Finding Your True North: A Journaling Exercise

person holding compass in forest

Photo by Tobias Aeppli on

The only map of your right life is written on your soul at its most peaceful, and the only sure compass is your heart at its most open.

-Martha Beck

Humans are tribal beings.  Throughout our lives, each of us “belongs” to many different groups, each with its own set of values, beliefs and expectations.  These tribes include society at large, the country you live in, a company that you work for, your place of worship, your family of origin, your chosen family and your friend group, just to name a few.  There often comes a time, particularly when we are committed to following our own authentic path, that we must make choices that conflict with the values, beliefs and expectations of a particular tribe that we’ve been a part of, possibly for a very long time.  For example, maybe your family is insisting that you go to college, but you know that’s not the right choice for you right now.  Or maybe you work for an employer that pays well but expects 80 hour work weeks in exchange for that high salary, and you’ve decided that you value your time and well-being more than a large paycheck.  Whatever the circumstance, sometimes we must set out on our own and go our own way if we want to remain true to ourselves.

The problem is that this means leaving our tribe behind.  We no longer fit within the particular set of values, beliefs and expectations of this group and simply cannot be a part of it any longer.  Sometimes we can maintain relationships with people as we choose to move on and they stay firmly rooted in the tribal culture.  But sometimes we can’t.  This may be our choice, or it may be that the members of our former tribe choose to sever ties with us as we no longer fit a mold that they consider acceptable.  In any event, this loss of “membership” can leave us feeling directionless.  We left this tribe because we don’t subscribe to certain values, beliefs and expectations anymore.

But what do we believe in?

This is the question we must answer for ourselves.  For this week’s journaling exercise we will create our own unique list of values, beliefs and expectations to use as a guide to living and being in the world.  This is the process or creating your own personal manifesto or mission statement.  More of a compass than a map, a personal manifesto is a document that is designed to be a big picture declaration of what you value and believe in.  For example, one of the statements included in my manifesto is:

I commit to uncovering and expressing my unique authenticity and to helping others do the same.  I honor authenticity in others.

With this kind of overall view in place, it is easier to make day-to-day decisions that are in alignment with who we are on the inside.  With that, take out your journal and a pen and start on a clean page.  In the center, write “My True North” and draw a circle around it.  I like using this term because it encompasses all of the following questions:

What do I believe in?

What am I committed to?

What do I know to be true?

What do I value?

What basic principles guide me?

What do I stand for?

What is important to me?

We are going to do a clustering exercise with “My True North” as the starting point.  A cluster is simply a mind map in which we choose a word or phrase for the center bubble and free associate out from there.  Let your thoughts generate other thoughts in the form of a single words or short phrases.  Circle each one and connect it with a line to the thought before it.  If you think of something entirely new that doesn’t relate back to the previous thought, go back to the center bubble and connect the new idea up with where you originally started.  Continue to build outward from there, using the above list of questions as a guide.  Keep going for 10 minutes or so, exploring what your values, beliefs and expectations are.  Keep in mind that the key word here is YOUR.  Not society’s values, beliefs and expectations.  Not your parents’.  Not your employer’s.  YOURS.  Let this be an exercise in uncovering what truly matters to you.

Once you have completed your cluster, take a look at the words and phrases you wrote down.  Begin putting them into categories and crafting a list of statements that reflect your unique set of values, beliefs and expectations.  Often our journaling exercises are premised on writing quickly and not censoring or editing as we go.  But because we did the information gathering piece through the cluster exercise, we are now going to write our personal manifesto in a way that is clear, thoughtful and empowering.  Keep your phrases in the present tense and avoid words like “will” or “try”.  A few other examples from my manifesto:

I value simplicity.  Living a simple life gives me the freedom to make choices and follow my authentic path.

I am an artist and am committed to expressing myself creatively in all aspects of my life.

I commit to living in harmony with the earth and her seasons.  I celebrate the turning of the year.

Once you have written your manifesto, maybe tuck it away for a couple of days before coming back to it to revise and edit as you deem necessary.  Once you have your manifesto in its final form, write it out neatly and put a copy of it somewhere where you will see it on a daily basis….the front of the refrigerator, the inside cover of your journal, the inside door of your closet.  Let it serve as a reminder of what matters to you.  Let it guide your decisions, actions and way of being in the world.  Keep in mind that as you grow and change, your manifesto may also need to change.  Let this document be as alive and adaptable as you are.

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