ reactions to this true, yet somewhat intimidating statement are mixed. Some students look relieved that their lack of focus on their resume is really very normal. Other students look at me incredulously. I can almost hear their internal monologue: ‘you’re crazy, lady. I know exactly what I’ll be doing 10 years from now.’
The reality is that career planning is holistic and dynamic. Our careers are affected by far too many peripheral variables to reduce it to a simple, linear process. Rather, we observe, we adapt, and we react to a multitude of influences. For many, this results in a set of experiences that seems incongruent and tangential. However, there are patterns and connections that can emerge; you just need to know how to look for them. While at a conference last week, I was reminded by a colleague of a fantastic exercise that helps you connect the dots. Initially conceptualized by Katherine Brooks in the book You Majored in What, the Wandering Map is a simple and effective way of stepping back, looking around, and finding the meaning behind your experiences. It’s simple. Just follow these steps:

Creating your map:
1.) Find a blank piece of paper, preferably without lines.
2.) Think about memorable moments in your life. Go back as far as you want, and don’t limit them only to academics.
3.) Write the ideas all over the page, using short words, phrases, or even drawings. Don’t worry about spelling or organization.
4.) Running low on ideas? Consider some of the following: favorite memories, heroes, past jobs, classes, hobbies, skills, interests, accomplishments, values.

Interpreting your map:
1.) Step back and look at your ‘map.’ Are some related? Draw lines to connect these ideas together.
2.) Assign themes and categories to each grouping.
3.) Reflect on the map by asking yourself these questions:

  • Which items are most important to you? Star these on your map.
  • Which items might influence your next job or internship? Highlight these.
  • Which themes relate to your values? Put a box around these.
  • What items have you pushed aside that you miss? Reintroduce these into your life.

If you’re not discovering career directions in your map, don’t worry. The aim of the map is to identify key themes and patterns that thread together your decisions and experiences, not as a way to identify that ‘perfect career.’ Keep in mind that organizing your past will always help you better plan for your future.

So go ahead and wander. You might just realize you aren’t as lost as you thought. But, if you do get lost along the way, UCS is here to be your compass.