Kate and David Marshall, married for 28 years, live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they raised their children Emily, 26, and Ben, 23. They are co-authors of My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future, a journal that guides people at any stage of life through a process of reflecting on their past and clarifying priorities for their future. The Marshalls are also co-authors of six other guided journals for celebrating family, relationships and personal growth: www.marshallbooks.net
Dear Emily and Ben,
We’ve been working on mapping out our lives—past, present and future—using My Life Map. We each made a map for our whole life and a set of maps for the next ten years focusing on different parts of our lives: family, friends, learning, work, service, and play. As we map our own futures, we again find ourselves wondering what your next steps will be. We hope you’ll think about mapping your lives, too. Guess what life mapping journal you’re getting for Christmas?
We want you to be happy. What do you need in your lives to be happy (kids, mountains, ample playmates, a loving marriage, stimulating career, doses of solitude)? What do you want to be known as (lawyer with a heart, marathoner, master pie maker, innovator…)? What do you want to be known for (popularizing wind energy, making people laugh, designing a new product…)?
These questions aren’t easy, we know, but they are important. You’ll be asking yourselves these questions again, many times, in your life. Each time life surprises you (unexpected baby, job opportunity or loss, relationship changes); each time a major life transition approaches (graduation, marriage, empty nest, retirement); and whenever the path you’re on stops feeling right, you’ll stop and reassess. At least we hope you will.
Figuring out your work lives is probably center stage for both of you now. How do you picture yourself practicing law, Emily: what kind of law, what kind of firm? Ben, how will you use your engineering degree: what kind of projects, what kind of team? None of these decisions are irreversible, but they are big choices nonetheless. Does it feel overwhelming? We are honored to talk things through with you.
Other parts of your future lives deserve some imagining as well, not just work. Emily, since you haven’t had much time to play since you started law school, what do you miss? What sort of play do you want to bring back into your life or to start, once you have time—travel, painting, hula hoop? How do you each see yourselves contributing in the future: coaching youth soccer?, donating to a food bank?, raising wonderful children?, opening a free clinic?, volunteering for a political campaign?
Does long-term planning make you squirm? It’s okay:
1. Angst is normal. We adults try to make kids think we just naturally have it all figured out. But that’s not true; it takes work.
2. It’s easier than you think, if you use a tool like My Life Map that breaks it into bite-sized pieces.
3. You will not be a failure if what you write in your life map does not come true!
Sometimes things turn out the way we planned them, and sometimes they don’t. As a young girl growing up in rural New Jersey, Mom’s dream of faraway lands eventually led her to living in exotic places such as Mexico, Germany and…California. On a life map Dad made in his twenties, he wrote that he’d be a minister living in Asia about now. As you know, he’s not, and we don’t. He’s not a failure for not having done what he imagined, but re-reading that map now, and seeing how important spirituality was for him then, reminds him to pay attention to that part of his life now. On another map, he imagined himself going to Harvard Business School. He did fulfill that goal.
Lastly, we hope you will listen to us over the coming years, but trust you not to be directed by us. We might be able to suggest good paths, but only you know what the right path is for you. Where we might imagine you to be in five or ten years is not nearly as important as where you imagine yourselves.