The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
— Lao Tzu

“What makes a good strategy?” – this is an age-old question that individuals, athletes, business(wo)men and others seek to answer on both a personal and organizational level. We often look at particularly successful (or unsuccessful) examples to conclude what makes “good” (or “bad”) strategy. However, in my Business Policy class this quarter, I’ve grown to appreciate the value in approaching this common question from a different perspective.

I recently read The Alchemist - the story of a shepherd boy (Santiago) who embarks upon a journey in search of a recurring dream: a treasure buried at the Pyramids. Santiago travels for some time with a caravan in order to cross the desert to his treasure. As he travels, Santiago observes:

When the caravan was blocked by a boulder, it had to go around it; if there was a large rocky area, they had to make a major detour. If the sand was too fine for the animals’ hooves, they sought a way where the sand was more substantial…But all this happened for one basic reason: no matter how many detours and adjustments it made, the caravan moved toward the same compass point. Once obstacles were overcome, it returned to its course, sighting on a star that indicated the location of the oasis

Similarly, Santiago must overcome spiritual and physical obstacles to reach his personal treasure. Acknowledging challenges as they arise and adapting to overcome them are critical for Santiago and the caravan to continue toward their final destinations.

Adaptability is an essential skill, whether physically crossing the desert or pursing your personal or organizational goals. I have found that this aspect of Santiago’s story can serve as a metaphor to provide fresh insight into our own journeys. On a personal level, over the past two years, I have weathered many peaks and valleys – from severe injury, to qualifying to race professionally in triathlon, to the loss of loved ones, to pursuing an exciting new phase in my professional growth. My ability to adapt and take each high/low as it comes has allowed me to draw strength from my successes and find powerful opportunities for growth from each obstacle. In doing so, I have found that I am better able to keep my eyes on my personal and professional goals (my "treasure," if you will) and continue moving toward my “sighting star.” I share this sentiment with you in the hopes that the next time life gives you lemons, you can challenge yourself to take a step back, embrace them, and keep your eyes on your own “compass point."