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We all have a compass. How well is yours working?

Updated: Feb 25, 2022

A compass provides us with direction, giving us our bearings, helping us to navigate to our destination. A compass is something we must trust. I’ve had many different compasses to help me to reach my goals and in the most inhospitable of environments, where the terrain and weather have been at their worst.

I vividly remember a time when the tailgate of the military vehicle went down, and we jumped off only to find ourselves in the mountain fog and mist. Some people knew this area (or thought they did) as we set off on our individual routes to navigate to our checkpoints for the day. We were under serious time pressures to reach our checkpoint and to finish. There is a difference between pressure and stress.

I didn’t really know the area, but what I did know was how to navigate. I had spent a lot of my time preparing for this type of situation, practising and rehearsing physical and theoretical scenarios. I worked out where I was, where I had set off from, set my compass and off I went. I had total trust in my compass as I trudged over the rugged terrain to reach the checkpoint which was in the middle of nowhere. After a few hours and admittedly some relief, I reached my checkpoint. The instructor asked me where everyone else was!

This is one example of a time I have had to use my compass but navigating in Western Europe is nothing compared to some of the other environments I’ve had to face. These have included jungles, deserts and the polar regions. Yes, we have our maps to help us, but that’s not easy when it’s a white piece of paper! Firstly, in the polar regions, you are faced with bizarre weather fronts, extreme cold and ‘whiteouts’ in which you cannot differentiate between land and sky. People often describe it as like being in a ping pong ball. I like to think of it as being on the film set of Willy Wonka.

The key thing to remember when navigating with a compass is having a bearing and hopefully something to fix on. But in a whiteout, you have nothing. So you try and use anything you can to help you. The spindrift (blowing direction of the ice stream) as you look down at your feet can help you with direction; the odd break in the cloud, using the clouds, rocks (if there are any) to try and get that fix. All these things can help but it is difficult! Sometimes you end up going around in circles, going off bearing and it becomes exhausting. You may set up camp only to find you’ve not gone far. In extreme weather fronts, you have to just stay in your tent for your own safety and protection; you wouldn’t get anywhere anyway.

In the polar regions, you have to compensate for the ground, but in Antarctica, you may also have to watch out for crevasses (huge holes in the ground), sastrugi (solid ice waves), rifts and frozen blue ice. In the Arctic, you are constantly faced with barricades of ice, open water/ice. In these situations, you either risk it and try and cross or go around which can take you miles away and hours before you get back on track.

So why am I telling you this?

We all have our psychological compass which helps give us our bearings and provides the direction if you let it. We may be faced with difficult environments, even the polar regions, which require us to navigate through the whiteouts and around the barriers, and obstacles, all things we may face along our journey before reaching our destination. We may even have to hunker down in our tents and wait for the weather to lift before moving on. The moral part of our compass which tells us right from wrong may also be tested.

The main thing is to ensure you are using yours correctly and that it is serviceable and working. Know how to use it and above all else TRUST and BELIEVE in it. Compasses do work.

If you or anyone in your team or organisation want help in finding the compass, then give me a shout and I’d be happy to calibrate them.

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