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Bill George

Harvard Business School Professor, former Medtronic CEO

With the World in Turmoil, Discover Serenity in Your True North

There is so much turmoil in the world these days that we wonder if we will ever get back to “normal.” Or have we forgotten what normal feels like?

During 2017, down was up, and the world was filled with fake media, alternative facts (if there is such a thing), threats of nuclear war, climate change denial, withdrawal from global trade agreements, tax cuts for the uber-wealthy, attempts to take health care away from tens of millions, praising of Neo-Nazis, White Supremacists and Ku Klux Klan, exposure of sexual deviants, comparisons of pedophilia to Mary and Joseph, mass killings, denial of Russia’s interference in U.S. elections, and on and on.

As upsetting as these things are, in actuality we cannot change them. Nor can we change the people who create these cognitive distortions. In his famous “Serenity Prayer,” theologian Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

With cable television and social media constantly arousing our fears and animosities, it is hard to accept that as hard as we try, much that goes on within the world and within its people remains out of our control.

Here is my reality:

The only thing we can change is ourselves, and how we respond to other people and events.

Rather than looking to the external world for validation of our self-worth, we should search inside ourselves where we can discover our True North. Or rediscover it if we have moved away from it.

Our True North is the essence of who we are as human beings: our deepest beliefs, our most cherished values and the principles by which we lead our lives. True North is the internal compass that guides us successfully through life. When the world around seems like it is spinning out of control, True North is our orienting point that helps us stay on track as human beings. When we are in sync with our True North, we feel a deep sense of fulfillment and personal satisfaction.

The external world with all its trials and tribulations can pull us off course of our True North. Instead of finding satisfaction from within, we look externally for validation that we are worthy. This is a natural human tendency. We all like to hear good things about ourselves and our work in the world. They tend to reinforce our own view of ourselves, and provide inspiration to keep going forward.

The world around us can be a cruel place. Many people are envious of us, or competitive in unhelpful ways. People make unkind remarks, often out of their own sense of depravation. It is easy to be hurt by them, or get wounded by their opinion of us. As a wise friend told me when I was still in college, “Consider the source.” In other words, do not react to comments from people whose inputs are not valid or kind.

Yet many people around us genuinely want to help us become better. If taken seriously, their inputs can be invaluable. These “truth tellers” are wise mentors that keep us on course of our True North. It is very important to separate those who have our best interest at heart from those who do not.

Are your struggling to discover your True North? As we begin 2018, here are 7 steps to assist you in doing so:

  1. Write down your True North in 50 words or less. Then review it with a close friend or loved one. Does it ring to you as the person you are at your deepest level? If not, revise it to bring it closer to “the real you.”
  2. How well are you following your True North? Write down the factors that are pulling you off course.
  3. If you feel you are off track, write down some specific steps that will help you get back on course. Then turn these into a plan for the next several days and weeks.
  4. Ask yourself, “Am I focusing today on the things that are most important in my life, or am I trapped by the immediacy of the world around me? Is this my agenda or something someone else is imposing on me?” Then focus yourself on the most important things.
  5. Develop a daily introspective practice such as mindfulness, meditation, prayer, sitting quietly in a tranquil place, taking a long walk, or having a deep discussion with someone very close to you. This practice only takes 20 minutes but needs to be done every day so that you don’t get caught up with external forces.
  6. Ask someone you trust for honest feedback about whether your actions convey your True North, and how they might be improved.
  7. Start and end every day by affirming your inherent goodness and ways you are making this world a better place.

By following this 7-step plan, you will indeed discover serenity in your life in your True North – regardless of whether the world around us in 2018 proves better or worse than the whirlwind of 2017.