145: Defining Your North Star: How Your Past Can Lead to Your Future | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
October 22, 2019   |   Episode #:

145: Defining Your North Star: How Your Past Can Lead to Your Future

In This Episode:

Do you have a North Star? Sometimes understanding and defining your North Star can be a challenge. For most, it’s easier to define your professional North Star but in reality, your North Star should be an extension of who you are and should embody the person you are at work AND at home. That’s what today’s guest, Amy, has been struggling with. She was feeling a disconnect between her mission statement for her work and home life. We dove into her life and had her reflect back on her childhood because often times we have to look back on the past fondly to move us forward optimistically. We discuss how to move from what she calls having a “north-ish light bulb” to a true North Star and how to dig deeper into the breadcrumbs to discover your North Star.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

Your past is a crystal ball to your purpose.

Questions I Answer

  • How do I figure out my purpose?
  • What’s a good mission statement?
  • What do I do if I have no idea what I want?
  • Is there an activity to find your purpose?

Actions to Take

  • Ask yourself: What did you want to be when you grow up? But dig deeper. Why did you think that job sounded amazing? What was it that was appealing to you about that job? Who are the people you admired when you were younger? Why did you look up to them? Use the reflection process to help you define your North Star.

Key Topics in the Show

  • How Amy hit a professional development crisis and wanted to discover her North Star

  • Creating a personal mission statement that feels more intimate to you

  • Doing a life map exercise and reflecting on high points in your life

  • Digging deeper into the breadcrumbs to discover your North Star

  • Shifting, evolving and changing your North Star to fit who you are

Show Transcript

Welcome to productivity paradox with Tanya Dalton, a podcast focused on finding 

true happiness through productivity. Season 12 is different from any she’s done before with real conversations with real women, applying strategies and concepts 

explored in The Joy of Missing Out. 

This season, you’ll learn how to live more by doing less. And now here’s your host, 

Tanya Dalton. 


Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, 

Tanya Dalton, and this is episode 145. Just to remind you, this season of the podcast is very different from anything we’ve ever done. We’re exploring the concepts of The Joy of Missing Out. And throughout this entire season, we’re having real conversations with real women about what their stumbling blocks are. What are the things they struggle with, how can we apply a lot of those concepts into their lives? 

I’m really excited because this is our very first episode that we’re doing this, and today, I have Amy on the show. I’m excited because she’s dealing with something, or shall I say, struggling with something that I know many other people struggle with as well. Dealing with understanding and defining her North Star. And I don’t think this is uncommon at all. In fact, I think for many people, when we talk in that first section of the book, which is all about discovery, I can sense people stressing out of this North Star. So, it’s not uncommon to feel like it’s this big gigantic thing, but it doesn’t have to be. I promise. It really doesn’t have to be so daunting. 

And I want you to listen to the conversation that Amy and I have where we talk about her North Star, because I think it will help you feel a little bit better about diving into your own North Star. And for those of you who have maybe just started reading the book or you haven’t started reading the book, your North Star is your mission, your vision, and your core values. Those come together to act as your guiding light in where you want to go, what choices you want to make, and how you really want to live your life. 

So, this was Amy’s struggle, and I’m excited because I think you’ll see parts of your own story within Amy‘s. So, let me first give you a really quick background on her. Amy has spent most of her professional life teaching and developing training for software. Her life is filled with professional work, time spent in church activities including music, and 

other volunteer in social groups, and she’s been frustrated with trying to figure out a way to bring all of these different parts of her life together into a clear North Star. 

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Okay, let’s get started. Hi Amy. Thank you so much for coming on the show


Hi Tanya. I’m so excited to be here. Last winter, I was in the middle of a professional development crisis, and I set a mission based on my professional development. I got a new job, and then I went ahead and set some other goals that were really more about my whole life. I chunked my goals up into action statements. I’ve broken those down into weekly tasks, and now I feel like I’m far, far away from my mission. I’m not sure that my mission was really that well-defined to begin with. It was really kind of a professional mission, not a whole life mission. And so 

that vague nature as it applied to my personal life means that my mission statement is kind of a north-ish light bulb, more than my true North Star. 


