I am re-reading life coach and best-selling author Martha Beck’s 2001 book, FINDING YOUR OWN NORTH STAR: Claiming the Life You Were Meant To Live.  One of the running themes in the book reminds me of Marcus Tullius Cicero’s thought that “your best advisor is yourself.

The only problem with this thought is that for many of us, there is a civil war happening inside us and it’s hard to hear the advice from yourself when there’s all that shouting and contradicting going on.  The war is on-going, apparently, for most people.

Who’s in there arguing?  Beck has an explanation.

Beck bases her life-design and career counseling on the premise that each of us have two sides.  One she calls the Essential Self.  The other is the Social Self.  (The capitalizations are mine.)


Beck says the Essential Self is the essence of your personality, the “basic you.”

It’s the personality that comes from your genes and includes your characteristic desires, preferences, emotional reactions and involuntary physiological responses.   All of these are gifts from your ancestors and from the Universe.

The gifts include your talents and predispositions as well.

The Essential Self is you as fetus.  It’s the you that came into the world trailing clouds of glory before the world stuck add-ons onto you.

Fetus (from “The Miracle of Pregnancy” exhibition at the London Natural History Museum, 2011) by Nathan Rupert via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Essential Self is attraction-based.  It knows what it likes.  It prefers to be unique, spontaneous and playful and it is often surprising and inventive.

Beck’s Essential Self sounds like it’s a lot right-brained.  According to Beck, the Essential Self doesn’t change.

It is like the North Star, “Stella Polaris.”  This star is a fixed point that doesn’t move around in the night sky the way the other stars do.  Because it doesn’t move, Polaris has been used by seafarers to figure out which way they’re supposed to go in the middle of the trackless sea.

Beck believes that your Essential Self is your own North Star, pointing the way toward your own “right life,” the one that will lead to the ultimate realization of your own happiness.


The Social Self is the part of you that developed in response to the people around you.

Crowd by Amy West via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]
As Beck points out, human babies are born knowing that their survival depends on the goodwill of the Big People around them.  We are literally designed to please other people.

Cute and adorable is a pretty straightforward human survival mechanism.  On a pragmatic level, cute and adorable is more likely to get fed and nurtured.

Social Self is avoidance-based.  It wants to avoid making trouble, making waves.  It prefers to be conforming.  It spends a lot of time imitating other people and is hardworking, predictable, and really big on making set-in-stone plans.

The Social Self is a fast-talking nagging presence that’s kind of sergeant-major-ish.  It sounds like it’s a lot left-brained.

Your Essential Self cracked your first baby smile, just because.

Your Social Self noticed how much Mom liked it.  Charming Mom with your most endearing smile became a major strategy for getting everything from that extra cookie to convincing her to loan you the down-payment for your new car.

During your lifetime, your Social Self has picked up all kinds of skills from the people around you.

In our society, you learned how to talk and read and dress yourself.  You learned how to dance and drive and share stuff.  You learned how to win social approval.  You learned to display traits that are politically and culturally correct.

(If you belonged to a headhunter tribe or to a yak-herder family, you probably learned other useful skills as well.)

If you were diligent as a youngster, Social Self helped you learn how to be Normal.  If you got really good at it, maybe you even made it to Cool.


Social Self’s job is to know how to override Essential Self’s core desires.  Social Self is very good at raining on Essential Self’s parade and stopping all that impulsive, giddy-making behavior that might upset other people.

After a while, Essential Self starts feeling squashed and fights back, rebelling against all the strictures and structures and rules and regs.  Passive-aggressive behavior is not unusual.

One interesting theory Beck cites is that so-called “self-sabotage” is very often actions taken (or not taken) by your Essential Self when your Social Self insists on moving in a direction that your Essential Self does not want to go.

Falling asleep in the middle of working on some interminably boring, “very important” report, or “forgetting” to pack that report when you are supposed to be meeting that “very important” client might be examples of this phenomenon.

Then Social Self pours on the pressure and the two selves get locked into a battle that leaves you feeling exhausted and drained.

It doesn’t have to be like that.


The other thing your Social Self is very good at is working with your Essential Self to sustain relationships with people who are important to you, to finish school, to hold down jobs and to meet your goals, realize your dreams, and all that good stuff.

According to Beck, that can only happen if your Essential Self and your Social Self are on the same page, if they can work together as a team.  When you get to that stage, then, yeah:  Cicero’s right.  You become your best advisor.

After telling you how your two selves came to be working at cross-purposes with each other, Beck’s engaging book takes you through the process of reconnecting your two selves so the old stuffed-shirt Social Self can pay attention and help to meet the needs and desires of your Essential Self, who is, after all, your true North Star.

There’s a plethora of case studies, questionnaires, exercises and very good information  in Beck’s FINDING YOUR OWN NORTH STAR.  Get the book and check it out.

In this YouTube video published by Aspeakers and featuring Martha Beck, the author recalls how she came to write the book.  She is a wonderful storyteller.


If you do the work and talk it over with your own selves and pay attention to the thoughts you think and the feelings you feel, your two selves can help you navigate your way through the choices and opportunities you encounter, leading you toward a more joyous and meaningful life for yourself.

