A Recipe for Wayfinding
It’s been about six months since the idea of wayfinding popped into my head one late night on an airplane. As the concept becomes more crystallized, I’ve started to wonder: what makes wayfinding possible? If we’re all wayfinders, as I truly believe we are, what are the conditions that need to be in place inside ourselves to create the change we wish to see?
About ten years ago my husband went to culinary school. Each day after school, Dan would bring home the leftovers of whatever he’d been cooking that day – whether that was shrimp risotto and chocolate lava cakes, or slow-cooked short ribs and custard-filled puff pastries – and we’d enjoy them together. Over decadent dishes, he’d share with me the science and the story of each of the meals and the recipes he learned.
Through Dan’s experience, I learned that there is often a set of foundational ingredients that form the basis for any culture’s traditional foods. Whether it’s mirepoix, sofrito, or another arrangement of basic vegetables and herbs, almost every savory recipe starts with a handful of basics and builds out and up from there.
Much like a recipe, I’m starting to see four key, foundational ingredients that I believe have enabled me to create shifts in my work life and my personal life: namely, Curiosity, Endurance, Agility and Courage. Might these be principal elements of wayfinding? I think so. Could there be others, too? Quite possibly. Regardless of the final recipe, there’s no denying that these four ingredients have helped me navigate my path in tangible and meaningful ways:
As an adult with lots of responsibilities, I’ve often struggled to carve out time and energy for learning. Feeling burned out more often than not, the last thing I wanted to do was to read a business book or take an online class. Yet as I moved into my own personal wayfinding, I started to realize how vital learning – and perhaps more central, a sense of curiosity – really is.
In my view, curiosity is actually expressed in two forms: external and internal. As wayfinders, we must explore and satisfy our curiosity through external sources of inspiration and learning. Who are the people we seek to learn from and get inspired by, and what questions might they help us answer? What are the tools, books, activities and methods we might borrow and apply to our own learning so that we begin to see our situation in new light?
Internally, we must explore and quench our curiosity through self-reflection and introspection. Exploring who we are, what makes us tick, what gives us energy, and what our purpose is – these are all activities that, like peeling back layers in an onion, ask us to constantly question ourselves and refine our understanding of who we are and want to be. Importantly, this quickly transitions into not just finding and listening to our inner voice - but also beginning to speak it aloud, too. And managing the fear that comes along with us for the ride.
Some recipes take longer to cook than others. Wayfinding is not a ‘quick fix’ process. Rather, I think of it as one that requires endurance, patience and the stamina to keep going – even when we’re feeling lost or our initial answers are ambiguous or scary.
Endurance is having the patience to withstand some true discomfort in service of creating long-term gains. For wayfinders, this means being patient enough to deal with the slow, uncomfortable process of sense-making that happens when we follow our curiosity. It takes time and stamina to facilitate the thoughtful unfolding of the mysteries in our lives! Which means that while we wait for those ‘a-ha’ moments to show up, we often have to sit patiently in very uncomfortable spots.
The other interesting piece about endurance is that we have to be patient for the world around us to shift, too. Inevitably, we’ll be smarter tomorrow than we are today – simply because we’ll have more information. Similarly, the world will be in a different place tomorrow simply because it needed its own time to shift. New opportunities, new mindsets, and new experiences will all become available to us if we can find the endurance to stay on course, especially when the answers we’re hoping for don’t come quickly.
This third ingredient, for me, is all about giving ourselves permission to change. Like a chef modifying a recipe to play up certain flavors, agility is about being light on our feet, seizing on new opportunities, and pivoting as we gather new information. Because, as we know from Curiosity and Endurance, the more learning we pursue and the more patient we are, the more likely it is that we identify new information that shifts our thinking and our planning.
Lately, agility in my own wayfinding has looked like loosening my grip on what things become and how I label them. Perhaps like many people, I often try to fit my life and my plans into clear, discrete boxes to help me understand and make sense of my decisions. Yet I’m seeing that trying to grip too tightly, to script too much of the story, often leads to my own suffering and stress. Case in point: the minute I made the decision to get a full time job was the minute the Universe sent me a freelance project that was too good to pass up. And suddenly I was agonizing over how this new opportunity didn’t align with the plan I had hatched for myself. Plans change. Life changes. Let’s give ourselves permission to flow with the current, not against it.
Wayfinding is a courageous act – one that forces us to stand up and declare, I want to live a more authentic, meaningful life at work and at home, even in the face of the things that scare us. We start by declaring that intention to ourselves, in those quiet spaces before bed or on our commute home. But over time we begin to open ourselves and our wishes up to the world. And that takes courage.
Sometimes courage looks like reaching out to our tribe - the guides, teachers, and peers in our lives – to help us feel connected, get out of our heads, and expand our thinking. As a wayfinder, some of my most powerful ideas and wishes have become crystallized through conversations that forced me to clarify, synthesize and make meaning in new or unexpected ways.
Sometimes courage means taking the risk to admit we don’t have all the answers, or that we need some additional support. The other day I had coffee with a new friend and I decided to take the risk of sharing one of my fears with him. Not only did he respond by affirming my fear with his own story, but he thanked me for showing courage in a tough moment – which cemented our new friendship even faster. Now, we’re wayfinders together.
I’m also learning that courage can look like choosing to be kind to myself, show myself some compassion, and not push myself so hard all the time. Saying it’s ok to not go for a run today – and choosing a more restorative walk with a friend, for example – is its own form of courage, one of self-care. As wayfinders, we have to find the courage to tune in, examine what we need in that moment, and then adjust to meet our needs.
What ingredients have enabled you to kickstart your wayfinding journey? What would you add to this recipe?