Thursday, May 03, 2007

Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live by Martha Beck

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

# Paperback: 400 pages
# Publisher: Three Rivers Press, 2002
# Price: $14.95
# ISBN-10: 0812932188
# ISBN-13: 978-0812932188

Martha Beck - life coach and monthly columnist for O: Oprah Magazine - adores turtles. The turtle, after all, embodies much to be admired: a hard, thick shell on the outside, to protect itself from the bumps and bruises of manuevering through life; a very soft and vulnerable inside beneath the resistant carapace; lacking in speed but has a plodding persistence that wins over the hare every time; and, while protecting its head when at rest, is required to stick its neck out in order to move forward. The turtle, Beck points out, is a role model for living successful lives.

Moving ahead in life, turtle-style, is an excellent way to reach our North Stars - that point of light to guide us home like a compass in even the darkest sky. In an easy-to-absorb and enjoyable, often humorous style, Beck explains how so many of us get lost, or get stuck, and fail to achieve our most cherished dreams or any measure of happiness. We are a division of two selves requiring balance: the essential self - our core being that is guided mostly by uninhibited instinct combined with an inner voice of wisdom - with the social self - the part of us that has learned how to play nice with others, function in a diverse society, and, alas, all too often wear masks to hide our more tender and true core selves.

Beck does not advocate turning to one or other self exclusively, both essential and social selves are necessary, but rather finding the healthy balance so that we can remain on the right path toward that North Star. Too much essential self and we become irresponsible members of a civilized society. Too much social self, and we lose touch with our core, sinking into superficiality, losing sight of our dreams, and wearing our masks so long that we forget our own true faces.

Beck illustrates how our physical bodies often are first to let us know, loud and clear, if we only pay attention, that we have veered off the path. A persistent unhappiness is our first clue. Easy enough to recognize. But sometimes our grief is more internalized, less obvious, and so signs of illness, fatigue, boredom, apathy, chronic irritability, all point to a need to check our internal maps. People behaving badly are not so much mean and evil, she says, as in pain. And pain of any kind is a clear signal that we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing, that we have lost touch with our essential, core selves. It's time to listen to the voice inside again, the one belonging to the essential self, for where we have gone wrong.

In fifteen chapters, the author gives plenty of guidance and examples, many quizzes and questions to ponder, much sound advice and clear illustration. Whether the issue at hand is a relationship gone sour or a career gone dull (and one issue often goes hand in hand with another), her common sense guidelines encourage the reader to get back on track again and how to do so. Change, she acknowledges, is uncomfortable. But life IS change, and it is in fact change that keeps us young and vital and alert, much as flexing a muscle keeps it strong. The turtle never gets ahead without stretching its neck out from under that shell first. The bounty and joy of life, however, is always worth it. Dealing with change and the unknown is part of the hero's saga, or quest, in finding the North Star, and no one gets through without encountering their share of obstacles and hurdles and tests. It is the testing, in fact, that makes us into heroes and gives us the tools and know-how we need to go on.

"A willingness to make mistakes and recover from them is absolutely essential," she writes. As is doing a "terrible job" if it is on the path to learning and growth. To sustain oneself through the rough spots, her advice is to keep oneself in the positive, avoid the negative, and that includes the company one keeps (find people who support and encourage you), the kind of recreation one chooses (don't watch a violent movie and expect to feel positive about yourself or others), and how one treats others (don't just take the support, offer it in return to those who are worthy).

"Change hurts," she warns. "...for a person who's stuck in the wrong life, setting out on a North Star quest has all the combined attractions of suicide and childbirth. To complete it, you'll have to kill off the old You and give birth to a different You, someone nobody has ever seen before. Neither side of this process is painless, and they're both scary as hell. I've watched hundreds of folks make dramatic life transformations, and in every case, the person in question experienced alienation, confusion, frustration, and a thousand other forms of acute distress... the eventual payoff was tremendous - cheap at twice the price."

In the end, Beck states, we all manifest our own destinies. Whether we finally reach our personal North Star or not, it is entirely up to each and every one of us. Those of us who are eternal pessimists and live in a mire of negativity will always hone in like magnets on failure and disappointment. Those of us who maintain our North Star focus throughout the expected trials and tribulations of normal living, will claim what we were meant to have: our dreams. Turtles are created to cross the finish line.

No comments: