What is Your True North?


What is Your True North?

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I didn’t appreciate land navigation until I found myself way off course deep in the woods in Alabama amid a humid, and soupy southern day.  I wiped the sweat from my forehead as I contemplated my next move.   I recently graduated from West Point and was working my way through Military Police Office Basic School at Fort McClellan, Alabama.  My next stop would be a three year tour in Europe, but first I had to graduate Officer Basic.  In order to graduate, I had to successfully complete the land navigation course armed with only a map and compass to get me through the course.

My objective was to find a predetermined number of fixed points scattered deep in the wilderness.  I felt confident as I topped my canteens off with water and headed off into the woods.  I wanted to be one of the first ones back to the finish and felt I could ease through the course and be back before the rest of the participants.

I found my first point about a half mile into the woods.  I retrieved the coordinates of my second point, reoriented my map, checked my compass, took a swig of water and hurried down a valley towards my desired destination.  It was no problem, I found it easily at the top of a ridge line.  I took a deep breath and another swig of water.  With increasing confidence I mapped the route towards my third point, a little further away at 1,000 meters, but I knew I would find it quickly, based on my previous success.  I felt energized as I began moving deeper into the woods, counting my steps and estimating my distance covered.  I stopped to check my compass and found a visual reference point and walked towards it.  I repeated that a couple of times until I stopped at the estimated distance of my point.  I scanned the woods.  I should be able to see my point, but It was nowhere to be found.

I peered to my right.  My eyes found nothing, but a dense forest and the faint sound of small animals scurrying through the brush.  I looked over to my left, nothing in sight except the natural vegetation and a light breeze whipping hot air in my face.  I looked down at my map and attempted to reorient myself to the terrain and figure out where my location.  I should be right at my point I thought with increased frustration.  I shook my head in disbelief as I searched the area.  My mind raced to figure out my next move.

I took a deep breath and calmed my mind.  I must have veered off course while pushing through the trees towards my point.  In my attempt at speed I became careless and didn’t check to make sure I was on course often enough.  I figured I shouldn’t be too far off, so I identified a large tree near me and made that my fixed point and began walking in a circle around the tree and expanded my walk away from my tree as I navigated the terrain in an attempt to find a feature I could recognize on my map.  I walked for what seemed like eternity until my senses finally caught the faint trickling sound of a stream a short distance away from my location.  I scrambled for my map and found the stream marked on it.  I was a lot farther away from my point than I anticipated, but at least I had a reference.  I walked to the stream and followed it north until it ran into a spur I identified on my map.  From there I reassessed my route to my desired destination, about a half a mile away and started pacing myself towards it.  I checked and rechecked my compasses every few feet until I finally spotted the designated point a short distance away from my location.  My heart leapt from my chest as I ran towards it.  I was thrilled to be back on track. I took my time completing the rest of the course to make sure I did not get lost again.  I was not the first to finish that day, in fact, I was one of the last.  Although my ego was damaged, I learned a valuable lesson.

In life, It doesn’t take much to get off track, and once you get off track it won’t take long before you find yourself way off course.  What may start as a small gap and not a “big deal” will soon turn into a huge chasm filled with doubt and despair.  I got off course early in route to my third point, because I was over confidnent and did not check my course properly along the way.  I paid the price and lost a lot of ground because of it.  Luckily, it was only a training exercise and there was no harm, but what if I was on a real mission, with real consequences and others were depending on me?  I never made that navigation mistake again, and even today I tend over prepare and consistently check my location when navigating anything in my life.

How about you?  What course are you on right now as you work towards a goal or destination?  How do you know if you are on track?  And, if you do get off track, how do you plan to get back?  In life, like my land navigation exercise, we have a true path we need to take, our own particular journey that is unique only to us.  In order to remain on that journey it’s important to understand what I call our “true North”.  It encompasses a set of core values that make up our character and define who we are.  Like that forest filled with trees and distractions, life is indeed its own forest filled with distractions and multitudes of paths and trails that were not meant for us.  Avoid getting off track by understanding your true North and rechecking your course early and often to ensure you stay on track.

How do you do that?  Here are three simple steps:

  1. Understand your goals and set up indicators that you can review to ensure you are meeting them.
  2. Check with someone close to you on a regular basis that will hold you accountable and tell you if you seem “off track”.  They will know if you lack authenticity in your daily work and will be the first to signal that alarm that something isn’t write.
  3. Humble yourself before the Lord.  Get down on your knees in thanksgiving, prayer, and silence.  The Holy Spirit is active inside you and will stir when life is not right, but you have to listen to that quiet voice through a daily ritual of prayer and thanksgiving.

I don’t believe we ever finish our journey until we are called home to be with the Lord, but I do believe that our life is full of check points along the way.  Stay close to your “true North” and as you hit your check points along the way the world will be better for it.  Good luck!

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