The Compass and the Map

Here’s one from Caitlin, who is relentless.

There are people, I hear tell, who like to run just for the sake of running. They have no interest in tracking their distance (I started over there, and now I’m over here. Duh), speed (am I being chased?) or heart rate (I’m alive, aren’t I?). They just want to run.

Those people are probably very mindful of their surroundings, unencumbered by metrics and watch buttons and Strava accounts. It sounds lovely. My friend Gemmae is one of those people.

Always up for whatever, she runs every day, in all weather, literally stops to smell the flowers, and generally has a grand old time. She told me once about a presentation she attended at work, the goal of which was to learn about different working styles of group members and leaders. It turns out that some people are compass people and others are map people. Compass people, in running or cooking or work projects, know what the end goal is, be it dinner, some fresh air and exercise or a fully-researched grant proposal. How to get to that goal? No idea. They figure it out as they go, having faith that eventually they’ll put together all the pieces in a way that makes sense.

Gemmae is a compass person.

Tell her where and when to meet of a morning and what the general timeframe will be, and she’s content. The other people? The map people? Those are my people. Map people know what the end goal is and then reverse-engineer the steps to get there. Sometimes even tack them all down. Plot out turn-by-turn directions on the computer. Attempt to memorize the route ahead of time. Monitor their heart rate because that’s what the training plan says to do.

Now, there’s such a thing as too much map following. Missing out on a beautiful detour because it’s not on the map? That would be a shame. Pushing onward to get in every mile, despite a nagging injury? That would be dumb. But we map people, if flexible, can be open to changes as they come. It is possible.

I find that spontaneity is more welcome if it’s in contrast to something more ordered. With no framework of a map, spontaneity feels more like chaos. But to follow the map, diverge, and then pick up the trail again? This I can do. Compass people and map people can be friends. In fact, sometimes it’s best to have one of each. I do the map planning, she encourages compass wandering. We both get where we need to go.