Samara O'Shea

A Difference in Opinion

I received an interesting e-mail this past week. A gentleman named Jean wrote saying he read my book and enjoyed some parts but strongly disagreed with the following statement:

I’ll tell you upfront a journal isn’t a road map. It can’t be. A journal, rather, is the path of pebbles you leave behind you so you have the security of knowing you can always return to where you’ve been.

We went back and forth over this a few times, and I thought I’d share the exchange in case anyone else had the same wonderment as Jean.

Jean to Samara

Hi, I am Jean Wildjean and I have been journaling for 34 years longer than you have been alive. I started keeping a journal long before anyone had written a book on journaling- before it was COOL to keep a journal or diary. I am reading your book and there is a lot of good in it but I have to say that I strongly disagree with your statement that your journal is NOT your life map nor should it be. As I said, I have been journaling for a very long time and I very much use mine as a life map. I plan my life in my journal but keep in mind, nothing is written in stone so of course things can and do change. I look back to see which goals I carried through on and which ones changed. Most that changed were someone else’s doing not mine. I would still choose the jobs I did and do it over again but sometimes your employer has other ideas.
I did not plan to adopt any pets but I have had more than 16. I didn’t like animals but that changed. I have met most of my goals and found that the goals I did not reach, I am still interested in pursuing. Many times in my life, my family tried to redirect my path. Without my life map in my journal, I don’t know what I would have done. My family is very controlling but I was able to stick to my guns and now they see that I knew what I was doing, and that I was right.

I have a journaling class/business that I call exactly that: Journaling as a Life Map and my students have told me that they have started writing. One man who has a PhD, had gotten off track of his life but now is journaling and he is writing articles for newsletters and newspapers.

I don’t really know what you had in mind when you said that but as I said before, nothing is written in stone and we cannot know what will come our way but I think we can live our lives more effectively if we have plans- a life map as it were and go from there.

We may even do it in increments. I am. Life maps don’t have to be done all at one time. Maps of the universe are done knowing that things may change. Countries will change boundaries, change names, change leaders but they still make maps.

I won’t say “ You are young yet” because that is insulting and it is usually followed by “You don’t know what you want yet.” Well I sure did. I got a job I wanted because I had planned and visualized it.

Your book has already been written but if you write another one, I hope you will reconsider some of your advice. I am not writing this to insult you. I am after all reading your book. I just wanted to share my experience with you.

Jean E. Wildjean

Samara to Jean

Hi Jean,

Thank you so much for writing. I’m not insulted at all. I very much enjoy when people share their opinions with me—even if they don’t match mine. I’m also glad to hear that you’re an avid journaler and that the practice has had such a positive influence on your life.

It goes without saying that I am a huge fan of journaling and can wax poetic for hours on its many benefits. I am, however, going to stick with my original assertion that a journal is not a map, and I’ll explain why. To me a map is something that someone hands you. It’s already been drawn up, and it’s very logical. The map will tell you that it makes no sense whatsoever to go south when you’re heading from Pittsburgh, PA to Augusta, Maine. In that case south is absolutely the wrong direction, and you need to go north (northeast to be more specific). Life isn’t that cut and dry though. It’s not always logical. There are detours, setbacks, opportunities, and triumphs that take us in directions we never thought we’d go. And maybe, just maybe, you do head south to Tennessee from Pittsburgh in order to go north to Maine because the love of your life is in Nashville and you wanted to give her a flower and a kiss before heading home. The map wouldn’t approve. The map would say, You’re wasting your time. But your heart would be set right because you did what you needed to do. You headed in the direction in which you needed to go.

A map can tell you how to get from point A to point B. Life cannot. You (meaning me and everyone else, too) have the pleasure and the pain of figuring out how to get ourselves from school to a career. From lonely to not lonely. From unhappy to happy. From lacking to abundance. A journal is, undoubtedly, a guide. As you said, you can look back on your journal and enjoy when you made the right decision about something—I like to laugh at myself when I made the wrong decision, too. But even wrong decisions have a way of working themselves out. At the end of your life you may have a map in your hands, but it’s a map you drew along the way. It’s not a map that someone handed you at the beginning. That’s why I said, “A journal is not a map.”

I hope this brought some clarity to my statement. Thank you again for contacting me, and feel free to do so again in the future.

Sincere regards,

Jean to Samara

Question? How can a Map approve or disapprove. It is only a THING. YOU are the one following or slightly or mostly disregarding it BUT when YOU make the map, you are more likely to follow it and what if you don’t. A map is not less of a map because you didn’t follow it all the way I realize that there may be some obstacles on the way. I don’t see maps as absolute- even my own.

As I said, I had never anticipated having cats. Never. I didn’t like them. But at some point, that changed. But it was not on my map and therefore, the change didn’t matter. And what if it WAS on the map; I don’t get upset over things like that. I often take the unbeatened path but that is often on my map also. My maps leave me room for the unexpected.

I have had dreams of my mother out front of me in her car and she wants me to follow her exactly but I don’t and I see her going off into ditches or ending up with a fence closed behind her. I am able to go on because I wasn’t following her. I am taking my own path. That path was on MY map. As I said in the first email, the map is not written in stone. My map is what I make for myself- not given to me by someone else. My map may look different from the maps you buy or borrow from someone else but it is still My map and how I want to get there.

One more time, the map cannot approve or disapprove of your plans. It is just a map. My journal is a map but it cannot approve or disapprove of me or my plans. But I make my map and it works for me. When I don’t have my future mapped by me, for me, I feel lost. It doesn’t have to be logical or anything else. My map is not for you or anyone else unless you like it or parts of it and I am not going to judge how you follow it or IF you follow it. I guess what is comes down to is how you define a map and how many versions you have.

Chart some goals for yourself and put them on paper. They don’t have to be logical but see how closely you follow. Look at it down the road. For me, I don’t keep looking at it. Charting them puts them in the back of my mind and then I look back and say,. WOW. I did what I said I was going to do and maybe not in the exact order but pretty close. Sometimes I skip parts of my map and go on ahead or backtrack or take a side road.


Samara to Jean

Hi Jean,

I don’t mean that a map approves or disapproves literally but rather figuratively. According to a map: north is north, south is south, and there’s no changing that. It’s resolute. It’s logical. Life, on the other hand, isn’t so rational—as you’ve stated. A map in my hands would tell me exactly where I’ll end up if I turn left then right then left again. But in life I have to take those turns and wait to see what’s around each corner. The destination is a surprise.

Also, if I were the first person to draw a map from New York City to Boston then I could share that map with others. I could say, “Here’s how I got there. You can follow the exact same path.” But I could never do that with a map of my life. If someone made the exact same choices that I have thus far in my life then they would still end-up in a different place.

I think we agree more than we disagree. We agree that a journal is a great place for goals, feelings, and dreams, and it helps us whether we re-read what we’ve written or not. We simply, as you said, have a different concept of “map.” I’ll call my journal a guide, and you’ll call yours a map. And we’ll continue to spread the word about what a useful life tool it is.