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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.
 

"The social self is based on principles that often run contrary to our core desires."

  Martha Beck, Finding Your Own North Star, Part 4

The social self is based on principles that often run contrary to our core desires. Its job is to know when those desires will upset other people, and to help us override natural inclinations that aren't socially acceptable. Here are some of the contradictory operational features that, mixed together, comprise the you we know and love:

Your Two Selves: Basis of Operations

Behaviors of the Social Self Are: Avoidance-based, Conforming, Imitative, Predictable, Planned, Hardworking

Behaviors of the Essential Self Are: Attraction-based, Unique, Inventive, Surprising, Spontaneous, Playful

As you can see, you are definitely an odd couple. Only in very lucky or wise people do the social and essential selves always agree that they're playing for the same team. For the rest of us, internal conflict is a way of life. Our two selves do battle against each other, in ways small and large, every single day.

Let's make up some details about the life of Melvin the Middle Manager, to serve as a hypothetical example. When his alarm clock rings at six a.m., Melvin's essential self tells him that he needs at least two more hours of sleep; he's been getting less than his body requires each night for the last several years, and he's chronically exhausted. His social self, however, reminds him that he's been late to work three times this month, and that the boss is starting to notice. Melvin gets up.

He eats breakfast alone. This floods his essential self with loneliness for his wife, who moved out last week. For just a minute, Melvin thinks about calling her, but his social self immediately nixes that idea. For one thing, it's six-thirty in the morning. For another thing, Melvin's wife is sleeping at her boyfriend's apartment. Melvin barely even notices his essential self's suggestion that he go after the boyfriend with a baseball bat, because his social self knows how wrong and futile that would be. Instead, Melvin goes to work.

At the office, Melvin's social self sits quietly through a meeting that bores his essential self almost to death. The guy next to him is a smarmy twenty-eight-year-old with an MBA from MIT who was recently promoted right past Melvin. Just looking at this guy makes Melvin's teeth clench. His essential self wants to squirt ink from his fountain pen onto the little twerp's oxford shirt, but his social self bars the way yet again. Instead, Melvin's essential self writes a nasty limerick about the MIT MBA in the margin of his notebook. Then his social self scribbles it out, lest it fall into the Hands of the Enemy.

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