Old fashioned map and compass

Is a Map or a Compass More Valuable for Navigating Life’s Terrain?

Most people want a map telling them where to go and how to get there. But, most fail to realize that a map becomes outdated moments after it’s created.

Life is full of orange construction cones and detours. Just as the GPS on our phones sometimes steers us off a cliff, so does our internal guidance system. A compass is wrong only when we lose our North. Always knowing your North will get you anywhere you want to go.

The Map is Not the Territory

Would you rather have an outdated map or no map at all?

“Remember that all models are wrong: the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.” – George Box

What’s your map?

A map can be anything from the treasure maps of pirate lore to an e-book or course instructing how to find happiness or success. The volumes of self-help books crowding the shelves of bookstores (yes, they still exist) are all one type of map or another.

Whether you watch a YouTube video on how to fix a sink or follow the wisdom of a financial wizard like Warren Buffett, you’re using a map.

How many maps have you used today?

Who was the cartographer?

Too often, we rely solely on the advice of others. When deciding on whether or not to start a business, we listen to someone who never had their own business. “That will never work! Do you know how many businesses fail each year?”

Other times we seek wisdom from the crowd. If everyone else does it this way, it must be correct. How many students have mountains of debt simply because they were “supposed” to go to college?

Is your map flexible?

If the value of a map or model is related to its ability to predict or explain, then it needs to represent reality. If circumstances or reality have changed, so must the map.

A good map should be used to simplify the journey with the understanding that course corrections will be necessary. Your map should not keep you from discovering new lands.

For a more in-depth look at The Map is Not the Territory, check out The Great Mental Models Volume 1: General Thinking Concepts by Shane Parrish at Farnam Street.

Using Your Inner Compass

Did Michael Jordan, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, or any of the world’s most successful people use a map written by someone else? Yes and no.

The extraordinary people in life sought wisdom from the masters, had coaches, and were well-read people. They learned from others yet created and followed their own path. They let their inner compass guide them while ignoring the noise of naysayers and doubters.

An inner compass is not a set of morals like the Ten Commandments. The men at the beginning of this section are far from morally perfect. Instead, your inner compass is the set of personal values that guide your actions and decisions toward your goals, dreams, and aspirations.


You could have a perfect map, but without the habits necessary to follow it, you may as well have one written in crayon by a five-year-old. You’ll never discover the treasure you seek without the discipline to get up and move every day.

Building good habits is the single greatest compass any man could possess. Having the discipline to push forward while others rest or a willingness to do what others will not set you apart from 98% of other men. Talent, brains, and good looks can only take you so far.


“If it’s not a hell yes, then it’s a no!” – Derek Sivers

While that phrase makes for a great meme, not everyone has the ability to make it a reality. For many of us, the most challenging part of any decision is saying “no.” It’s difficult to pass up an opportunity when we have limited resources.

This conundrum of opportunity is a major roadblock to achieving our goals. Big dreams require a laser focus. When we limit our decisions to only those that move the ball forward, we are deciding to eliminate distractions.

Using habits and decision-making abilities as the true North of your inner compass will get you farther than any map.


Take care, even down there.

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