5 Steps to Discover Your True North

If your legacy existed on a single wall... what would you write? Each year, Harvard's seniors confront this question. In Adams house, it is tradition for graduating students to paint a basement hallway. Some draw, others leave quotes, and a few trace a simple handprint.
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"Let me just plant this seed... what do you want out of your life?"
- Randy Komisar, Discover Your True North

If your legacy existed on a single wall... what would you write?

Each year, Harvard's seniors confront this question. In Adams house, it is tradition for graduating students to paint a basement hallway. Some draw, others leave quotes, and a few trace a simple handprint.

In the corner of each wall is a year. So, as you walk through the hallway, you walk through time. 1956...1974...2012... until suddenly,


In the distance, I see my own year (2017). And as it comes closer, I've begun to reflect on what I will write one day.

This past spring, the Franklin Fellowship had dinner with Bill George. For reference, Bill is a professor at the Harvard Business School, former CEO of Medtronic, and author of the new book, "Discover Your True North" (Wiley: August 17, 2015). During the dinner, Bill pushed us to reimagine our approach to leadership

As Bill argues, to define your legacy, you have to know your authentic purpose first. And, as I've read his new book, I've found myself grow closer to that answer. With Bill's permission, here are a few powerful lessons from the book.

What legacy will you leave?

Here are five steps to figure it out.

1. Find Purpose In Your Life Story
"The difference... lies in the way they frame their stories. "
- Bill George

A life story is more than your memories. It is the narrative you tell yourself and others. The story finds common threads of your life. As it weaves them together, it creates a compelling purpose for your life and for others.
Invest time in writing that narrative. As you reflect, you'll find common themes of your motivations and actions. As research from Northwestern shows, creating a "narrative identity" helps develop higher levels of "mental health, well-being, and maturity" (Dan McAdams). This takes time. But, to find your True North (your life's purpose), you have to understand the story you've developed.

2. Embrace Your Life's Crucibles
"Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be"
- John Wooden

How do you respond in the face of crisis? When your True North is challenged, how do you change? In Discover Your True North, Bill explores the power of "crucibles" in our lives. For students, this might include losing an election, academic struggle, or a first sense of homesickness. But for anyone, they are moments of struggle, uncertainty, or loss. As Bill explains, there are three ways to approach these defining events:
  1. Focus on the event, angry that it occurred
  2. Ignore the event, as if nothing had happened
  3. Use the event to transform your life
The first two options leave you, at best, unchanged. But, to understand your life story, you have to embrace all parts: both the good and the bad. If you do so, you can experience "
". Learn from loss. Embrace your crucibles to find your true north.

3. Constantly Seek Feedback
"Feedback is the breakfast of champions"
- Ken Blanchard

To live authentically, we have to know ourselves. Unfortunately, however, we face blind spots. You know your own thoughts. But, how do others see you? Without outside help, we can't understand this crucial part of our identity.

Bill's goal is to create authentic leaders. But, authenticity does not mean disregarding the thoughts of others. Rather, it means incorporating your ideas, your outward actions, and the way others experience you. To know yourself fully, you need feedback. As Kroger CEO, David Dillon, explains, "Feedback helps you take the blinders off, face reality, and see yourself as you really are".

How can you find your True North? Seek feedback from others. Though, receiving feedback isn't easy, it is an essential step in the process.

4. Develop a practice of self-reflection
"Without reflection, we go blindly on our way"
- Margaret Wheatley

The walls of Adams house provide a space for introspection. But, a day of painting is not nearly enough. As Bill George argues in Discover Your True North, "We need to have daily practices (of reflection)... reflecting on our life story.. helps us understand it on a deeper level". As research by Francesca Gino of the Harvard Business School shows, daily reflection helps us grow from our experiences.
Your daily practice could be a diary, prayer, or meditation. For some, it is simply a daily run. The exact activity doesn't matter. What is important is that you reflect on your day and how it aligns with your story. Knowing yourself takes work. To start that work, you need to create a habit of self-reflection.

5. Transform from I to We
"You have to realize it's not about you"
- Jaime Irick

We begin as the hero of our own story. But, to become an authentic leader, you have to look beyond yourself. As Bill George explains "In your early years, you are measured primarily for your individual contributions. Thus, it is difficult for emerging leaders to recognize that leadership is not about them... but (about) serving others." To gain real purpose, we need to incorporate others into our missions. As you do so, you will live with more meaning, satisfaction, and psychological support.

As Wharton Professor Adam Grant explains in "Give and Take", the transformation from I to We isn't just important for reflection, it's critical for your success. As his research indicates, leaders who focus on helping others create stronger teams, better networks, and a better bottom line. Make your mission about others. In doing so, you'll grower closer to your authentic self.

Defining your legacy isn't easy. But, as Bill argues in Discover Your True North, there's no time to wait.

Perhaps its time you read the writing on the wall.

*Stephen Turban is working with Bill George and the Discover Your True North team this summer.

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