How often have you heard the expression ‘it’s off the map’, or ‘I haven’t planned for this’, or ‘there is no routemap for what I am going through?’ The language of life often delineates where we go and what we are prepared to try. ‘That’s off limits’, or ‘don’t go there’ have far more impact and meaning than the words first suggest. We hear expressions like that virtually from the womb. In fact, it comes as a surprise that the first words we hear as infants aren’t ‘Welcome to the world, don’t walk on the grass!’
As children we will hear exhortations to ‘be careful’, to ‘watch where we’re going’ or ‘look out!’ – the culture of childhood is not to explore or to go to places that we are not supposed to. If anything, this culture of carefulness has become more pronounced in recent years. We sensibly, oh so sensibly channel our kids into the Scout or Guides and allow them to discover new things under very managed circumstances. Nothing wrong with that at all, but kids need to test themselves against bigger, stronger opposition than the local five badges on my sleeve brigade.
Most of us stay on the map for most of our lives. We explore the map, we go the very edge of the map in certain circumstances and occasionally we deliberately get ourselves lost, just to prove that we can survive in the wild. However, we are not in the wild, we are at the edge of a very civilised map. We clutch our compass and probably the phone number of our favoured local cab firm and we stride out with a slight sense of adventure.
When Christopher Columbus discovered America he did not set out with the objective of discovering a place called America. True, there was a sense of a brave new world existing out there somewhere, but not one that was already charted. A true explorer is not someone who re-discovers the known. To find yourself, you have to first lose your bearings.
In American law, discovery is the pre-trial phase in a lawsuit in which each party through the law of civil procedure can request documents and other evidence from other parties and can compel the production of evidence by using a subpoena or requests for production of documents and depositions. The important point here is that the lawyer does not know in advance what this request might turn up. If they did the request would be superfluous and the trial would probably not be necessary.
In the same way, if we know in advance what we are going to discover then actually we have already discovered it and the process of exploration is redundant. When people talk about career and planning their life, what they are attempting to do is read a map that they do not own yet. Let’s consider the word career for a second. A career cannot exist in advance. By definition, a career exists in retrospect. It is printed on a CV. It is difficult to plot or calculate in advance. However, careering about in your job or life in general may have the unexpected consequence of touching the edges of what is possible. You may discover areas of the future that you didn’t know existed.
Staying on the map means that you will not discover what lies off the map, the other side of the horizon, where the places are when you wander off the beaten track. Do you want to live on a beaten track? Do you want to live on the wall or off it?
You don’t have to subscribe to the National Geographic in order to explore. You don’t need to buy a tent and canoe down the Amazon. You don’t need to be Bear Grylls or Ray Mears. It’s a state of mind not a state of nation.
The first step of discovery is understanding that the door in front of you is locked on the inside, not the outside and that you hold the key. Step through it and breathe in the air. It looks unfamiliar but the sun is shining. Beyond the map, there is another map, undrawn.
Congratulations, you have just become an explorer.