North Star

“I’ve always focused on a couple of things,” Zuckerberg said. “One is having a clear direction for the company and what we build. And the other is just trying to build the best team possible toward that … I think as a company, if you can get those two things right — having a clear direction on what you are trying to do and bringing in great people who can execute on the stuff — then you can do pretty well.”

-Mark Zuckerberg

Winter is coming. And I can’t wait because one of my favorite things to do is snowboard.

What I love about snowboarding is this opportunity to explore and carve (literally) your own path. I’ve gotten in the habit of hiking backcountry and going off the beaten trail looking for a new adventure. One time, I remember hiking for a couple hours and venturing out of bounds in search of fresh powder. It was one of the best runs I’ve ever experienced because I was totally immersed in the moment —the time seemed to slow down, the snow felt like I was floating on a cloud, and the connection with nature was so intimate.

Although I had been down this side of the mountain before, I must’ve missed the path to cut back over to the main mountain because when I came to, I realized I was in foreign territory: the surrounding topography was unrecognizable, the temperature was numbingly cold, and the silence was deafening. I was alone with no means of communication to the outside world, and fear started to creep in. Before I knew it, my fight-or-flight response had kicked in: my breath started to shorten and my thoughts drifted toward worst-case scenarios and started to weigh which was the best way to “go.”

I snapped out of it to focus my energy toward survival when my eyes happened to lock on a distant collection of trees that looked familiar. The faint image was far in the distance, yet there was no mistaking it — this was the North Star that would lead me back to safety.

I took off my snowboard and started to hike. One step at a time. Every few steps, I would look up to identify those trees and ensure I was marching in the right direction. They served as my guiding light. As the sun started to settle and the snow started to fall, the treeline started to fade. During this part of the trek, I had to redirect my focus on the treeline more frequently.

This North Star was my compass, but more importantly my source of hope. It gave me assurance that I was indeed marching toward something that was incredibly valuable: safety.

After what seemed like an eternity of hiking, strapping in to snowboard along some cat walks, taking my snowboard and hiking again, I had made it back to the main mountain. I was so exhausted, but the feeling of arriving home was exhilarating. Rather than going in right away and taking off my gear, I sat outside and reflected on the journey that had just ensued. It had been terrifying, but in a weird way, gave me a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

As I reflect on this backcountry expedition and my time at MeUndies, I’m reminded of the importance of having a North Star for three reasons:

  1. Without a clear vision, it’s impossible to know where you’re headed and more importantly, why you’re headed there. In my example, the familiar treeline represented safety. It represented home. Too often, leaders fail to articulate a clear vision or if they have articulated a vision, fail to explain why that vision is authentic and worthwhile. To build something that endures and that you’re proud of (which I’d argue should be the only goals that matter in any venture), leaders need to crystallize a vision that is authentic, explains the “why” (why do you exist beyond selling a product or service), and is grandiose and ambitious enough to pursue.
  2. Without a clear vision, it’s impossible to stay on track when the going gets tough. In my example, adversity struck in the form of daylight starting to fade, snow beginning to fall, and the weather becoming more frigid. If the treeline had been faint to begin with, it would’ve disappeared under the circumstances and I would’ve lost my path to safety. Also, as the treeline became more faint, I had to redirect my focus on it more frequently to ensure I was headed in the right direction. Too often, leaders fail to articulate a clear vision that remains resilient in the face of adversity. Whether it’s intra-company turmoil, a competitor enters the market, or a failed product launch or recall, leaders need to outline a clear direction for the company and communicate that vision to the team, customers, and investors. Over and over and over, especially when the going gets tough.
  3. Without a clear vision, it’s impossible to enjoy the journey. In my example, when I reached safety, I sat outside and reflected on the journey. It was terrifying, exhausting, but most of all, incredibly rewarding. Too often, leaders fail to articulate a clear vision and thus, never give themselves or their team permission to enjoy the journey. Building a company is the hardest thing anyone can do. It takes every ounce of what you thought you had (and more) to have a fighting chance of building something that endures and that you’re proud of. Given the degree of difficulty, it’s important that leaders give themselves and their team the permission to enjoy the journey: whether that’s congratulating an employee on a job well done or celebrating key company milestones along the way. The championship (the ultimate goal) is in of itself not what makes all the sweat equity worth it. Rather, it’s the journey that leads to the championship that is worthwhile.

Whether it’s with your personal brand or with your company, what’s your North Star? Do you know where you’re headed and why? Is it clear and resilient enough in the face of adversity? Is it something that is going to make the journey worthwhile?

I’d love to hear from you.