Everybody is on a journey, whether it is from adolescence to adulthood; from being a partner to a parent; building towards a career or passing one on to the next generation. But we often have little understanding as to where we are, how we arrived there or what influences have led us to make the personal and professional decisions that have shaped us.
Many of us can feel powerless and a little lost at times. The fast pace of life, the changing nature of work and the general lack of job security pose threats to our traditional ideas of careers and security. But if we change our perspective, these perceived threats become opportunities for growth, creativity and fulfilment. Everybody has the potential to make meaningful choices and to direct their own path; we just spend so much time running around that it’s difficult to find the time and space to connect with what we truly want.
I love sailing and I remember when I was learning about navigation and compass headings on a boat for the first time. We were taught about how navigators have, for centuries, plotted themselves on the chart. Their compass pointed towards Magnetic North. But due to the shifting movements of the earth’s magnetic field, Magnetic North could vary by up to 60km per year. If they had ignored the changes in their environment, sooner or later they would run into trouble. But over time they found a way to overcome this huge problem. Through observing the position of the North Star, which for millennia has lined up directly with the Earth’s North and South Poles, they were able to work out where True North always lies.
True North was the constant that they needed to refer to in order to understand the headings that their compass gave them. By comparing the difference between True North and Magnetic North they were able to continue to use their compass to navigate through their changing environment. Without discovering where True North was, they couldn’t find their way to where they wanted to go.
Magnetic North today
The world of work is more fast-paced and changeable than ever before. From .com bubbles to global recession, the cycle from boom to bust seems to be quickening. Low-cost corporate structures, the need for technical proficiency, and the explosion of Big Data Analysis applications has dramatically changed the ways we engage in business. Pensionable jobs and lifelong careers are being replaced by short-term contracts and a culture of small-scale start-ups. In such a dynamic and changing environment, the ability to adapt to change, to work in teams and to innovate are the foundations of career success. But in order to adapt to your external environment, you must first know who you are, where you’re going and why you want to go there; otherwise the change all around will take its toll, detract from your sense of purpose and lead you in circles.
In order to make lasting progress in the face of change, we need to discover a focal point of consistency in our inner world. Becoming aware of our interests and preferences and honestly appraising our strengths and limitations is an important part of this. But at an even deeper level, the more we understand what we care about and what our core values and beliefs are, the more consistent and directed our engagement with all of life will be. Our choices turn from fearful guessing-games to powerful statements of intent. We know why we make decisions and become determined to follow through on our commitments. And with the confidence that this brings we can face the many challenges that come and persevere where others have already given up.