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Excerpted from Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck. Copyright © 2001 by Martha Beck. Excerpted by permission of Random House, Inc.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Do you ever look up from something you're doing to find that hours and hours have gone by without your noticing?"

  Martha Beck
Finding Your Own North Star
, Part 1

The Disconnected Self

Melvin worked as a middle manager at IBM, and a miserable middle manager Melvin made. If clinical depression had a phone voice, it would sound just like Melvin's did the morning he called me to see if I could take him on as a client. He'd been feeling sort of flat and listless for a while, he said--no big deal, just the past couple of decades. Lately, things had reached the point where Melvin's work performance and marriage were both showing signs of strain. He thought the problem might be his job, and for the past month or two he'd been surreptitiously checking upscale want ads and sending his résumé to friends at other companies. He'd gotten a few nibbles, but nothing that really interested him. Melvin said all this in dull but fluent Executese, rich in words like incentivize and satisfice.

I decided to give Melvin the little verbal phone quiz I sometimes use to evaluate potential clients before they spend time and money in my office. I asked him his age (forty-five), his marital status (separated, no children), and job history (a Big Blue man since the day he left college). Then we got to the questions that really interest me.

"So, Melvin," I said. "When you were a little kid, did you have an imaginary friend?"

"Excuse me?" said Melvin.

I repeated the question.

"I really don't remember," said Melvin, stiffly.

"Okay," I said. "Is there anything you do regularly that makes you forget what time it is?"

"Time?" Melvin echoed.

"Yes," I said, "do you ever look up from something you're doing to find that hours and hours have gone by without your noticing?"

"Wait," said Melvin. "I have to write this down."

"No, no," I said, "you really don't. Do you laugh more in some situations than in others?"

"Listen," said Melvin tensely, "I didn't know I was going to have to answer these kinds of questions. I thought you could tell me a little about midcareer job changes, that's all. I've had no time to prepare."

I had a mental picture of Melvin calling in the marketing department to measure his laughter rates and interview family members about his favorite childhood fantasies. "Melvin," I said, "relax. I don't grade on a curve. Just tell me everything you can remember about the best meal you ever had in your life."

There was a very long silence. Then he said, "I'm sorry, but I'll have to put together some data and get back to you on these questions. Will next week be soon enough?"

I never heard from Melvin again.

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