Yes. We don’t want a north-ish light bulb. We want a North Star, right? 


Absolutely. So most importantly, I’m really wanting to sort of ignite the passion that helps me feel like I have a purpose in my life. I’ve made that change in my professional life, and it’s going great. 




But when I look at my goals now, I realize that everything is just a little bit vague without that well-defined mission statement, and, I need to revisit it. I need to really look at the way that my professional life doesn’t have to be completely separate from the rest of my life. 


Yes, absolutely. And I think that’s one of the things people really believe. That they’re one person at work and there’s somebody else at home. And so, you’re not two different people. You’re the same person at work and at home. Even though you might have a little bit of a different focus in how you do your job, you’re a little more professional, I would hope at work than you are on your couch at the end of the day. But at the same time, essentially, you’re the same person. So, your work mission statement and your home mission statement should really be one. It’s just an extension within that. 

And so, I know that you sent me your mission statement, which is literally what I want to focus on. I know our North Star is our mission, our vision, and our core values, but just for the sake of time today, I want to focus in on the mission statement. So, do you want to say that, or do you want me just to read it back to you? 


Well, I’ve got it right here. I had written in the middle of this professional transition, I had really just decided to focus very narrowly, and wrote a mission statement that says, “I want to help programs use data and well 

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developed objective based curricula to educate as many learners as possible.” 


I love that as a company mission statement. For a lot of people, and that’s the thing I noticed with your North Stars. It seems more, it’s very corporate and you’re not corporate, you’re a person. And so, I want us to create something that feels more personal to you. I think for the most part, most people have one North Star. Now, for someone like me who owns a business, I do have a mission statement that’s for my company. It’s not mine, but it’s my business’s. And then I have mine, which encompasses me as a person at home and a person at work. 

Otherwise, I find that when people have very separated mission statements, there’s that feeling of disconnect. We want what you do at work to feel like an extension of who you are. And that’s really why mission statements don’t tell us exactly what you do, but why you do 

what you do. Does that makes sense? 


Absolutely. And when I think about my mission statement, I always come back to the end of it where I say that I want to educate as many learners as possible. And it does. You’re right, it sounds so corporate. But frankly this helped me make the transition in my career that I was looking for, but when I tried to expand this to the rest of my life, I’m certainly not 

looking at, data throughout my life. I really do keep coming back to that part about educating as many learners. Because in my personal life, 

educating really begins to translate into helping and sharing. 




And, I need to come up with a way to make sure that I have personal life language, or maybe whole life language, right? 


Yes, I completely agree. I think you’re right. That’s the part of the mission statement you have now that you really love and that’s what you’re in tune with, so there’s probably a part of that that really ties into your personal mission statement. 

And I’m going to be honest, I’m not going to project anything on you or anyone else, but I feel like a lot of times it’s easier to think about who we are at the office or at work, because we put up this kind of strong front of who we are. We don’t let people in quite as much. So, it’s easier to think about what our work mission statement is, than what we are in our personal life because that’s where it gets a little softer, right? There’s a lot of more emotional things that are tied into it, and so that can at times be a little bit uncomfortable. But I really think that’s a little bit of what we need to do. 

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I want to dive deeper into why you do what you do, and I think that because our personal lives can be a little bit messier and a little harder to define, I want to start with who you were in the past. I think that that makes it a lot easier. So, what activities did you love as a child? What did 

you anticipate with so much excitement? This is not the piano lessons that your mom dragged you to, you had to do. What were the things that you really were like, “Oh I love doing this, and I really have a lot of enjoyment out of it?” 


You know, I think back to my childhood and I think the activities I loved then are largely the activities I love now. I loved to be with other people. I loved to play. Our neighborhood was full of kids and we would play with other kids and we would play school and we would play games and we would play all kinds of build this and create that. And I loved that aspect of working with other people and creating with other people. And naturally when we played school, I was the teacher. 


Yes, me too. What a funny coincidence. 


And, I think like you, Tanya, I did teach for a little over a decade and have now translated that into other avenues. But that love of helping people doesn’t really go away. I think about activities from my childhood. I loved to read, I loved to learn and still love those things. Going to church as a child wasn’t something that I was forced to do, because I loved being around other people. I still am active in that, and I love that as an adult I can be involved in committees and opportunities that serve others and help others and reach out into our community and really make a difference. 


