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My Life Map: Q&A
Front & Back Cover, My Life Map

EXAMINER.COM - Q&A with Kate and David Marshall about their newly-released life planning journal, My Life Map: A Journal to Help You Shape Your Future (Gotham Books, 2012)

1) Tell us about the inspiration for My Life Map. How does such a project evolve from concept to finished product?

David: My father was a Methodist minister. I adapted the life maps from a charting technique my parents used to teach urban and rural development courses and to study social action books. As a young adult, I started using the charts to plot out my plans for the future. I’ve saved them all – it’s really interesting to go back and see what I was thinking over the years. It’s been such a powerful process for me that I started talking with Kate about making a guided journal version of the life maps for others to benefit. We’ve had six other journals published that help people write about their lives and relationships, and thought this would be useful addition.

Kate: When I was facing an empty nest after years focused on raising our kids, I was looking for tools to help me figure out “What’s next?” Looking at the blank charts that David used made me squirm at first. I’m not naturally a super long term planner, like he is. But I am comfortable with introspection, with thinking about who I am, what my values and strengths are. I tend to use more right-brained self-inquiry and visualization techniques to develop insight.

David and I worked together to combine his left brain- and my right brain-orientations to come up with a balanced approach that made the life planning process a more robust experience for both of us. The process we worked out first walks people through some reflective, self-inquiry techniques that then prepare them to fill out the life maps. For me, the warm-up exercises were a natural way to get clarity about my life so I could then fill out the life maps. After doing the exercises, the maps helped me sketch out the insights I’d gotten in an efficient and concrete way. The process just naturally flowed. For David, the more right-brained pre-mapping questions and exercises got him to a deeper understanding and made the maps that he then filled out more meaningful for him. We like that this balanced approach enriches the process for different kinds of thinkers and feelers. We make a pretty good team!

David:  We showed the draft to several waves of friends and family, each time refining the exercises, the order of the maps, and our tips for working on it. It was important to us to get reactions from a wide variety of people, with different styles, preferences and goals, so that we could make this book helpful and accessible to as many people as possible. For example, we learned how important it was to show what finished maps can look like, so we included four completed whole life maps of four fictitious characters at different stages of life.

The final stages of the project involved some back and forth with the publisher and designer to make sure the layout of the maps reflected our vision and gave people enough room and guidance to shape their futures.

2) You ask readers to look at their past and evaluate their present in planning for the future. What are the benefits of this approach – and what is the importance of recognizing patterns and setting goals?

Kate: It’s important to first look at our own past, our personal history, for the same reason we study the history of nations in school. Plans for the future have got to be grounded in the past. I look at my past to see what has made me happy and productive in the past—was it when I was most connected with my family? when I used creative talents? when I was in service-oriented job? when I lived near the mountains?—and how can I maintain or work towards that? I’ve got to know what my values and preferences are, and what gives me meaning. That’s how I know what I want in my future and what my starting point is.

I especially liked being able to see my adult life all laid out and then break it into chapters. I’ve done a lot of things in my life that might seem a bit scattered, but when I look at it in terms of major themes, or chapters, it makes a lot more sense. I named my 20’s “Finding My Power” when I was working in high-paced jobs and traveling the world. I named my 30’s and 40’s “The Mommy Years,” and this next period “Making My Mark,” when I’m finding satisfaction through my work as an author and as an adult literacy advocate (my day job). For some people, thinking in terms of chapters gives them the freedom they need to start a new chapter of their lives – change careers, move to a new place, get and stay sober, or maybe mend broken relationships.

Setting concrete goals is critical to making what you’ve dreamed up happen. At the end of the book, we ask people to set three to five SMART goals that they commit to doing over the next year to support their life vision. SMART stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely. We offer examples, and ideas for how to keep those goals upfront and center in your life.

3) The journal incorporates several interactive elements. Please give a few examples of these exercises. Also, how does completing them foster self-fulfillment?

Kate: It was important to us that this life planning tool be very interactive. I learn a lot while reading self-help books, but often the great insights that come to me while reading flit away if I don’t stop, think about it, engage it, and write it down.

My Life Map is set up as an interactive journal. There are lines to answer the many journaling questions, lists to make, and even a report card to give yourself on the different areas of your present life. A few of the reflection activities about the past include listing the Top-10 significant events in your life, the Top-5 emotional highs or lows, and a list of the things you want to keep in your life and things you want to change. For the future, we ask important questions such as, “What do you want to be known for” and “What do you need to have or to do in order to feel that you’ve had a successful life?” We also explain how to create a Vision Board, either on paper or electronically, that taps into your intuition to identify and express your dreams.

4) How do you balance your personal and professional relationship –and what are the unique joys and challenges that come along with such a collaborative process?

David: Some of my friends joke that Kate and I should write a book for married couples on how to work so closely together and stay happily married. I think it’s the nature of the work that makes it easy. We both view our books as meaningful work that gives us purpose. Keeping this front and center helps when we’re sweating the details of any given project.

Kate: One of the challenges for any couple that works together is the issue of “When do you turn it off?” During busy times such as this year when we’ve had two book projects going simultaneously—My Life Map and a journal to express appreciation to you mother called What I Love About You, Mom that comes out in March, 2013—we have to be deliberate about when we’re open to talking about the books and when we’re not. We don’t want it to take over our lives together. Making “book talk” appointments with each other during those busy times works well for setting professional-personal boundaries, and also to accommodate our different work rhythms. For example, I am a morning person and David is more of a night person. We also have different relationships with deadlines: I like to work further in advance of deadlines than he does. We’ve made those differences work for us by generally having me write the early drafts of projects, during the day, and David editing them at night, often after I’ve gone to bed. In the morning, I’ve got a fresh set of comments to work with to further refine the manuscript.

5) You each work in bookish professions (outside of your writing career). How do your “day” jobs influence your creative endeavors?

Kate:  Part of what motivates me to create these guided journals with David is that I believe that everyone has a story to tell – whether it’s telling the story of your life, your love and relationships, or your dreams. Our guided journals aim to make that easy, but they still require some level of literacy.

My day job is with Project Second Chance, the adult literacy program run by the Contra Costa County Library. We work with adults who struggle with basic reading and writing. We first help them identify what their life goals are and what literacy skills they need to accomplish those goals. We assess their current skills and then match them with volunteer tutors who we have trained to work on those skills. They form a trusting pair that meets one-on-one, twice a week, for as long as they are both willing and able. It’s satisfying to see the personal growth that comes to students as they begin learning and expressing themselves through the written word.

My job makes me especially sensitive to how hard it can be to express ourselves in writing. The writing prompts, fill-in-the-blanks, check lists, etc. in our journals are all ways to break a larger writing task down into bite-size pieces. I want people to tell their stories, make their mark, and communicate with loved ones, and hope that I’m helping to make that happen, both through the tutoring program at Project Second Chance, and through our journals for the public at large.

David: My day job is the editorial department head at Berrett-Koehler (BK), a non-fiction book publisher in San Francisco. The mission of BK and our family book business are closely aligned, so each fuels the other. The mission of BK is to create a world that works for all; we publish personal development, business, and currents affairs books on positive change. Kate and I co-author books to foster family communication, self-discovery, and life purpose. It’s a perfect mission match. It makes me feel like I’m doing good work and making a difference both as an author and as a publisher.