I remember my very first compass. My father gave it to me the evening before my first day at Girl Scout Camp. As I gazed down at the magical device in my hand at the arrow that wiggled a bit but never changed course no matter how furiously I spun the cold metal device in my hand, he shared with me the only piece of advice I can remember ever receiving from him.

He told me that when hiking, I should always carry a compass with me and, before leaving camp, determine the location of my base camp, my source of shelter and other necessities. That part of his advice has never worked out for me. While I understand the principle behind the compass, the ability to convert that concept to finding my way back to a predetermined point has always eluded me.

But the importance of what my dad said next has not.

After he explained the importance of a real compass and of being aware of my physical direction, he paused. Then he told me that it’s just as important that throughout my life I have a moral compass. A guide that consistently points me in the right direction so that I never lose my way.

I had just turned 7; I didn’t really understand what he meant, but I adored my father and thought he was the wisest and best man in the world. And so, that night, after a long day of camp and, yes, hiking in the woods, I wrote his words in my diary.

As an adult, I’ve given quite a bit of thought to this concept of a moral compass, and over the years I’ve read hundreds of articles and books on the topic. When “true north” became a popular buzzword with motivational speakers, business leaders, educational institution administrators, and even religious leaders, I looked back at that journal, considered what I’d learned to that point, and came up with my own working definition, which I added in the margin.

            True north [n]: a fixed point in a chaotic world that is extremely difficult to
            navigate; a point determined by an individual’s most deeply-held values,
            principles, and beliefs. An internal compass that helps a person live their life
            authentically without veering off course and losing their way.

I wish I could say I was wise enough to determine my true north and to live by it.

For much of my life, I was too busy working and raising kids and running a household to stop and consider my true north. Oh, I had values and beliefs, but I rarely put them into words.

And to be honest, except for the fact that it was filled with tasks related to my family and to my children’s needs and activities, my daily planner reflected more of what the world dictated was important than what I supposedly professed as my core values.

And in that same vein of total transparency, even these past 11 years, when I felt a need to determine what is important to me and how that translates to daily living, I’ve lost focus more often than not.

About this time last year, I became frustrated with myself and with my lack of direction, of progress, of peace with where I am and what I’m doing. I was determined to do something about that, and whenever I could I read and journaled and talked to people I respect and journaled some more. But I wasn’t making as much headway as I had hoped for. Daily life, a major move, a 2-hour each way commute to work a couple times a week, a wedding in my immediate family — all of these things filled much of my time.

But I was fortunate enough to be on sabbatical this past Spring semester, and I made a conscious decision to step away from many of the things that normally keep me busy physically and mentally.

It’s been a productive time, and my formerly fuzzy, changing, and often-ignored true north is now clear.

And I’m determined to order my steps so that I am consistently heading in the right direction.

Each Monday (until the end of the year) I’ll continue to participate in the 52 Weeks challenge, and on Friday I’ll join my fellow Five Minute Friday bloggers; on Wednesday, my focus will be establishing that all-important inner compass and living authentically and vibrantly in an ever-changing and confusing world.

I hope you’ll join me (subscribe so you don’t miss anything) and join in the conversation!