The Art of Way Finding

What does it take to ‘find’ your passion? In this article below, Chelsea — a 22-year-old college student — writes about her struggles deciding on a career for post-graduation. Borrowing some wisdom from the ancestral Polynesian art of Wayfinding, she shares some of the values she has learnt to help her navigate the unforeseeable and exciting adventure that is life.

In 1500 B.C., the first Polynesians set sail from Southeast Asia on small double-hulled canoes across vast oceans in search of a new home. Using only ancient navigation techniques like the swell of the oceans and the constellations of the stars, they managed to traverse vast, treacherous waters to find tiny targets of land with astonishing accuracy.

Wayfinding, I was told in the Design Your Life (DYL) session, is like a miracle. But the legacy of our wayfinding ancestors is also an art.

The story of ancient Polynesian navigators some 3000 years ago resonated deeply with me. Being a 22-year-old college student trying to navigate life, I felt like the first Polynesians who were faced with the prospect of a voyage. I was the captain of a ship with a bad navigation system, heading out to the great unknown. Life presented me with a huge array of choices I felt ill-equipped to make, and I was struggling to move forward.

In DYL, I was taken through a series of activities that helped me gain greater clarity on how I could move forward. Through the immersive experiences of ideation, reflection, and prototyping, I began to realise that my inner navigation system was not broken. I had just forgotten how to listen to it. That realisation brought me a new hope.

I realised that I was confused because I kept binding myself in catch-22 scenarios.

For example, I have always had a desire to work in the social sector and to be of service to the community. Yet, I was worried that working in the social sector might not provide me with the financial freedom and creative autonomy that I desired.

I planned my pre-and-post graduation goals meticulously, set my timeline for establishing a good career, to get married, get a house, and have children. I knew that if I wanted to accomplish this long laundry list of items before 30, I had a tight timeline. Yet deep within me bubbled a latent desire for adventure, fun, and spontaneity. I wanted to be free and surrender myself to the serendipity of life. A deep lingering question within me remained: Could I actually have it all?

As I worked through these seemingly intractable problems in my head, the pressure was so great because I thought that the answer lay in me making the “right” choices. However, my coach in DYL told us that the compulsion to “get it right” on the first go can be immensely crippling. And she was right. The wisdom of the wayfinders was not that they had absolute control over every facet of their journey; rather they just needed to find a good general direction, to begin with. In the beginning, she quipped, we actually have a wider margin for error than we think. There are many good choices that might all eventually lead us to where we want to go. The only thing we have to do for certain is to actually make our first move and go. We should go and not get stuck because it’s in the “going” that we get to move someplace else and discover something new. This was the essence of “Prototyping” that was to be one of my most illuminating experiences in DYL.

The ideas behind “Prototyping” was simple. First, we open ourselves up to the myriad of possibilities that seem enticing to us. It doesn’t matter if it sounds ridiculous or out of reach. The point was to allow ourselves the freedom to really consider these options. For me, my options were somewhat divergent. They were: working in the social sector, being an academic, or being a psychiatrist. At this point, however, instead of picking one choice and immediately committing to it for the rest of my life, prototyping gave me the option of experimenting with all of them to see if any resonates with me more.

The first choice that seemed compelling to me was to be a policy-maker in the social sector. After I settled on that option, I asked my DYL coach for suggestions and she linked me up with someone working in the ministry. While I hastily agreed to the arrangement, I realised that there was a latent fear within me that I might not like what I was about to discover.

Opening myself up to the possibility of disillusionment was scary because it implies that I might have to rethink the options in my future. Perhaps for many of us, it is not an unfamiliar situation to be disappointed by reality. The nuts and bolts of the day-to-day often fall short of the lofty aspirations we aspire towards. Nevertheless, I rationalized that if I were serious about pursuing this line of work, I would eventually have to encounter reality someday. The stakes are in fact, going to be higher if I invested heavily into it before knowing what I was getting myself into.

So I decided it would be better for me to get an informed picture about the job before I committed blindly to anything. Besides, I reminded myself that this was only one more data point that could be useful in informing my future opinion. Eventually, I am still the one who has the final say on what I would or would not like to do. So, in the following week, I found myself in a conversation with a lady working in the government; we explored many different topics like the prevailing culture in the ministry, how it functions, why she had joined and reasons she planned to leave, and what it would take to make a change.

The experience, while partly sobering (as all reality checks are), was also deeply illuminating. Coming out of the conversation, I realized that to flourish in government, I needed a keen sense of what was happening on the ground. This level of surety gave me a steadier sense of purpose as I began to move forward in life. Now, I am considering taking up a Concurrent Masters Degree in Public Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy to expand my repertoire of skills for governance.

I do think that regardless of whether my plans eventually pan out, I have learnt a far more valuable lesson in life. The key to successful wayfinding is this: listen deeply to the signs around and within you that tells you where you are meant to go. Then take courage, and go. Go, and relinquish your desire to control everything. Go, and let life take you on an adventure.

Written by Chelsea

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Like Chelsea, we are always sailing across the ocean, following the stars to all our heart has ever desired. Even when we are lost, we know that every other island is reachable. Do you need a life navigation? Join us at our MAD at Work programme now and experience what Chelsea has gained in life design-