Skip to main content
The Works

Three ways to get your bearings

Black Mountain Tower, Canberra’s bearing point

Three ways to get your bearings

(Ha! I’d forgotten that the newsletter section before the article was titled “take your bearings” … so clearly, this is a theme I like.)

Arriving in Canberra by coach or by plane, you keep an eye on the horizon for Black Mountain Tower. It’s the telecom tower built 50 years ago on top of the “mountain” that’s in the very middle of the city.

Once you’ve arrived, it still acts as a beacon. I spend most of my time in South Canberra, and the Tower acts as my compass point to the North. Once I know that, everything else fits into place.

Feeling lost?

When we’re wrestling with the messiness of life, we don’t tend to have a tower built on a mountain to show us the way. But there are other ways to figure out the right direction to go.

Here are three to try:

  1. What do you want?

I’ve been working recently with a friend about an issue that’s got her tangled, and, my guess is, the challenge is that she doesn’t know what she wants. She’s angry and frustrated by the situation, but finds it’s a real struggle to name how she wants it to be different

It’s one of the questions from The Coaching Habit, and I’ve always said it’s the hardest to answer. Hard but extraordinarily liberating. Once you get clear on what you want, the path often opens up.

Two variants on this are “what does success look like?” and “how much is enough?”

  1. What are your principles or values?

A good set of principles or values can be a clear beacon. But this comes with a 🚨 danger-danger-self-help-BS-red-light-flashing 🚨 warning.

I’m perpetually irritated by lists of values that are too long, too bland, and too simplistic. Vague jazz-hand words are often at odds with (at least) one of the vague words on the list. It’s a word salad of abstract truisms.

I get excited by values that are specific, gritty and helpful with the complexity of life, principles that enable me to navigate moments of ambiguity.

At, for instance, one of our values is:

Be generous while knowing your worth. We act with generosity towards all we work with. We assume positive intent. We strive for accessibility. We give what we can. At the same time, to ensure longevity and sustainability, we manage the boundaries of our time and resources.

Box of Crayons does something similar:

Practice Stewardship. Support individual growth. Promote human flourishing. Regenerate what you take. Embrace the long view even over chasing quick wins.

‘While’ and ‘even over’ make explicit the tension between the choices, and hint at when this choice is going to be difficult. Values are easy enough to enact when what to do is obvious. They’re put to the test when there’s a tricky moment to navigate.

  1. Who do you trust?

Who’ll give you the low down? Who’ll help you figure it out? Who’ll say what others haven’t been brave enough to say (but say it with love and compassion)?

Brené Brown says, “clear is kind”, and I chime in with “fierce love”.

You don’t have to figure this out alone. Ask someone else to help you get your bearings.

Want The Works in your inbox?
Sign up (free) here
Michael Bungay Stanier

Michael Bungay Stanier

I'm the author of five books that have collectively sold more than a million copies. I'm the founder of Box of Crayons, a learning and development company that helps organizations move from advice-driven to curiosity-led. I'm the host of the *2 Pages with MBS* podcast.