How do you tell if it’s working?  It’s easy.  Your energy level increases exponentially when you’re paying attention to your Essential Self and honoring the course-corrections your Social Self makes in the process.

And that’s a very good thing….

I have personally used many of the exercises in Beck’s book to help me suss out the direction that holds the meaning and mana for me in my own life.   My copy has all the blanks filled in and notes in the margins.  I’ve bent my head around her concepts and tried to do the work she suggests.

The book has a place on my reference shelf.

Here’s a poem:


You tell me you’ve been noticing

That I’m just not

As bubbly as I was,

Not singing on the wing

Like some demented lark,

Spiraling up into the sun.


You’re right.

I’m not.


You tell me

It caused a disturbance

In your contemplation

Of the mountain of

Your desires and

You’ve interrupted

Your own climbing flight.


Oh, wow.

I’m surprised.


You tell me

That you feel for me,

And wisdom-words come

Tumbling out of you

As you try to pat me

Back into the shape you remember.


Gee, thanks.

You care.

by Netta Kanoho

[A colleague of mine at a real-estate office where I once worked awkwardly tried to give me “sage advice” during one of my down-periods.   Her platitudes were so completely off the mark that I had a hard time not laughing.  But, hey…she did try, and I truly was grateful for that.]

Picture credit:  Polaris by Julian Schugel via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]



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26 thoughts on “YOUR BEST ADVISOR

  1. Thanks for this excellent piece. I have heard of Martha Beck but I have not read any of her work. I think I will get this book to learn more about some of her work.

    It’s timely reading this as I have spent the last couple of weeks in an experiment of sorts. I list out the tasks I want to achieve, toward my goals, each week. I then just get on with it. Nothing too extraordinary about that.

    However, typically, there was always a self sabotage and whiny procrastinator that could really mess up progress. The experiment therefore was to use that voice as the signal to look back at my list and focus on the task and the execution of that task only.

    This ignoring of the silent killer inside eventually leads to it dissipating each time. It has been very effective and I have noticed better levels of productivity and clarity already.

    I came across a great piece that seems to summarize this well in that it said, you don’t always need motivation, you need a plan and the ability to implement your plan. Simple but powerful as motivation comes and goes.

    A plan and the ability just to get on with it is usually always accessible even when motivation is low. In the context of your piece, I assume both the essential and social selves are perhaps trying to find a middle ground.

    Of all the exercises you did in the book, which one stands out and gave you the most insight / value in getting clarity, on what holds the meaning for you in your life?

    Nice poem by the way.

    1. Hey Colm:

      Thanks for the visit and your comments. It sounds like you’re really working it on through and I am sure that Beck’s book can be a help for you. It occurs to me that one thing that might help in your situation is to stop thinking of your Essential Self as “the silent killer.” It’s not. It’s actually the built-in compass that will lead you toward the happiness you want.

      If you can reframe your Essential Self as the compass, then it gets a lot easier to align your actions with your intentions because the direction you are heading is the way you really want to go.

      Maybe it helps to think of it all as surfing. Life sends waves — sometimes big ones — through your life. Your Social Self is you on the surfboard directing your moves on that board. Your Essential Self is your body-knowledge of how to move so that you can use the wave-energy to get to where you’re going. When you get good you can use the wave-energy to catch some air and do razzle-dazzle flips and things on that board or you can be Laird Hamilton dropping down the face of the big waves at Jaws in Peahi.

      The exercises that helped me develop my poetry-thing, where I use the poetry to tap into the Essential Self (who is really lousy at articulating what it wants), are found in Chapter 8 of the book, “Reading Your Emotional Compass.”

      Once you can read the compass, it’s a lot easier to get to the part where more and more of your actions take you closer to the life you’d like to live in. It’s all just process.

      Good fortune on your journey, Colm. Please do come again….

  2. Thanks for the review on Martha Beck’s book. I personally like how she had categorized us into have an “Essential Self” and a “Social Self”, I find it true that perhaps such systems exists within ourselves.

    Instead of hearing about the conventional ‘left and right brain’ types. This places a new spin on how we, as humans, could view our whole existence and how we control or form our daily behaviors.

    The whole concept about ‘self-sabotage’ is also rather true! Makes me want to pick up the pages and read further into it.

    Applying the knowledge picked up from reading her book will surely provide clarity towards a lot of ups-and-downs in life…

    Very interesting poem at the end as well!

    1. Merrell, thank you for your visit and your comments. Please do come again.

  3. I believe that each of us has our own North Star which is the path that we are destined to be which is our so called Destiny. I agree that our Essential Self should be in agreement with our Social Self to be able to unlock the path that we are heading through.

    We could ask for an advice from others but in the end it is up to us if we will follow it or not. It all boils down in our own decision. Our own best advisor is ourselves.

    Martha Beck’s book is interesting! I have plans of buying it for my own reference. Thank you for sharing an interesting post, Netta! 🙂

    1. Hey Deljar:

      Thanks for the visit and your comments. I do appreciate it. Please do come again!

  4. It is so true. The war happening inside us is hard and sometimes it is not easy to hear the advice from yourself especially when there’s so much shouting and contradicting going on around us.

