The Wandering Map: “Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost”

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by Olivia Miller

Over the past week in between advising appointments and meetings I have taken the time to read the book “You Majored in What” by Katharine Brooks. The director of our office bought each advisor and career coach their own copy for our own use in working with students. This book is one that I would recommend any college student, recent college graduate, or graduate student to read – particularly those who do not know what to major in, what they want after graduation, and those in the liberal arts majors (the student I once was and now advise).

Early on in the book Dr. Brooks introduces the concept of the Wandering Map. This exercise has the reader think about all the interest or significant things they have done. These could be classes, jobs, leadership opportunities, hobbies, other experiences and can go back as far as the reader wants all the way to the present. The writer should write down everything that pops to mind, and it does not have to be in any organized manner, just include it on the paper. Once everything is written down the reader is instructed to identify categories as well as themes/threads.

Despite graduating from both undergraduate and graduate school, and a year within my profession, I completed my own Wandering Map (pictured above). I quickly wrote down everything that I thought was significant and ended up with 30 things making up my map. My map included the first thing I wanted to be when I grew up (a teacher), my Sudanese classmates from 3rd grade, the languages I took in high school (Latin and German) up to my involvement as an undergraduate and graduate student.

After writing down everything I identified my categories in themes – which were fairly similar and connected them by corresponding color on my map. My categories were:
  1. International focus
  2. Teaching/Helping
  3. Writing
  4. Leadership/Involvement
  5. Experiences
  6. What I didn’t like, which move me forward
My themes were similar, with leadership/involvement translating to how I get connected or networking, and then also my need of structures and discipline. In looking at my map closer and more thoroughly I realized that while it may seem like these things on their own are not connected, but in fact each one was a stepping stone to where I am at now. I was not wandering – I was making my way to where I was meant to be. In third grade I had no idea that a pair of Sudanese siblings would have such a lasting impression leading me to focus on international affairs through high school, college and my first graduate program. My category and theme of teaching/helping is a strong one and what I do every day. I may not teach in the traditional classroom, but I do teach my advisees valuable lessons. Some of my most meaningful work has come from this theme, and has directly led me to my profession and career in student affairs, specifically with academic advising. It was also important for me to note the things I did not like as they also helped me along the way. My first campus visit was to Iowa State for their meteorology program, without that visit I would not have learned that I was not going to major in that, or attend Iowa State. My job as a Cultural and Diversity Advocate directly led me to my job at ACIC as a senior – which led me to my future career.

In doing this quick activity I was reaffirmed in my life journey and was able to make these connections from my past to my present, as well as what I want out of my future in completing the Possible Lives Map (the next activity in the book). I hope to use these activity with my students, but also wanted to share with others to see what your Wandering Map might look like and include.

Student Affairs - the First Years

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