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  • Writer's pictureChristine King

Finding and Following Your North Star

Many of you probably set goals, but how often do you step back and really consider the direction these goals are taking you? Taking the time to discover and commit to your own “North Star” will help guide your path and help you achieve what you truly want in your career and in life. In this post I will share how to find and follow a North Star in your career, explain how your star can change over time, and provide helpful tips for putting these insights into action.


What is a North Star?

Let me start by explaining what I mean by having a North Star. It is more than a goal or set of goals. It’s more closely akin to a vision and mission statement for your career and life. For example, your North Star might be to acquire a senior role on the corporate ladder, to earn a certain salary, or to discover your purpose or achieve fulfilment in your life. Your North Star is shaped by your personal values. It provides a set of principles or priorities to guide your steps, even if you feel like sometimes you’re meandering clumsily through the darkness. Ultimately, your North Star is manifested in your behaviors with others..


Finding a North Star for your career

There’s no single process to finding your North Star. It starts with an honest self-assessment of your values and life goals, asking yourself:


  • What gives me personal and professional purpose?

  • What do I find most fulfilling about my work?

  • What impact do I hope to have through my work?

  • What are the potential career trajectories for individuals in my field/role?

  • Where do I hope to be in five years? 10 years? By retirement?


Take those inputs and distill a potential North Star to follow. You’ll know it's a good one when it inspires and scares you a bit. It should reflect your desires for impact in your family, your organization/professional community, and the world. It should scare you a bit by being aspirational - achievable, but not easy. While your North Star should be realistic, you don’t need to fully know the path to reaching it yet - that will come. At this point, your North Star and the knowledge of your potential should excite you.


Following your North Star

Now that you’ve spotted your North Star, map out a rough route for reaching it. It’s impossible to predict the future, especially regarding your career. There are factors that are outside of your control, from business cycles and economic downturns to organizational dynamics that make your advancement more challenging. So focus on the things you can control, such as building relationships and networks and making a skill development plan.


While your North Star is the brightest, don’t ignore the other stars in your sky. Establishing intermediate goals that help you reach your North Star can guide you on your quest and enable progress. For example, when I began my equestrian career, my North Star was to become a competitive rider. My intermediate goals included successfully dressing a horse and not falling off!



Can my North Star change?

Just like the stars in the sky, your North Star may shift with time as your professional and personal goals evolve. Like your ambitions, beliefs, and preferences, your North Star can change. And that’s okay.


After having children, my perspective of what’s most important changed. The time I would have to spend away from my children on my career path became a factor, so I pivoted. I reflected on my values and chose a different North Star to guide my steps at that time. And that was a decision I don’t regret at all. Some of the North Stars in my life have included:


  • Earning enough money as a single mom to support my young son and myself

  • Graduating from college and landing a first “real” job

  • Becoming an engineer

  • Becoming a senior manager

  • Becoming a CEO and running a vibrant company

  • Becoming a competitive equestrian

  • Raising an award-winning dairy cow

  • Publishing a book about the lessons I have learned over the course of my life


Tips for following your North Star

Throughout my career, my North Star(s) have guided my decisions and led me where I wanted to go. Here are some tips I’ve learned along the way:


  • Start small and build on your foundation. At first, you don’t have to identify the brightest North Star in your sky. If you feel intimidated and prefer to focus on a smaller vision, establish it as your North Star and do what you need to do to reach it. You can build upon it later.


  • Ask for help. Once you establish your North Star, seek the experts who can help you reach it, align them to your mission, and then take action. No one has to travel alone and you will go farther with help.


  • Persistence is crucial. Setbacks are inevitable. Don’t give up on your quest. If you encounter a dead end in your maze, find an alternate route.


  • Don’t become distracted. Think about your North Star constantly and don’t allow yourself to become distracted and lose sight of your path. If it helps, write what your North Star is on a piece of paper, frame it, and display it in a prominent place.


  • Feet turn into miles. As your North Star is likely a long-term mission, you might think you’re progressing too slowly. Focus on what you can realistically achieve within the next week that can bring you closer to your destination.


  • Always take advantage of opportunities. Say “yes” to relevant side quests on your journey to your North Star. New opportunities can enhance your journey, reveal new insights into your abilities, and potentially reveal a better path.



Conclusion

As I reflect on the North Stars I’ve mapped, worked towards, and reached throughout my life, I am filled with pride. I wonder if without these guiding lights, I would have found my way. Maybe. But I fear the journey may have been longer or I might have gotten lost.


Now, in my seventies, I continue to have a North Star. Currently, I’m totally consumed by running a healthcare software company. My current North Star is to ensure it becomes successful and that I develop new talent that can take on critical leadership roles.


Now, I’d love to hear from you. What is your North Star?

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