Where is Your North Star?
A Simple Exercise to Start the Process
Hundreds of years ago, the first seafarers braved the open ocean using only their eyes and the stars. They tracked the movement of stars across the night sky and knew by heart the positions of constellations during every season.
Their deep knowledge of celestial bodies allowed these ancient mariners to cross large spans of open water with confidence. However, as civilizations advanced, new navigational tools and equipment replaced celestial navigation.
Modern seafarers can navigate with great accuracy using Global Positioning Systems (GPS), radar and other technologies. When boats are now equipped with advanced navigational systems, why should seafarers learn to ever rely on the stars again?
Even the best GPS equipment may break down. If your boat’s GPS fails while you are out on the open water, then intuition, and manual celestial navigation remain as your last resort.
Concept of the North Star in our Contemporary Lives
The North Star, also called Polaris, has served as a reliable beacon to guide lost sailors back home. It is located almost directly above the North Pole and does not change position in the sky.
It moves in a very small circle above the north celestial pole, making it seem stationary, while all the other stars in the Northern Hemisphere rotate around it.
Thus, depending on which constellations are visible in the sky, these mariners can use a few different methods to find the North Star.
Your North Star
Our hobbies and creative pursuits are like the points of light in the sky that reveal a part of our true identities.
But during our youth, we are left to focus on the demands of the general public school system.
We’re made to trust an external guidance more than our own internal compass. Soon, these constellations dim through time and we forget who we actually were.
People drifting from job to job realize that they’ve visited this very same crossroads too many times. Every new job has silently chiseled away at their soul. They no longer feel alive.
While others may seek to become just employable — and live the rest of their lives through superficial vices and idle material luxury — there are the remarkable individuals that seek something much more rare and relevant in their lives.
Start with Inquiry
Marcus Buckingham of Go Put Your Strengths to Work in order to illuminates the point:
“Your childish clarity faded, and you started listening to the world around you more closely than you did to yourself. The world was persuasive and loud, and so you resigned yourself to conforming to its demands.”
Just like the ancient mariners who have relied on various star navigation techniques, the same can be said for navigating our once forgotten constellation of skills, strengths, talents, aptitudes, and passions.
Do you believe that having all your strengths, skills, and aptitudes can converge into some kind of sweet spot that will be the best for your personal growth and happiness?
There are some tough questions which can kick off this re-discovery and reassembly. What did we love? What invigorated us back then? And why? These may be the games, hobbies, or little abilities and fascinations we picked up along the way, but never nourished.
The trick now is to concoct all these early interests, desires, and events from the past, and to see what the combined significance may be in the present.
Transcend Your Mental Model
When direct powerful questions aren’t enough.
We may hate our jobs, but still, we tolerate it. Why? It’s not painful enough.
Everything you perceive about your career, your love life, and your family and friends, is not necessarily reality, it’s merely your perception of reality.
Change is hard because there doesn’t seem to be any other way out. It’s easy to surrender to tolerable mediocrity than to seek true lasting change. But our perception of reality is just one angle. Tweak your view a little and the real opportunities begin to appear.
Here’s a quick experiment to test your mental model:
Imagine a 3×3 dot pattern.
The goal of the puzzle? Connect all nine dots in 4, or less, straight lines… without lifting the pencil.
Here are the strategies:
This isn’t working. But:
Am I cheating? Our minds default to the assumption that you must stay within the frame of the nine dots. But do you have to stay within the grid? If you break out of that grid, what happens?
This is a brilliant lesson on unspoken assumptions which radiates into our professional lives. The frame — or confines of a situation — was invented by someone else.
Let’s not get into the question of, what if this was a four dimensional space?
Or what if you printed this out, and folded the paper?
We’re so constantly exposed to the rules that we’ve just silently adopted them as the way things are. The dilemmas and dead ends we face only appear unsolvable.
But enlarge the box or change the frame of the situation, and then suddenly the problems fall away. A new perspective appears and we discover a new set of opportunities.
There is always more than one way to accomplish something. Do you really know all your opportunities? Be brave enough to expand the box and see a new hypothesis emerge. Once that happens, the last question rests on you:
Will you act on it?
Starting any kind of dream job or lifestyle design effort takes more than confidence and courage; it also requires a different way of thinking about your talents and strengths and the limitations that are self-imposed.
This is why when helping people realign their north star, questioning our own mental models is much more powerful than screeching motivational quotes.
These questions reach deeper into their past, a place which no one else can touch, because only they know who they actually were before they started listening to the outside world.
“If you don’t realign your work with your purpose, you’re just going to relocate that problem to another desk”⠀ — Bruce Hazen⠀
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