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  • Writer's pictureRich Honiball

Navigating By Your North Star

After our global leadership conference, mission essential business travel, and a few other divergent paths, I am back to my regular routine, dropping my daughter off at school and getting ready for the day at my favorite local coffee shop.

I am working on a personal project, one inspired by a question that my daughter asked me months ago. A sort of “Navigation Guide” for leaders or for life in general. It isn’t a map to a specific trail, but rather a personal reflection of my journey to date, the various journeys that I have been on and what I have discovered along the way, good, bad, and in between. As she and I discussed in the car this morning, often times there is no right or wrong answer, no right or wrong way. What is important is that you make the decision to make the journey, take the risk and explore, heeding the advice of those before you, but ultimately charting your own course.

Which leads me to the “North Star.” I use the expression “find your North Star” all the time, much in the same way people talk about “going the extra mile” or “everything happens for a reason”, or a myriad of other platitudes. As I have thought about it more and more, the expression can lead one to believe that there is only one destination, one path, and you need to seek it and move towards it. Which is not what I am trying to convey.

Instead, like sailors of centuries ago, even if you are unsure of your destination, identifying your North Star can help you to chart your course, track your journey, and find your way back when thrown off by strong winds or a violent storm. The North Star is not the destination, rather, a fixed point that allows you to calibrate your progress, even if you decide to change directions.

I’ve started to read more about the North Star, only really identifying with it in the past as a chosen platitude, and my misconception that it was the brightest star in the sky. What I discovered is interesting (at least to me), and perhaps worth sharing (that is for you to decide)...

The North Star is important to natural navigation because unlike other stars in the sky, the position of the North Star will never move on the horizon because it aligns with the rotation of the earth. Fix that point against the horizon and you can always determine your true north. It doesn't point you to your destination, rather, it can help you stay true to the direction you have in mind.

Of course, this only works if you are in the northern hemisphere. There is no equivalent star in the South Pole, though Sigma Octantis comes close, within a degree or so. The problem is, it isn’t that bright, so it doesn’t hold the same value from a navigation perspective. Sometimes, you have to improvise.

The North Star has a name, Polaris. Known formally as Alpha Ursae Minoris, the name Polaris derived from the New Latin stella polaris, or “polar star.” However, Polaris wasn’t always the North Star. In 3000 B.C., this honor fell to Thuban, also known as Alpha Draconis. And the rein of Polaris as the North Star will end in around 12,000 years when Vega will take over as the new North Star. In life, your North Star may change more than once every 16,000 to 18,000 years, but only as you redefine or refine what is most important to you.

I mentioned that my belief was that the North Star was the brightest start in the sky. Not even close! In fact, it barely cracks the top 50 brightest stars. That honor goes to Sirius, the name from the Greek word Seirius, meaning, "searing" or "scorching.” For the record, Vega, the “soon” to be crowned North Star is in the top ten brightest stars in the sky. I guess that means our future is getting brighter? Or perhaps, your North Star isn't always the most obvious, you have to work to find it.

A lessor known fact to many, the North Star, or Polaris, is actually three stars. The Polaris system which contains three stars, Polaris A, Polaris Ab, and Polaris B. The main star is 433 million miles away and is 2500 times brighter than our sun. Think of it in this way, your "North Star" may not be a single point, but rather a collection of beliefs that help to form the north point of your compass and make navigating life, perhaps not easier but more meaningful.

This project may sound like I am getting ready to write a book, I am not. Trust me, I am NOT. It is more about reflection, being the father of a 15 year old, the husband to a budding entrepreneur, a coach and leader for a diverse team, a mentor to some that I had the privilege to cross paths with along the way. Going back and looking at the journey, taking note of the storms that have blown me off course from time to time is an interesting process. Especially when I am still learning every day, far from my final destination, no where near a point where I am ready to go ashore and burn the ships. Anchors aweigh!


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