Tangible Why Symbols: The Story of the Compass

Peter Docker|24/01/2017

I was struggling. At Start With Why we encourage people to have a tangible symbol to represent their WHY, and yet here I was, an Igniter on the team, and I really didn’t have the foggiest idea what my symbol could be. Then, just when I wasn’t thinking about it, the perfect idea came to me.

It was about two years ago and I had met up with my daughter Louise for an orienteering event. For those of you not in the know, orienteering is a competitive sport in which participants race to find a series of check points known as controls marked on a map. The idea is to run and navigate as quickly and accurately as you can. The fastest time wins.

Although usually an individual event, Louise and I had decided to run this one together. I’ve orienteered for many years and Louise had done quite a few too, although it had been a while since our last event. We were both a bit rusty so we thought it would be fun entering as a pair.

We filled out the forms and were given a map between the two of us and a list of controls to find. We walked purposefully to the start line, with me poised to lead off to the first control. But something made me pause, turn to Louise and hand her the map, list of controls, and the compass.

“Go on,” I said, “your lead. I’ll follow you. Show me which way to go.”

A little hesitant at first, Louise soon got into her stride and by the third or fourth control we had started to work effectively as a team, Louise pointing which way to go, telling me what features to look for while I focused on running and spotting the tell-tale orange and red flags marking the controls. It was pretty cool seeing her confidence grow. By the end we’d developed our technique quite well and crossed the finish line sweaty and happy.

I must admit, I felt quite emotional by it all. It dawned on me how symbolic it was passing the map and compass to Louise. For years as her father I’d done my best to guide and coach and hold the space for her to grow. Sometimes I got it right, other times less so, and yet here she was now a grown woman hugely capable and confident. It was a joy to see.  ‘To enable people to be extraordinary so that they can do extraordinary things’. That’s my WHY. And the compass as a symbol seemed to capture it pretty well.

For some, finding a symbol for our WHY happens very quickly, for others it can take a little while. However long it takes, you’ll know when you’ve found the one. It just feels right. The compass is the right one for my WHY and, more importantly, I will always remember the story – the moment – when I found it.

PS – Louise now owns her own compass.



Peter Docker

Speaker, Teacher, Navigator

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