Finding Your Own North Star: How to Claim the Life You Were Meant to Live – Marta Beck
“Listen carefully: Your family of origin does not know how to get you to your North Star. They didn’t when you were little, they don’t now, and they never will. People whose families were accepting and supportive have to face the fact that familial love can’t take them all the way towards their right lives.”
“Many of my clients can’t figure out what they want to do with their careers until they restore themselves to physical health by resting deeply for weeks, sometimes even months. Whatever your body tells you to do; the odds are very good that it’s the next step towards your North Star.”
In a nutshell
The book is for you if you feel as though your life has taken a wrong turn.
Also known as Stella Polaris, the North Star is found at the North Pole of the heavens. Because it does not move-around like other stars, it has always been used by explorers and seafarers to work out their current position and check direction. The North Star struck Martha Beck as the perfect symbol of what she calls “right life,” the fulfilled existence that is uniquely yours and waiting to be claimed.
How do we find our star? Internal compasses, in the form of our physical reactions, intuitions, and peculiar wants and longings, are there to guide us, and to get us back on course when the clouds and storms of life make us lose sight. Beck says that the key to finding our right life is to know the difference between the essential self and the social self. This is what we concentrate on here.
The essential self and the social self What is the essential self? It is that quiet voice that will ask you to “walk to the beat of a different drum” when you would prefer to stroll with the pack. The social self is the voice that may have determined most of your life decisions so far; it has provided you with skills, networked for you, and is basically “responsible.” Most people make their social self their master, but for you to live a fulfilled live it should be the other way around-take your lead from your essential self, and let the social self do what is practically necessary to get you where you want to go.
Beck came from an academic background in which doing something “difficult” was respected. She took Chinese as her major at college because it sounded admirable and brainy-and she hated it. It bogged her down mentally and was truly hard. Anything you are doing that causes stress and struggle, she says, no matter how worthy you think it is, is probably not part of your true direction. When you find something that gives you joy and at which you seem easily productive-what in eastern philosophy is called “non-action”-it is probably close to your North Star.
In times past, you were much more likely to do well economically through the obedient, conformist behaviour of your social self, as the individual was always part of a larger machine. In the twenty-first century, however, this has changed, the real money going to people with a unique personality, skill, or product. And uniqueness never drops out of committees; it arises from deep within a person, from your essential self.
Bringing out the essential self
The essential self is like the daimon or soul image that James Hillman talks of in The Soul’s Code. It can’t speak, so it finds all kinds of ways to be recognized. Many of Beck’s clients come to her complaining that they “self-sabotage”: They fluff exams or interviews that they had to do well in, not really knowing why. Yet what seems like an inexplicable failure may actually be in harmony with your true desires in the long term.
One of the most vital aspects of regaining your essential self is to learn how to say “no” again. The Japanese word for no is iie, but because Japan is a relatively conformist society, it is actually a taboo to say it. We learn from an early age that we must cooperate and always let our essential self give way to our social self. But just as a caged tiger will lash out if someone comes into its precious space, your essential self knows when to say no. It must be allowed to do this, to state its boundaries, or you will end up with neuroses caused by having to be nice to everyone all the time.
Your body and your brain will happily tell you when the essential self has been ignored, be it through illness, forgetfulness, numb hostility, apathy, Freudian slips, or addiction. Listen to your body!
Alignment with your North Star, in contrast, may release a pent-up vitality that you last enjoyed when you were a child. You will start to love yourself again, remember things easily, be more concerned with good health, and be a lot more cheerful to the rest of the world. In the eyes of those close to you, looking for your true purpose may seem selfish-but would they rather live with the results of keeping it buried?
Making the leap
When we contemplate change (having a baby, quitting a job, taking a year off) we make protestations to ourselves that “everybody” will think I’m an idiot, “everybody” will hate me. This is terrifying-until we come to understand that “everyone” is composed of just a few people, some maybe not even still alive. Psychology describes this as the “generalized other.” Beck, for instance, took a long time to realize that merely to get her father’s approval she was writing in the unnecessarily dry style of an academic journal when she should have been using everyday language.
Once we see that there are in fact millions of points of view on everything, we can no longer be beholden to an imaginary everybody, and are free to pursue what we feel to be right. Always remember, Beck says, that the social self is programmed to avoid danger, even if it’s an illusion. By following your dreams, on the other hand, you will develop a new and positive relationship with fear.
Finding Your Own North Star is a comprehensive self-help book (380 pages) covering everything from how to appreciate beauty, be generous, welcome change even when everything is OK, diagnose fear in yourself and others, grieve, and express hate and anger, to how to follow your intuition. What have these got to do with your North Star? Not being “on purpose” will affect every area of your life, and you will need to become more aware of your emotions and inner learnings to get back to that state. The last part of the work looks at the four stages of life through which you may go in your quest to find your North Star, and is almost worth a book on its own. There are quizzes and exercises throughout, many designed to “bring you out of your shell.”
This copy was taken from 50 Self-help Classics, written and compiled by Tom Butler-Bowdon.