Since the release of Sheryl Sandberg’s book, the “Lean In” phenomenon has spread like wildfire, moving beyond concept and becoming a full-fledged verb. I hear it everywhere I go—people talking about how to lean in, when to lean in, how far to lean. I agree that leaning in is the first step, but the experience of falling over and getting back up is equally important. Finding your true north isn’t about “leaning in” or taking control. It’s about slowing down.

Dipping Into the Valley of Oversaturation

Once upon a time, access to information was gold—a rare and extremely valuable commodity. Today, the quantity of information made accessible by technology and media has completely outpaced our ability to absorb it. Picture a brand new sponge—the first three or four times you use it, it’s soakings up liquid like magic! But after that, it becomes oversaturated; nothing else can be absorbed without squeezing out the excess. A very similar phenomenon is happening with our minds—both in a personal and business context—the volume of information, interaction and experience in our daily lives is so dense; we’re filled up beyond capacity. Many people recognize feeling oversaturated, but instead of stopping to squeeze out the sponge they push themselves to absorb more. I’m guilty of this, too.

The Tipping Point

In the startup world, the sponge experience is hard to escape. It’s easy to get swept up in the rush of vision, expectations, demands, and the highs and lows of production. Frankly, our culture rewards the addiction of the emotional roller coaster and the never-ending thirst for realizing the dream. The real kicker is that this perpetual quest for the next hill to climb doesn’t always bring clarity. It’s quite the opposite—our minds are more scattered and chaotic than ever.

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What’s the missing piece? A critical and often overlooked practice of awareness. Awareness is the defining line that pushes you to look up and out, so you can catch yourself before falling over. Resisting the natural urge to fight (aggress) or flee (acquiesce) takes patience, resolve and a special kind of centeredness. Without deep awareness of the true forces at play, we get trapped in a self-perpetuating cycle of putting more on your plate to do, when in reality what we really need is to lighten the load and repack the trunk of work expectation.

Pause, Reflect, Reframe, Repattern

Many people are consciously and subconsciously experiencing symptoms of overstimulation and feel stuck in a state of self-induced chaos. The silver lining is that the solution isn’t a spa day, extreme sports or an exotic trip. The path to our own true north is a cultivated practice of stillness from within.

  • Pause: I recently read an incredible article on the power of lonely. Standing still, being silent and spending time in solitude are powerful and necessary tools to clear your mind.
  • Reflect: Create space and time to process information, interactions and experiences that shape your day. This doesn’t have to be meditation—if hammering on your roof helps you clear your head—do it! At Get Satisfaction, you’ll find me straightening up the kitchen when I need time to process; bringing order to the space around me helps me reconnect to my own restorative rhythms.
  • Reframe: Step back from cause and effect. Consciously move into the mindset of another context or someone else’s shoes. Experience the difference in compassion vs empathy to reframe the situation. Patience and introspections are required to gain new perspective.
  • Repattern: Let curiosity take the reigns. Look for the patterns that have brought you to this juncture, parse them out and examine them. Which are holding you back? Decide which patterns you need discard to lighten the load. Find the pieces that matter for the next week, month, quarter.

Break Down to Break Out

There’s a general misconception that you should cram information into your brain, read a bunch of blogs, go look at nature and then you’ll “see the light” and have clarity delivered to your head and heart! That’s not how it works—it’s a lot grittier. You have to throw yourself on the tracks and surrender to a place that’s raw and filled with uncertainty and confusion. It requires you to stop fighting and accept where you are; sometimes conceding to our own limitations is the most difficult action we can take. That’s the breakdown. That’s where you find the real gems. From there, you can (maybe even with some grace and humility) begin again.

Each of these steps is hugely important, from a leadership as well as a business perspective. Just like people, companies go through intense periods of over saturation and stagnation; learning how to break out of these cycles is the key to realignment so you can keep moving forward.

What are your processes for finding your “true north”? What are your tips for surrendering to gain clarity?

Wendy Lea

Author Wendy Lea

Wendy is the CEO of Centrifuse and Chair of the Board for Get Satisfaction. She has over three decades of experience helping companies drive predictable growth through trusted relationships with customers and partners.

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