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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

Part 6: Journeying Within

As children and young adults, we spend a lot of time in self-reflection. Who am I? What is the point of life? How will I change the world? Although I’d like to say that with age comes wisdom, that isn’t always true. What is certain, however, is that aging brings responsibility. We spend so much effort rushing from work to home to activity that we don’t take the time to think about what it all means. Carl Jung once said, “Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” Use these questions to look inside yourself and light the path towards your True North.

1. What do you think is the meaning of life? Do you live your life accordingly?

Look at these two questions separately, and don’t let your answer to the second question influence your answer to the first. I particularly like physicist Michio Kaku’s thoughts on the matter. He says, “Beyond work and love, I would add two other ingredients that give meaning to life. First, to fulfill whatever talents we are born with. However blessed we are by fate with different abilities and strengths, we should try to develop them to the fullest, rather than allow them to atrophy and decay… Second, we should try to leave the world a better place than when we entered it. As individuals, we can make a difference, whether it is to probe the secrets of nature, to clean up the environment and work for peace and social justice, or to nurture the inquisitive, vibrant spirit of the young by being a mentor and a guide.”

2. What do you think you were put on this earth to learn? What were you put here to teach?

We are all both teachers and students. What qualities do you display in your everyday behavior? Those around you are influenced by your actions. You may not have a formal role as a teacher or student, but each of us, particularly those in leadership positions, teaches others through our words and deeds. I often stress the importance of mentorship, and this question is a great way to explore ways in which you can mentor others – and to determine what mentors you might be lacking in your life.

3. If you had the opportunity to get a message across to a large group of people, what would you say?

YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and other advances in technology give every person the ability to reach a global audience. If you captured the attention of the world, what would you have to say? This requires careful consideration – would you offer actionable advice (“Get screened for breast cancer”) or say something more generic (“Be kind to others.”) What could you say and how would you phrase it to motivate others to take action?

4. Who or what energizes you? What makes you feel depleted? Do you thrive on chaos, or prefer order?

While the common definitions of introvert and extrovert focus on how social and outgoing one is, I prefer the theory that extroverts are energized by social interaction, while introverts find large groups more draining and are energized by time alone. Although tools like the Myers-Briggs test can be useful for identifying parts of your personality, you don’t have to define yourself with conventional labels. Determine the conditions under which you are most successful, and then set yourself up accordingly.

5. Why do you want to find your purpose?

You may have answered all of the questions in my 30 Questions to Help You Discover Your True North series, but if you don’t know the why of it all, what’s the point? Are you truly willing to make changes to your life? It’s much easier to remain where you are, doing the same things day in and day out. Once you’ve discovered your True North, are you prepared to take the necessary steps to steer yourself towards it? It can be frightening to venture into the unknown. Write down your answer to this question and keep it nearby as a reminder of your own True North.