Hi, Here's a new article called "Navigation." It's a bit longer than a "typical" blog post, talking about the ideas of walking, thinking, driving and finding your way, both metaphorically and in reality. There are also some hard-earned insights on "navigating" a career, which I'll continue to discuss.
Today on my walk, I tried a new route: no route. Generally, I alternate from a collection of trips I have mapped out, at least on foot or in my memory, that take the usual amount of time. Each day as I set out, I think about which route I’d like to take.
Lately, I’ve been working on a project around “rules,” and I keep thinking about breaking rules, even breaking your own rules. For example, last night I only got to practicing late, and I skipped the usual warmup, started out on the jazz horn, played a bit, then went to the new jazz warmup books I’ve been working through, then went straight into working on improvisation on tunes.
So today, on my walk, I thought, “maybe I’ll head this way and try one of the newer routes,” then as I came to an intersection, I thought, “I just did the route that takes this turn the other day, but what if I turn and alter my path at the next turn?” Wow! It seems like a small decision, but I created a very random, rambling route and saw so many new things. I broke out of the music that was stuck in my head, I ended up walking further and longer than usual, and I came up with this idea.
When I was younger, the good-natured knock on me in my family was, “Thomas always has his nose ‘buried in a book,’” (They always said it that way.) “...so he never knows his way around anywhere.” They were worried when I got my driver’s license I would keep getting lost. It happened some, but everything always worked out.
When my wife and I moved to St. Louis, a completely new city to us, we had a huge AAA map that took up half the floor space in our apartment living room. Whenever one of us had to go someplace new, we’d look at the map and figure out how to get there. (This was all pre-GPS, before cellphones were ubitiquous, etc.) At the end of the day, we’d say, “How many U-turns did you make today?” “Oh, only five, that’s good, I did seven!” With time, we got better at orienting ourselves, and began to develop a constant awareness, like an instinct, for “feeling” where the Mississippi River was, and which way we needed to go in relation to that.
We went through a similar process when moving to our “leafy Northern NJ suburb.” By this time, technology tools changed, the way people gave directions changed, and the area was much bigger to navigate, but we got by. Each new experience in a new neighborhood, town, borough, or state gave us a deeper, richer mental map and trust.
I remember going with my son to look at apartments in Brooklyn, and using the GPS to get me to a parking spot on a street near my goal. Then, as I stepped out of my car and started down the sidewalk, I felt like an astronaut on a space walk building a space station. Mentally and emotionally tethered to the safety of my support vehicle, grasping toward my goal on the temporary station that might become a kind of new refuge, trusting in my survival skills and training to “complete the mission.”
As I’m aging, even though I still rely on GPS, Google Maps, etc, when I have to go somewhere new, I’m also becoming more confident in my sense of direction. If I do get lost, I don't panic, but can usually find my way out or back to where I need to go.
I remember marveling at the way my Dad would, on vacations, just “take a drive” and wander off without (as far as we could tell) knowing where he was heading. (Since, in my memory, it was often after dark, my nose wasn’t buried in the book.) “Just sightseeing,” he’d say. Inevitably, just as the family’s collective dread at being hopelessly lost reached the boiling point, he’d pull the car around the corner, and we were right where we knew we were; across from the hotel, or down the block from the restaurant where we had just had dinner, or on a main road we all knew would take us back.
Whether it’s since his passing, or just with my reaching the age he was in those memories, I’ve felt that ability rising in me, that sense of direction, that internal compass or gyroscope, that would keep me true and help me find my way. It definitely seems to come with age, but also experience, acceptance and most of all trust in oneself, to ward off the panic that blocks observation of the important details.
And now I’m starting to feel that I can also navigate my career and my creative life the same way. Trust in yourself and your instincts to make choices that are right for you, trust your experience to help you make choices, break out of a rut to inject some novelty into your routine, exposing yourself to new experiences, new ideas, and new inspirations. Stay alert and observant and let go of the noise and distractions of fear or dread, second guessing your every move. Let your inner compass and sense of “where you are, where you’ve been, and where you might like to go” guide your steps.