Visualizing Your Personal Growth: Life Story Mapping

Planning for a new year, new you and feeling lost with too many options? You’re not alone.

With so many options on how to redefine yourself each year, the plenitude of FOMO-driven inspiration from social media, and quite simply too little time to live out every possibility—it’s easy to get lost and overwhelmed before the next year even starts.

Thankfully, Life Story Mapping gives us the tool we need to consider our wide-ranging personal interests and goals in 2D—giving you the clarity of insight into your own personality, the specific slice of your life journey over the next quarter, and a dynamic history of your interests as you grow through each quarter. These personal insights are as valuable as ones gained by organizations with our Business Strategy Mapping, Digital Strategy Mapping, or the archetypal User Story Mapping exercises.

Over the past year, I used Life Story Mapping to:

  • Identify areas of my life which weren’t getting any attention / were withering on the vine.
  • Put interests on hold that were distracting me, or were spreading me too thin.
  • Give myself the mental space to come back to my passions and interests later, once I had focused on a few key short-term goals.
  • Define myself in multiple dimensions, so I could more easily prioritize my interests and balance myself.
  • Recenter myself on my resolutions I set at the beginning of the year, but also provide myself with the opportunity to grow organically into new priorities.

Each quarter I come back to this Life Story Map, evaluating my performance. Sometimes I identify areas that weren’t as important to me at the end of the quarter as they were at the beginning. It is always good to remember that pruning interests are just as important as laying down the seeds for growth, as we cannot be all things—but, we instead simply find ourselves in the balance of things we choose to do versus choose not do.

As I make plans for the next year, I encourage you to walk through this simple How-To and evaluate some areas in your own Life Story Map you want to focus on, or simply keep in the backlog for future growth.

Just remember, it’s not about having all the answers when you start. It’s about having the right tool to see the journey for what it is and make the best decisions as you go.

How to Set Up a Life Story Map

Step 1. Set up the map.

Create a Life Story Map with a Story Mapping SaaS solution, such as Stories On Board. For the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll use the following legend to define the items on the map.

  • Blue Card - High-Level Life Goal
  • Yellow Card - Steps Required to Achieve Life Goal
  • White Card - Tasks or Projects to Achieve Your Goals

Note: if you want to follow along without a mapping solution, you can easily set something up in Google Sheets. Just be sure to create room for multiple Yellow Cards (2nd row) between each Blue Card (1st row).

Step 2. Define the areas of your life.

When first starting out with Life Story Mapping, it may be a bit confusing to start with categories. I often ask myself this focused question to define categories: What areas of my life are out of balance? Where do I need to focus some more time?

Often we come up with categories easily in this context, but to get you started you may want my simple list:

  • Business Success
  • Professional Success / Professional Development
  • Amass Wealth
  • Maximize Productivity
  • Connect Well with Others
  • Be Fit
  • Care for Body & Mind
  • Have Strong Relationships
  • Develop Culinary Chops
  • Green Thumb
  • Nest Well
  • Travel Well
  • Enjoy
  • Be Extra
  • Build Cool Spaces

Mind you, these are in my current order of priority. In a Life Story Map, the left-most Blue Card is the most important, with that being the dimension of your life you might be focused on currently. It does not need to always be this way, in fact, it is healthy to change the order up each quarter so you consider new priorities in the dimension of yourself and your goals.

Note for those familiar with user story mapping: In the context of Life Story Mapping, the top Blue Cards are high-level goals for yourself, just like the top Blue Cards "along the spine" are the high-level goals of your users.

Step 3. Define the actions you need to take to achieve your goals.

After detailing the high-level goals in your life, it’s time to break those down into the different attributes. For instance, with my category of Business Success, there isn’t just one dimension to success, I have a few different areas I have to work at individually over time.

For me, Business Success is comprised of:

  • Grow Revenue
  • Scale Team
  • Thought Leadership
  • Build SaaS Application

Another example would be Maximize Productivity, where I have 3 dimensions to success:

  • Productive Reading
  • Productive Process
  • Cognitive

For your reference, I’ll post my full list at the end in case you want some ideas to jump-start your Life Story Map with a good skeleton.

Just remember, adding extra dimensions to your success doesn’t make you get there any faster! It just helps you to balance priorities so you’re not trying to grow revenue without appropriately scaling your team.