So, I’m already seeing some commonalities and some threads here. So, when you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up? Or, did you want to be a teacher, or did you want to be something else? 


That’s pretty funny. I used to tell people that I wanted to be at County Extension Agent, which is essentially a 4H leader. 


Okay. Interesting. So, what was it about that, that appealed to you when you were young? 


I think I always wanted to be in a position to help people in lots of ways, not necessarily in a classroom. I also think that when you’re a little kid, 

you only know school from the elementary education perspective. I went on to get certification in secondary education where I taught mathematics 


Very different. 

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... And that really is different than the experience that you have as a second grader. 


So now let’s keep looking back and reflecting. Can you tell me, when we think about your life map, where we map out what happens in your life, think about some of the high points in your life. What were some of the high points in your life that you think are tied into this? 


So, when I did a life map kind of exercise and looked at some of those high points in my life, the high points always revolved around being with other people. Sometimes they were family moments, sometimes those high points were transitions in my life, where I was starting a new job or my family was growing. But a lot of times those high points were things that I did that were volunteering and service. 

I called out specifically a point where I was the president of an organization that was working to help do education and awareness for research for breast cancer. And so those types of experiences have always been something that I’ve been passionate about that helped me feel like I have some kind of purpose that I’m fulfilling. 


Okay. So, let’s think about all these answers you’ve just given. I think you can easily see this thread, right? 


Oh yes. 


This is the thing that I love about when we start kind of peeling back the layers of the onion. It starts to become really obvious to us. We’re like, “Oh, how did I not see this before?” Because obviously you are really tapped into teaching other people. Not necessarily in a classroom. I like to say that teaching is something that has trailed after me. Even when i think it’s not there, it’s still there. I can’t help myself. I’m always teaching. You’re the same way. 


I’m the same way. I loved my classroom experiences. They were wonderful. I loved being around kids. I loved being around other teachers, but I realized that there was a place for me to do what I do that doesn’t have to be confined to those four walls. 


Absolutely. So, I’m noticing the themes of education, of supporting other people, of creativity and finding creative solutions and creative ways to teach people. So, do you think that is tied more to your mission statement than the data driven part? 


You know, I love that idea of creativity. I don’t think of myself as a particularly creative person. I think that when you have a degree in math, you think of yourself as logical and analytical. But the idea that I can take those things that I love to do, and take them into new creative places, to 

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still be able to help others and be around others, it’s going to make for a pretty good mission statement. 


Yeah, I think so too. One of the things that I talk about in The Joy of Missing Out is changing your conjunction. It’s not an either-or situation. It’s an and. You can be really good at math and you can be creative, and I think you are. I think you really are. I think you’re limiting yourself by saying, “I do math and therefore I can’t do these other things.” And so, 1 want you to open that up a little bit and I want you to think about those 

threads that we saw, this commonality between these experiences you’ve had in your job now in your past, in your life map, and connect those in thinking about your mission statement. I would love for you to think through this mission statement, and I would like to touch base with you before this podcast episode goes live. I’d like to see what you end up coming up with as a mission statement so I can share that with the listeners if you’re good with that. 


That sounds great. I’m very much looking forward to circling back around into the mission statement framework and rewriting this. 


Oh good. Well, I have to tell you, I’m really excited about this, because you’re really embodying this idea that just because you come up with a mission statement doesn’t mean that that’s your mission statement for life. And it doesn’t mean that it’s the right mission statement necessarily. But we evolve and we grow, and what you had written at that point, last fall, that really help get you into the job that you wanted. And now it’s time to, let’s revisit this and let’s dive a little deeper into who you are personally. 

So, thank you so much for sharing this and I really look forward to circling back with you, I hope that you found it really helpful talking with me and diving into who you’ve been in the past and figuring out this mission statement. 


Well, as I said, I’m really looking forward to doing this work to actually fill in the mission statement above my goals that will allow me to see that North Star, instead of that north-ish light bulb. 


[crosstalk 00:14:08] light bulb. Amazing. I’m so excited to hear back from you. 

