In Design is Storytelling, Ellen Lupton explains the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. At first glance, they look similar. But a maze has dead ends, while a labyrinth does not.
Lupton discusses this in terms of experience design—a customer must, for example, walk all the way through IKEA to buy that table. The entire design of the store guides the user’s journey to achieving a goal.
But there’s a larger, unstated parallel here.
If you navigate life as a maze, you’ll inevitably feel trapped and stuck, duped and confused, misled and lost. You look for ways to game the system, ways to take shortcuts. You’ll see obstacles as dead ends, points where you must turn around, and, bitterly cursing yourself for the poor foresight and wasted time, you may desperately leap into any alternative. You become increasingly skeptical and distrusting—of others, and of yourself.
And, like Harry Potter in the hedge maze of the Triwizard Tournament, you might start running frantically, freaking out in general. (The ultimate prize, of course, then turns out to take you straight to a graveyard.)
What if, instead, you navigate life with the perspective that you are building your own labyrinth?
Suddenly, you see that each situation, each day, each year becomes an opportunity for you to construct a path forward. There may be surprising twists in the road, but there is no way to be stopped. Dead ends do not exist.
Suddenly, there is no need to blame yourself for poor foresight or wasting time—your past has uniquely positioned you to get here, to this fresh moment of potential.
Suddenly, you realize that there is no way to take a shortcut—there is no single destination to reach, only a journey to experience. And that frantic moves are often the most inefficient in the long run.
Suddenly, there is no need to fling yourself desperately into a next step—your choices are constantly illimitable, and you can guide yourself with knowledge.
Suddenly, you discover that life isn’t a puzzle to be solved, that you are not a problem to be solved, and that the “failure” you fear is a dead end concept. Because now, you see “failure” as a milestone.
And maybe then, you begin to trust yourself—as a design director, leading what has never been led before: your life.