I’m thinking about how to start something when you only have a small piece of the map-unable to see very far into the future. Which for most of us creates a lot of discomfort. How can we learn to move forward, begin, and take small steps amidst tremendous uncertainty?
I discovered this small piece of a topographic map in London’s Royal Geographic Society Map room. Take a look at the photo- see the beauty of the colors and the possibilities in the shapes of the contour where the green landscape meets meandering streams. Is it from Ningi, Nigeria? Possibly. Or maybe it’s from Korini, Greece? I don’t know.
What’s more interesting to me now is the metaphor of how frequently our life and career journeys begin with only having a small piece of the map. A hunch of an idea, the first step, what Boyd Varty in the Lion Tracker’s Guide to Life calls “First Tracks.” On the track of a lion in the bushveld of South Africa, he narrates his mythical and specific experience,
“I don’t know where we are going, but I know exactly how to get there might be the motto of the great tracker. Track. Track. Track, Ren (his mentor) has said to me at other times. I understood him to mean find the first track, then the next track, then the one after that. He does not set out into the unlikely chance of finding a lion in the future. He works with what he has now, in the moment. In the bush and life, we don’t get trails fully laid out. We get tremendous unknowns and, if we are lucky, first tracks. Then next first tracks.”
New beginnings started here
Back at the Royal Geographic Society, trackers we know by heart hatched plans that transformed the world we know today. The map room was the meeting place of their First Tracks and “tremendous unknowns-I imagine their explorers’ mottos something like this
“Despite the tremendous unknowns, we must begin. We must go and see for ourselves.”-Explorers, Pioneers, Trackers
Members of the Royal Geographic Society
- Charles Darwin (Naturalist, Biologist)
- Robert Falcon Scott (Led two antarctic expeditions)
- Richard Francis Burton (Explored Asia, Africa, and The Americas)
- John Hanning Speke (Searched for the source of the Nile)
- Percy Fawcett (Lost city “Z”)
- Ernest Shackleton (Three expeditions to Antarctica)
- Sir Edmund Hillary (The first confirmed climbers to summit Mt. Everest)
We must become like a lion tracker, an explorer, a poet
Friends, like a lion tracker or explorer, we must become more comfortable with tremendous unknowns, not having the whole path laid out for us and beginning by taking action, which the poet David Whyte calls starting close in.
“Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take. Start with the ground you know, the pale ground beneath your feet.”
However tiny your piece of the map you possess, start, begin, track, and look for the next step to emerge. Certainty will not increase, but your ability to keep moving forward amidst the uncertainty will.
Small edges of the map.
“Start with the ground you know, the pale ground beneath your feet.”