Okay. I absolutely love this conversation that Amy and I have. And I want to go a little bit deeper into it, but first let’s take a quick word from today’s sponsor, and then we’ll come back to this idea of peeling back that onion even more. 

This episode has been sponsored by the University of California, Irvine or UCI. UCI’s division of continuing education can be a great resource for 

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anyone who’s looking to gain credits towards a master’s degree, or for those of you who want to reenter the workforce after taking some time off, or even if you just want to learn some new skills to help you with maybe a new business you’ve been thinking about starting. 

Now for those of who are trying to juggle work and family while attempting a career change, UCl is a 100% online, so it’s convenient and flexible. And they have a diverse selection of courses that are taught by industry practitioners with real world experience. So no matter what you’re looking for, UCI has tons of specialized studies, from paralegal to digital marketing to business and education and healthcare, project management, so many different choices. Registration’s now open and they have a great deal for Productivity Paradox listeners. Simply go to ce.uci.edu/productivityparadox. Enter the code paradox, to get 15% off a continuing education course. Again, that’s ce.uci.edu/productivityparadox. Don’t forget to use that code paradox to get 15% off of one course. This offer is valid until December 31st of 2019. 

Okay, so let’s go back to this topic that Amy and I were discussing. And I’m wondering how many of you saw yourself in Amy’s predicament? Her professional life felt a little more clearly defined, and she was having a really hard time bringing in the personal side. And as I mentioned in that conversation, it’s important that your North Star embodies who you are both at work and at home. You are the same person. And when there’s this disconnect, you can feel it. That’s when we start to feel a little bit out of alignment. 

But I really do get it, because it’s that softer side of life that can be a little bit harder to deal with. That personal side. We talked about this, that because our personal life can be a little bit messier, it feels harder to define. This is why I think it is so important and so helpful to look at our breadcrumbs. 

Now you’ve probably noticed that I use that term breadcrumbs in the book several times, and I use it all the time here on the podcast. For good reason. Because the truth is, it’s important to look backwards in order to move forward. Reflection is such a key part of discovering who you really are and the person that you want to become. 

Now I call these things breadcrumbs. These little things that have marked your path from where you’ve been. Breadcrumbs are so helpful in understanding yourself, and they can really help reveal how and where to invest in yourself. 

Now I know you may have heard the exact opposite. Let’s not dwell on the past or get caught up in nostalgia but looking back fondly actually helps us look forward optimistically. Studies have actually shown that 

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people exposed to items or memories that trigger nostalgia, tend to use more optimism related words and report feeling more positive about themselves. So, it helps us to think more positively, which of course is helpful in looking for clues as to who you are and why you do what you 

Remember, that’s what our mission statement tells us. Our mission statement doesn’t tell us what we do. It tells us why we do what we do. But here’s the truth, it also shows us where we shine and what we can use as springboards. That’s truly what I love about looking backwards, so that we can move forward. When we look back at who we’ve been, what has been meaningful to us, that really gives us some really great clues as to who it is we want to become. Research has demonstrated that employees who spend 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting about lessons learned, performed 23% better after 10 days, than those who do not reflect at all. 

You see, looking at our past is an area for us to mine. To see what we love and to see what we don’t love, which is honestly just as helpful, if not even more helpful than what is good. Knowing what you don’t want to do can be an equally powerful motivator. This is why too, that you’ll see reflection is a key part of the goal setting program that I teach and the goal setting planner that I offer because I really think it helps for us to look at ourselves and see who we’ve been and where we’ve gone, to know what we want to do and what we don’t want to do. It helps us to look at ourselves optimistically with a well-trained eye, and that is so powerful 

Now, I know for me, when I sat down and I tried to discover my North Star, which I talk about in the book, but I was looking at this blank page, which was incredibly daunting, and it’s so easy to understand why you want to throw up your hands and say, “This is just too hard.” But when we use our past, we’re not really starting with a blank page, are we? You have an entire lifetime of history, your lifetime to delve into and to use as your well to draw from. We can draw so much good out of it, and we can discover some of the motivators in your life that answer the question of why we do what we do. 

Remember, the mission statement is not what you do, it’s why you do what you do. And the clues that are hidden in plain sight in your past, 

that helps you understand it. It helps you discover it. 

