Using Catalytic Thinking to Find Your True North

It was seven years ago. I was trying to settle my mom’s estate, and my brother and I were disagreeing about what to do.

These weren’t arguments – my brother and I get along. We like each other. We just had different approaches and different needs. Sell her house quickly, or wait for the market to turn around? Sell her art or donate it? Wrap things up fast or take our time?

On top of the emotional push-and-pull of being my mom’s primary caregiver during her last year, and then the grief upon her passing, these small disagreements were more difficult to navigate than they might have been in better times.

Which is why I was so grateful for my Catalytic Thinking practice.

Catalytic Thinking helps create a path to what is possible. It does so first by defining that powerful, positive outcome as an achievable goal. Then, holding tight to that vision as your True North, the framework devises a walkable path to make that dream a reality.

And so I asked myself the True North question:

“In 20 years what do I want the result of our settling the estate to be?”

The answer was simple. In 20 years, I wanted to be sure that my brother and I still love each other, still have each other to lean on.

Antique image of a compass, black on sepia tones.In every action thereafter, I held that image in mind. Keeping that vision as my True North, decisions about what to do fell easily into place.

The same holds true everywhere I look. Decades ago, when Dimitri and I became the owners of the commercial real estate / business turnaround firm we were working at, we knew what we did NOT want to be doing anymore – commercial real estate and business turnaround! What wasn’t as clear was what we DID want to do.

So we asked ourselves, “What do we want life to be like as a result of the work we do?” Our answers included…

• Work with people we like and admire, who inspire us
• Do work that stretches us intellectually and creatively
• Learn, and bring our families along in that learning
• Travel, and bring our families along on those adventures
• Most importantly, we wanted to do work that makes the world a better place

We then committed to see life through the lens of that vision, making those lofty goals our True North. That shift in context led to a decade helping Native American tribes with community-driven economic development. It led to working with a furniture coop in the Mexican state of Michoacan and a cross-border environmental group on the Sea of Cortez. It led to helping arts organizations and healthcare organizations aim at creating healthy, thriving communities. It led to my speaking and teaching in communities and at universities around the globe.

That vision led to our starting the first-ever Diaper Bank. It led to building Creating the Future.

Holding your vision as your True North, you can choose many roads to get to the goal. Some may lead you off the path, but with that vision guiding the way, you will find another path.

Antique image of a compass with ornate and colorful embellismentsLeaders at the AIDS organization in my TEDx talk insist that their vision – a community where everyone is free to live healthy, vital lives – is the key to their success. Their journey will include many roads to that freedom. It will include access to quality healthcare, of course. And it will also include building the kind of compassionate community where that “freedom” can take root and blossom.

This new year, as we see a flicker of light at the end of the long tunnel created not only by 2020, but by all the conditions and circumstances that led to 2020’s ills… set your sights on the visionary outcomes you want your life to create for yourself and those around you. Describe your dream in as powerful and positive words as possible, words that pull you forward and inspire.

And then keep that as your guidepost in every decision, in every action. Let your vision guide you like a compass, pointing firmly towards your True North.

Photo Credit: Many thanks to Wikimedia Commons user Compo for the wonderful image of the compass and map. All other images are in the public domain.

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