Using Your North Star for Career Growth


6 min read

I don't know about you, but sometimes my mind goes on autopilot while I'm attending to routine. We become so accustomed to doing the same thing day in and day out that we stop thinking about what we should be doing - the purpose behind our actions. If you can relate to this, perhaps you've experienced a moment of realization where you find yourself on cruise control without a clear sense of your life's direction or destination. This is where the concept of the North Star applies.

The North Star can be understood as a guiding light. Just like sailors have relied on the north star for navigation, we can use the metaphorical North Star as a compass consisting of our beliefs, principles, values, and goals. It serves as a framework and tool to bring clarity and long-term focus to our lives. It provides us with guardrails to keep us on our paths.

The obvious question is why a North Star? As mentioned earlier, it's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day routines of life and work, becoming focused on the here-and-now and neglecting to look up to assess our overall direction from time to time. Even when we do look up, do we truly know where we are headed, and more importantly, where we desire to go?

Let's summarize the key benefits.

First, a North Star provides clarity regarding your priorities and goals. The clarity empowers you to make better decisions about your life and career, as well as determine the necessary steps to achieve your goals.

Second, it serves as a source of motivation. Clear goals help maintain your focus and motivation, particularly during challenging times or when faced with setbacks.

Third, a North Star facilitates better decision-making. As mentioned earlier, it provides a framework for evaluating potential outcomes in light of our values, beliefs, and goals. It helps us remain focused on decisions that align with our desired outcomes and avoid distractions.

Fourth, it promotes better alignment. When your career and goals are in harmony with your North Star, you are more likely to experience a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in your endeavors. This alignment brings purpose to your actions.

Finally, it fosters growth, both personally and professionally. As your actions align more closely with your values and aspirations, you embark on a journey of continuous learning and personal/professional development. Ultimately, this path may lead to the success you have diligently pursued.

Ultimately, who do you aspire to become?


How do we break free from stagnation and find a solid foundation for our initial and subsequent steps? Let's start with self-reflection. This may not be easy at first, and might require some introspection over a few sessions to become clear. I usually find this sort of inner-work most effective in a quiet space, free of distractions. I also find it helpful to come back a few times over the period of days and weeks while I wrestle with ideas during the interim. However you choose to do it will depend on your personality - YMMV. Regardless, giving yourself the space to think and reflect is key.

First, we'll embark on defining your North Star. Recall that it's a set of beliefs, principles, values, and goals, many of which you might already be aware of but not yet put into writing. Some may take a bit more work through self-reflection and asking others for their perspective.

Begin by listing some of your personal values, passions, interests, and beliefs. What motivates you, captivates your attention, influences your decisions, and shapes your outlook?

Considering those aspects, what career goals have you thought about? I would even encourage you to focus not just on incremental advancements, but toward the big goals (some might call them BHAG - the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals) - the significant issues in this world where you wish to make a difference. Examples include climate change and green tech, advances in medicine, social good, sustainable agriculture, and more. Find your big idea - the big goal - that fits your particular interests, values, passions, beliefs, and work backwards, keeping that end in mind. I recommend watching a fantastic TED Talk titled The Challenge Mindset by JP Michael.

Goal Setting

Once we establish our objectives and guardrails, we can begin constructing a plan using actionable goals to help us get there one step at a time. Good, achieveable goals typically include three key components:

  1. The goal is specific and measurable, such as "I want to improve my React.js skills and build a personal project."
  2. Break the goal down into actionable steps, for example "I can complete three online courses and apply my new skills to a personal project."
  3. Set a timeline for achieving the goal. For instance, "Based on my skills, I can complete the courses and personal project in six months."

In a corporate environment, you might already be familiar with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results). This is a goal-setting and alignment method commonly used by businesses. Sure, they're one of many corporate buzzwords and activities that might seem pointless, but try reframing them in the context of your own personal growth. Make the process work for you.

When Things Go Awry

Sometimes circumstances change and things don't go exactly to plan. That's ok. It's important to remain flexible and open-minded. Take these as opportunities to reflect and possible course-correct.

Take Away

Whether your company formally uses OKRs or some other tool, goal setting is a useful tool for keeping you on-track toward your career goals. Make it a point to discuss these with your manager - they are there to help you, including advocate on your behalf and look for opportunities to help you build your skillset and influence within the organization. Help them help you.

One of my professional goals this year is to be more purposeful with my career goals and help those on my teams be more intentional with theirs. While some may already be quite clear on their goals, I anticipate many of us will look to our North Star for guidance in the months and years ahead.