The North Star

The North Star represents our direction. It guides us. Sometimes it is referred to as our “why” – the reason we do what we do, the fuel behind our choices, the motivation and promise that push us to risk our comfort zone in search of greater meaning and purpose in our lives. 

According to astronomy, the North Star is also called Polaris. It is the anchor of the northern sky. This star is located at the north celestial pole. Many people think this star is the brightest star in the sky. But according to Astronomy Essentials, the star ranks 50th in terms of brightness. Despite this, the North Star is easy to locate. If you find the Big Dipper, you can simply follow the two outer stars in the bowl of the Big Dipper and they always point to The North Star.

 For centuries, travelers have relied on this star to guide them North. According to biblical stories, this star guided the Wise Men to the Baby Jesus. Sailors used this star to guide their ships. Harriet Tubman famously used this star to guide her and others to freedom. In a recent article published by The Weekly Challenger, author Jennifer Thread, M.Ed., ASALH Historian, reminds readers of the vital role the North Star served as a beacon of hope, “…for the North Star depicts a beacon of inspiration and hope to many. It means different things to individuals, populations of people and cultures.” 

The North Star was the name of Frederick Douglass’s anti-slavery newspaper published in 1847. Peter R. Reynolds also used that title for his children’s book published in 2009 about a boy who learns to follow his own dreams. According to Goodreads, authors Robert Morgan, Vaino Linna, Buronson, Katie Lopez, Killian Carter, Douglas J. Penick, and Ted Hughes all titled their books with the North Star somewhere in the name. Clearly, the North Star represents direction, purpose, guidance and hope for our current culture as it did for those past. 

In Tonya Dalton’s book, The Joy of Missing Out she writes about this concept of the North Star. She stresses the importance of clearly knowing which direction we are headed and why. She points out that without a defined North Star (even if it changes, which it will, inevitably), we easily get bogged down with commitments that do not align with our North Star. It is the difference between being good versus being great. If we are good at everything we are great at nothing. 

Our North Star and the path to move towards it is always changing, realigning, resetting and guiding us in ways we may not predict. The most important thing for us as we grow isn’t to stay the same but to recognize the change within our own ideas. Can we grant ourselves the freedom to take risks which will move us closer to our North Star?

Dalton reminds me of the importance of saying “no” to things that don’t align with my why. I began my school year with this same critical message. Essentialism by Greg McKeown and Stillness is the Key by Ryan Holiday both emphasize the importance of recognizing that when we are not aware of our path towards our North Star,  we will create a watered-down approach to life. The path of least resistance becomes the norm. 

Keeping our focus on our path towards our North Star can be challenging in today’s culture. Many choices compete for our time, money and focus. For example, look at the community that has boomed around the concept of minimalist living. Marie Konde’s book The life-changing magic of tidying up is an international best seller. Although minimalism emerged in the 1960’s, it has gained significant traction recently through publications, media, blogs and articles depicting its value for essentially finding and keeping your North Star in view. 

As teachers, we are called to help others find and seek their North Star. We do this by sharing our knowledge and experience as we guide others. And often, our own path shifts as a result. Sometimes that guidance is joyful and hopeful. Other times it involves having difficult conversations to promote change. 

Leading always involves taking risks, making mistakes, failing, learning and trying again. In order for us to grow in our wisdom, we must learn from those who lead us. Hopefully, that learning serves as an example of the values we hope to live by. Other times, it can have the opposite effect: an example of what happens when we lose sight of our values and our North Star. 

Ultimately, we play only one tiny part of another’s journey toward their North Star. Occasionally, we catch a glimpse of that impact. More often, we do not. What is ours to influence? I believe it is how we choose to listen, how we choose to face our fear, and how we choose the roads we pursue. 

The next time you find yourself looking up at the night sky, see if you can find Polaris. Take a minute and be still as you think about how your North Star is guiding you in this moment of your life. What do you think about?“Your life purpose is your north star in the dark night as you navigate your canoe. It is the compass your soul directs your life journey.” -Itzhak Beery.

The Etowah River in January. This river is 164 miles long and flows west – southwest beginning northwest of Dahlonega, Georgia and flowing through Canton, Georgia and eventually ending in Lake Allatoona, Georgia. The name “Etowah” is a Creek (Muskogee) word meaning “town”. The river itself is home to over 76 fish species.

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