Step 4. Brainstorm all your goals, dreams, and ambitions.

The White Cards are all of the individual tasks, projects, or end results of pursuing your dreams. They can be exercises that you’re hoping to take up next year, or quite simply a destination for travel vis-a-vis a bucket list.

It’s important to remember that you’re not trying to schedule anything yet, simply add cards to your Unscheduled area in Stories On board that we’ll later pull up into a Sprint for the Quarter (e.g. 2018 Q1).

Within each column, your top priorities will naturally float to the top as you organize things.

This should give you perspective on some ideas you’ve had over the years. Sometimes I will find that things I consider very important to my identity, simply aren’t that important in the short term.

That’s OK.

As you work through your own map, you should see that you have a dozen things or more all fighting for your immediate attention. The Life Story Map will give you a place to define yourself, who you were and who you will one day be, all with the benefit of a 2D space to encapsulate the complex higher-dimensional space we inhabit as we course through space and time.

The clarity of understanding which tasks are not your top priority gives you a watershed to place your hopes and dreams.

Focus on the you of tomorrow, instead of the you 10 years from now—and get it done!

I guarantee you’ll find more clarity in purpose and mission when you can see the height and breadth of your being: past, present, and future.

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My 2018 Q1 Goals

Some of these goals are on repeat, such as whitening my teeth! But don’t underestimate the power of keeping a mundane chore on your map. If it’s important to you, keep it visible and make the time for it.

The activities that go unplanned will go incompleted.

  • Business Success > Grow Revenue > Document & Automate Sales Process
  • Business Success > Scale Team > Source 5 A Players
  • Business Success > Build SaaS Application > Refactor PMF to OO for OSS Release
  • Amass Wealth > Speculating > Contrarian Investing
  • Bitcoin speculation is specifically in the backlog! Can’t ride the hype train.
  • Maximize Productivity > Productive Reading > Try Audiobooks at 2x-3x speed listening
  • Connect Well With Others > More Things to Talk About (Nonfiction, Nontechnical) > Daring Greatly
  • Be Fit > Reach and Maintain 185lbs > Keto 2-3 Day Fasting
  • Be Fit > Reach and Maintain 185lbs > Keto for 14 Day Period
  • Care for Body & Mind > Dental > Whiten Teeth
  • Care for Body & Mind > Mindful Care > Float Tank
  • Travel Well > Work Remotely > Santa Barbara + Networking

Examples of Goals in the Watershed

Time is limited. One cannot be and pursue all things, so here is a short list of things I hope to one day make time for, but for now they’re not contributing towards my highest priority goals (and therefore they’re in the rightmost categories where I’m not focusing a lot of time):

  • Be Extra > Learn to Dance
  • Be Extra > Learn Musical Theory
  • Develop Culinary Chops > Sommelier Level 1 Class
  • Develop Culinary Chops > Culinary Night School
  • Develop Culinary Chops > Tequila Tasting Class

Full Life Story Map List

  • Business Success
    • Grow Revenue
    • Scale Team
    • Thought Leader
    • Build SaaS Application
  • Professional Success / Professional Development
    • Build Community
    • Build Analytics Skills
    • Build Leadership Skills
    • Build Programming Skills
    • Build Business Intelligence Skills
    • Product Owner Skills
  • Amass Wealth
    • Real Estate
    • Speculating
  • Maximize Productivity
    • Productive Reading
    • Productive Process
    • Cognitive
  • Connect Well with Others
    • Conversation Skills
    • More Things to Talk About (Nonfiction, Nontechnical)
    • Dinner Party Each Month
    • Write a Book
  • Be Fit
    • Reach and Maintain 185lbs
    • Compete in a Group Sport
    • Stretch and Recover
  • Care for Body & Mind
    • Dental
    • Mindful Care
    • Memoirs
  • Have Strong Relationships
    • Date
    • Friendships
    • Family
  • Develop Culinary Chops
    • Wine
    • Cook
    • Mixology
  • Green Thumb
    • Gardening
    • Bonsai
  • Nest Well
    • Kitchen
    • Backyard
    • Bedroom
    • Library
    • Garage
    • Entertainment
  • Travel Well
    • Accoutrements
    • Bucket List
    • Destinations
    • Work Remotely
  • Enjoy
    • Books
  • Be Extra
    • Learn
    • Wear
  • Build Cool Spaces
    • Office
    • Market