Now I know what you might be thinking. You might be thinking, “Tanya, I’m confused, because you said our North Star will change. It will evolve and grow as we do.” And you’re right, but the clues, the clues are always there. We just have to dig for them. 

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For me, when I started mining my past, when I started digging into it, I can see where productivity has brought me a lot of joy, where I’ve leaned into it in the high points of my life, and where it was woven into so much of what I had done. But I didn’t see it. I didn’t see it until I went and I did a little bit of digging where I really was intentional with what I was looking at. And there were other things there when I was doing my digging. I love to use power tools. I think you probably figured that out when you heard the story about me tearing down and rebuilding my deck, but I love power tools. I love putting things together. The idea of innovating and making things, well that’s tied to what I do today through inkWELL Press. 

I also discovered that I love decorating my home and I can see evidence of hours and hours and hours of crafting in my past. This is why you’ll probably notice that most of my downloads or planners, they’re not plain. They’re designed to be beautiful. Very functional, yet beautiful to use because that’s something that’s important to me. 

The breadcrumbs were always there. They’re there for you as well. We just have to dig deeper. 

So here’s a few questions for you to ask yourself today. What did you want to be when you grew up? But go deeper. Why did you think that job sounded amazing? What was it that was appealing to you about that job? Who are the people you admired when you were younger? Why did you look up to them? Use the reflection process to help you define your North Star. 

Now, one of the things that’s been great about this season is I recorded a lot of these conversations weeks ago, and from many of the people who I talked with, they’ve sent me updates already and Amy sent me an update of her mission statement. She told me that she has redefined her mission statement to, “Use my passion for learning, to create ways for others to make meaning in their lives.” And she told me, “I’m still working on that phrase, make meaning. I know that in education, we look at the way we take in information and construct meaning for ourselves, and I want to contemplate that language a little bit more to see if there’s another way to express it or if I’m on track.” 

Here’s what I love. I love that Amy is continuing to shift and evolve and change her North Star to really fit who she is and to fit her life. So, let go of the stress of feeling like you have to have it all figured out. Let it go. Because here’s one of the things I’m hearing. I’m hearing this question again and again from people who ask me, “Should I stop reading and wait to keep reading the book until I have it all figured out?” 

Here’s the secret of life, no one has it all figured out. Here’s the truth. If ! asked you when your best ideas happen, what would you say? In the 

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shower? Maybe in the car? When you’re sipping your morning coffee? Yep. Your brain keeps working on solving things in the background. And in fact, you’ll sometimes have your greatest aha moments when you’re doing something else altogether. So, here’s my advice. Keep reading the book. Don’t get bogged down or worry because there will be light bulb moments to come in other sections. Read the book and then circle back to the North Star. Don’t feel stymied or stuck or that you have to have it figured out before you move on. 

Remember, your North Star is always evolving and growing just like Amy talked about. She’s still working to tweak it. She had a North Star. We‘ve changed it a little bit through our conversation, and she’s continuing to work on it and tinker on it just a little bit more, and that is a very, very good thing, 

So, I hope today‘s conversation with Amy has helped you see how you can apply a lot of what you know about yourself in the past to your own North Star, and into who it is you really want to be, 

Now next week, we’re going to continue with having another conversation with another woman talking about another stumbling block, and hers is going to be about setting boundaries and why it’s sometimes hard to say no. I’m really, really excited about this season and I cannot wait 

Now, one other bit of good news, I’m really excited to share with you, we are having the virtual book club starting up October 29th. Four weeks of live events where you can have discussions live with me about the book. Asking me questions, getting some answers, we’ll be joining together and talking live about the different sections of the book. 

All the information will be emailed to you and if you’re not on my email list, what are you waiting for? Get on that list because really, I don’t spam, I don’t send a lot of frivolous emails. I only send information I think is really helpful. So, we send a little quick email about what’s going on in the podcast that week. If there’s any downloads, that’s included as well, and information about this book club. 

So, sign up for my newsletter, Tanyadalton.com/email, for all the details of how you can take part of our four-week virtual book club. I would absolutely love to see you there. All right. Until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.