    I completely agree that the war is on-going all the time. It is interesting how people found different way to go around all of those noises.

    1. Hey manor:

      Thanks for your visit and your comments. I do appreciate them. Please do come again….

  5. Such a great read! Made me think about how I should learn to treat myself more. And I really like the fact that you’ve summarized the book in such detail to provide a wide scope of ideas to the readers.

    I haven’t heard of Martha Beck but now I’m keen on knowing more about her story.

    1. Hey Adam: I’m glad the page introduced you to Martha Beck’s work. It’s first-rate stuff and I do recommend it highly. Thanks for the visit and your thoughts. Please do come again….

  6. FrugalTravelsNepal says:

    Such an insightful article. Yes, I see this so much. I think it’s a wonderful blend of both essential and social selves/left or right brained that makes us who we are.

    It’s fascinating to see how these two selves blend to create such a unique expression.

    This article helped me to appreciate how unique people are and how this blend makes them exactly who they are. One day I said to my son, ‘If I were he I would…’ and he in his amazing wisdom answered, ‘No mom, if you were that person you would do exactly as he did because you’d be him.’

    I hope you keep writing. I enjoy your articles and insights.

    1. Hey FTN:

      Welcome back!  Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      I think your son is a very wise person too!

      Please do come again….

  7. Hi

    The only person who is holding us back is ourselves, and it is good to  know when people write about it.

    I really enjoyed reading this article as it seems to describe our introvert and extrovert nature in everybody, as we are a mixture of the two. All of us will have the two traits to varying degree. 

    The war between the two is fierce and never ending. It is going on in the mind and is so complex, where sometimes the head wins whilst others the heart does. We are nothing but consistent.

    What is going in our own mind is very complex. We are all an enigma wrapped up in a puzzle.

    I think that the book is an interesting read and must  look to buy it.



    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Antonio.  You’re right — the war between our two minds is fierce and never-ending.  I love your “We are all an enigma wrapped up in a puzzle.”  Right on!

      Please do come again….

  8. The analysis of the Essential Self and the Social Self seems to make sense. People do have more than one side and even the strongest willed can sometimes find themselves engaging in behavior that can be damaging or counter to their goals (self-sabotage).

    I was not familiar with Martha Beck or the book, but I am glad to learn of it. Thanks for including the video too so that I don’t have to wait on the book delivery to get more information. 

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Aly.  I’m glad you found the post helpful.

      Please do come again….

  9. Henderson says:

    Thank you for such a great post. I have not heard of Martha Beck or  read any of her books but from this review you have put up and the video I watched, I think she has a really wonderful personality.

    I think I’d get her book to understand how this selves work and how I can incorporate them.

    And that’s a very nice poem there, I envy how you can incorporate them in your reviews. Very beautiful 

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Henderson.  I’m so glad to introduce you to Martha Beck.  She’s amazing!  

      The posts so far in this thing have been an outgrowth of the poetry and the poems arise out of the way I am living so it just kind of works together like that.  I’m glad you like it.

      Please do come again….

  10. Most people shy away from living their essential self. So many people are trying to copy others as opposed to being their unique self.

    The fact that Beck is suggesting that the essential self does not change, that explains why there is that ‘war’ within us. The essential self wants to be unique and spontaneous; try new things, but most people allow the social self to be the dominant one, which is unfortunate. 

    That could mean missing out on new experiences and a host of other great opportunities. For example, some people allow others to talk them out of going after their dreams. I think the important thing is having a balance between the two selves, as opposed to allowing one to dominate the other. 

    1. Vanessa, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  

      You are right, I think.  We all need to balance our two selves.  

      Too much Essential Self and you end up not doing anything you feel is worthwhile (and maybe starve to death along the way).   Too much Social Self and you never get to do what YOU really want to do.  

      Neither scenario is particularly attractive.  

      Please do come again…..

  11. This is a very educating and informative article on knowing the best advisor for oneself. You have judiciously dealt with this topic and I would love to say that I did learn something important form this article. 

    Believing that we are the best advisor for ourselves is not so bad, neither is it so good. It all has to do with knowing the right inner self to listen to.

    1. Kelvin, thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do think you’re right.  We do have to know when to listen to the inner self that’s best suited for dealing deal with any situation we face and, often, the timing of it could be very important as well.

      Thanks for pointing that out.

  12. Richie Hai says:

    Great read ! 

    I love discovering our true self & our purpose in life. I’ve studied many materials & worked with many coaches in the studies of our spiritual personality & inner self. 

    I’ve never looked into Martha Beck’s material yet, however this article has got me interested and will look into her books. 

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. You are most welcome, Richie.  I’m glad you found the post useful.

      Please do come again.

  13. I have always thought of myself as a wise and smart person. I even grew to believe that I hardly can take anyone as an idol, and I became tired of the weight of too much awareness. Recently I started to give myself the chance to be reminded, just like my need for a shoulder to cry on.

    Thanks for the work of so many good people to remind us and show us the way to the North Star.

    Be blessed.

    1. Good on ya, Jeeda! 

      Do come again.

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