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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.

"Melvin's essential self was born a curious, fascinated, playful little creature, like every healthy baby."

  Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star, Part 2

Actually, I never heard from Melvin in the first place--at least not all of him. As a matter of fact, I don't think Melvin had ever heard from all of Melvin. The conversation I had was with Melvin's "social self," the part of him that had learned to value the things that were valued by the people around him. This "social self" couldn't tell me what Melvin loved, enjoyed, or wanted, because it literally didn't know. Those facts did not fall in its area of experience, let alone expertise. It didn't remember Melvin's preferences or his childhood, because it had spent years telling him to ignore what he preferred and stop acting like a child.

There was, of course, a part of Melvin that knew the answer to every question I'd asked him. I call this the "essential self." Melvin's essential self was born a curious, fascinated, playful little creature, like every healthy baby. After forty-five years, it still contained powerful urges toward individuality, exploration, spontaneity, and joy. But by repressing these urges for years and years, Melvin's social self had lost access to them. It was inevitable that Melvin would also lose his true path, because while his social self was the vehicle carrying him through life, it was cut off from his essential self, which had all the navigational equipment that pointed toward his North Star.

Melvin was like a ship that had lost its compass or charts. It wasn't just the wrong job that made him feel so aimless and uninspired; it was the loss of his life's purpose. If Melvin had become a client, I would have advised him to stay put at IBM until he had learned to consciously reconnect with his essential self. Then he would have regained the capacity to steer his own course toward happiness, whether that lay in his present job and marriage or in a completely different life.

Navigational Breakdown

I base all my counseling on the premise that each of us has these two sides: the essential self and the social self. The essential self contains several sophisticated compasses that continuously point toward your North Star. The social self is the set of skills that actually carry you toward this goal. Your essential self wants passionately to become a doctor; the social self struggles through organic chemistry and applies to medical school. Your essential self yearns for the freedom of nature; your social self buys the right backpacking equipment. Your essential self falls in love; your social self watches to make sure the feeling is reciprocal before allowing you to stand underneath your beloved's window singing serenades.

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