Defining your North Star, and Why it is so Important
Having a "North Star" has been propagated throughout the business lexicon for several years. Usually, this is a top-down agenda. Behind closed doors, executives come up with their "north star" where they want the company to head and disseminate those goals down through the organization. It is then stowed upon the team leaders to guide their employees in this direction. But as individuals, we often don't undertake the same strategy to develop where we want to be a year from now or even ten years from now.
2020 and so far 2021, have been tough years. Everyone has been affected by some sort of social, mental, racial, or financial impact. But, as the Phoenix emerges from the ashes, so will we rise-up, dust our shoulders off, and begin to plan for what’s ahead. Now that we are a month into the new year, there is no time better than now to honestly ask ourselves where we have been and where do we want to go?
Having a “North Star” has been propagated throughout the business lexicon for several years. Usually, this is a top-down agenda. Behind closed doors, executives come up with their “North Star” where they want the company to head and disseminate those goals down through the organization. It is then stowed upon the team leaders to guide their employees in this direction.
But as individuals, we often don’t undertake the same strategy to develop where we want to be a year from now or even ten years from now. It sounds a little daunting to sit down and think about what you are marching towards every day. However, our mentor Vjay Advanti, Executive Chairman of Nuveen, recommends we analyze our career path every four years. Four-year increments allow us to look at our path in chapters. Set your horizon on a three to four-year increment and meet those goals.
This past year, the boundaries between work and home have been blurred for many of us, leading to more hours “on the job.” Others have lost employment and are searching for the next chapter. It is stressful either way and perhaps it is best if we can take a moment to ask ourselves if we are happy with what we are doing? Did this provide you the opportunity to invest yourself in this chosen career path fully, and are you wanting more? Perhaps it has done the opposite and made you realize you hate this career and you are inspired to change directions. So how do you get from where you are now to where you want to be?
Defining your North Star is not as simple as stating, “If I had X, then I would be happy or content in life.” Generally speaking, there’s not one thing that will give you happiness. Having your own North Star is more significant than one item. Most life coaches agree a noun (a person, place, or something) doesn’t generally lead to a fulfilled life.
For instance, you might say, “If I could have a successful start-up, I would be happy.” But working like a dog (day-in and day-out) is hard, grueling work, and most start-ups fail, so at the end of the road, if your goal did not pan out, are you going to be satisfied? The answer is yes if you rephrase that goal or instead define your North Star, which includes a purpose. Perhaps instead of saying, “I need to have a successful start-up” maybe you rephrase it as, “I want to make a difference in XYZ industry.” This positioning provides you the ability to meet your goal if you try, whether your business ultimately succeeds or fails.
Our mentor, Audrey Cooper, Editor In Chief, WNYC Public Radio says plainly, “If you do not know where you are going, then what are you doing?” This is true whether you’re heading an entire news organization or simply want to lead more successfully wherever you are in your career.
Your North Star is your mission statement, and it is something you can depend on throughout your life as the world changes around you.
Psychologist and best-selling author Rick Hanson, Ph.D., says, “When you find your North Star, you know where you’re headed. That alone feels good. Plus, your North Star is (presumably) wholesome and vital, so aiming toward it will bring more happiness and benefit to yourself and others. And you can dream bigger dreams and take more chances in life since if you lose your way, you’ve got a beacon to hone in on.”
So if you are feeling off-balance or not sure what’s your next move, it might be time to revisit or come up with your North Star. So how do you define your North Star?
Hanson recommends sitting in a quiet place and ask yourself, “What is the most important thing?” Take note of all the feelings, sensations, and thoughts that come into your mind. They could be simple phrases, images, or just words like truth, love, family, or health. Write these down and let them be the guide to where you want to lead your life.
Next, write goals around those North Star phrases. They will be actions you can take that will ultimately allow you to maintain your North Star. An example may look like this.
North Star: Making a difference in someone’s life
- Working in the healthcare industry
- Becoming a Doctor
- Going to Med school
- Taking the MCAT
- Graduating from college.
Now you can put a timeline to these goals and as you move along in your life, with your North Star guiding you along the way.
Don’t be afraid to think bigger and ask yourself if this is something greater than you. People who are driven by something greater than themselves will always be more content in their lives. And, as our mentor Sal Khan, Founder and CEO of the Khan Academy, says, “Set your foundation, and always keep space for the passions in your life.”