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Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live
New York: Three River Press. 2001. ISBN:0-8129-3218-8


I believe I have read all of Martha Beck's books by now, beginning with her most famous, Expecting Adam which is a great true story about certain events in her life, then followed by, How I Lost the Saints and Found My Faith, another autobiographical account. Ms. Beck writes well and has many brave experiences but in both books there seems to be a plethora of crying, collapsing, fainting, and hospitalization. Let's just say they are dramatic.

So it was with great surprise that I read her two life coaching books, Finding Your North Star and The Joy Diet. In both these books she displays a lot of lightness and very funny material, irreverent, silly, and self-effacing humor, all of which was delightfully surprising. I didn't know she had it in her.

I chose Finding Your North Star because it contains a social constructivist model, akin to Spiral Dynamics, (see my newsletter "Blink" or Lynn Grodzki's, Building Your Ideal Private Practice.) which was adapted my sister, Lynn to a business model for entrepreneurs.

Martha Beck's ex-husband, Jonathan Beck, did some of his PhD research about similarities in successful organizational structures. Out of this came his Four-Square Theory that has been applied to micro- and macro-arenas. Jonathan and Martha once consulted with the government of Cambodia about this model.

They deduced that life's transformational changes as well as organizational changes follows a cyclical model that can be seen on the flat as four squares (see diagram) or in three dimensions as an upward spiral. Just like in spiral dynamics, if you're doing your job and not getting stuck, you will transition to each stage as a kind of evolution. As in evolution (or intelligent design), the movement forward never ends unless you or some external force actively kills the process.

Here is the outline that may help you understand this 4-Square better:

  1. Square One-Death and Re-birth
    1. early Square One=surviving your death, letting go
    2. mid-square one: The Threshold (stay present)
    3. late Square One=rebirth (vision quest)
  2. Square Two=Dreaming and Scheming
    1. Early Square Two=The Dreamtime
    2. mid-Square Two=Transition to Reality
    3. late Square Two=Scheming
  3. Square Three=The Hero's Saga
    1. Early Square Three=accelerating from zero
    2. Mid-Square Three=failure
    3. Late Square Three=Success
  4. Square Four=The Promised Land
    1. early Square Four=slowing down
    2. mid Square Four=walking beside still waters
    3. late Square Four=cultivating the Promised Land
  5. Expect Change! You May Have to go back to Square One.

Here is the diagram:

Square One Square Two
  Death and Rebirth
(leads you to Two)
Dreaming and Scheming
(leads you down to Three:)

Cataclysmic Event!= arrow that moves clockwise through all 4 squares, continuously

Square Four Square Three
  The Promised Land
(leads you back to One)
The Hero's Saga
(leads you to Four)

Square One starts with a cataclysmic event that can range from bankruptcy to becoming a national expert n your field.. A Catalyst can be good or bad but it always includes a Death and Rebirth, one that elementally impacts who you are in whatever area it happens. Catalytic events offer wonderful chances to rethink your life or work because each deconstructs some aspect of your self-definition. These events fall into three types: shock, opportunity, and transition.

The first two most often come from external sources. Not all shocks are bad news, but they are immediate and dominant. Even in a good shock, there is loss, confusion, and a process to lead you to a new-found sensibility.

Opportunities are not exactly externally enforced on you, but they do compel you to investigate or imagine a transition that still embraces identity transformation. "Jumping off a cliff, Taking the plunge" are two descriptors that adequately encompass the total impact of taking on a life-alt4erring opportunity.

Transitions develop much more slowly than the other two, but like all kinds of adaptive coping mechanisms (managed care's impact on a therapy business, for example) what once seemed like a good thing will naturally evolve into something that doesn't help you much anymore.

We go through transition catalysts all the time and often hide them because they usually need to be fueled by some fundamental re-frame or new behavior of ours that we and our paradigm resist. A fueling motivator to make a transitional change most effective would be (for example)by starting to say No! to things that annoy you. Think of doing that for one week to the things you really can't stand anymore. What courage! Especially as your external world gets scared and tries to block this change.

It's been said that people and closed systems don't like change. I will give you tips about how to go through this Four Square cycle gently. Consider: you have to go through a hard, step-by-step process. Maybe you decide to start from the beginning with a new business project or something easier, like getting a root canal. You can go through this in three ways-stoically and repressed, overwhelmed, needy and less effective, or by applying all the skills you've learned about how to cope when you are moving towards a shiny new goal. The path, like life, is messy.

Optimism doesn't have as much to do with this process as an acceptance of reality and the sometimes surprising tasks that we are asked to master.

Like this newsletter. I could just show you the diagram of change and tell you to use your smarts and figure it out for yourself. But no, I am deconstructing each step whether you like it or not, because those are the tasks of writing a helpful newsletter.

Alright, back to our model. Square One holds the "Death and Rebirth" experience because it holds the end of your wonderful time in Square Four (the carnival has to end, sometime) and the beginning or a new cycle of development. Square One allows you to plot a new life course based on your internal compasses rather than social pressures. Only if you get in touch with your essential self and go in the direction your compasses indicate will your life transition lead you toward happiness. (Beck, pg.248)

If the adrenaline that comes from planning a new course is fun for you, then Square Two; Dreaming and Scheming can be just as enjoyable. You are still in the ideal world. You get to brainstorm, build visions and paths in your mind, refine them, and throw them out, put in new ones, all without it costing you a dime or hurting anyone. Some people are just so good at this. Others need help to get into a brainstorming "buzz" that can lead you to very creative ideas.

Square Two is the time to create a blueprint for anything in your new life. (Beck, pg.249).

During this phase you'll have ideas that you could only create after going through Square One. The cataclysm, if properly grieved and accepted, acts a huge regenerative force. This would be the time, for example to re-frame Square One as an important passage towards building a new project, program or business. This begins with an inner vision and then moves into the external.

The push into Square Three is irresistible because as we all know, if your vision is aligned with your essential Self then it becomes hot enough for you to really want to make it concrete and see what happens. So, Square Two is a time for outrageous and fantastical brainstorming, sometime made easier by the active participation of others who are just kooky enough to get you going and push you to your leading edge.

Beck, with her affinity to Carl Jung, calls Square Three, "The Hero's Saga " and uses the symbols and metaphors of trial and error, as you make the steps to your vision concrete, akin to dragons and wizards who create obstacles for the Hero. How far are you willing to go with this? Successful business owners are willing to do anything . When an internal Vision is compelling enough, we develop an eagerness and courage to try and flesh it out in the real world. It "never goes easily" (p.250) and perhaps that's best, because with every setback there is motivation for re-design and re-invigoration.

Also, when done correctly, Square Three pushes you to your leading active edge time and again, which "grows you up" as the person who can make a success of your plan. "Grit and Grace" to quote Ken Wilber are what's needed here as your vision interacts and molds itself around reality.

In horse jumping we used to say "keep your eye on the prize " meaning, don't let any mistake, even those that will costs you valuable points, distract you from the possibility that you could still win the round.

This is what will finally bring you into Square Four where the change process bears fruit, and you can enjoy the rewards of everything you did in Square Three ." The change process becomes slower and more benign, (pg.251)". You will adjust here and modify there, editing, cutting out unnecessary work, work smarter, not harder, and relax with what you've built.

Of course, all this time of pride, relaxation, and living your dream project or program will lead you to a sense of wanting more challenges. The trouble is that people who get too stuck in complacency will not pay attention and something will fall out of place and bring them back to Square One.

There is a kind of flexibility in the strength it takes to keep Square Four solid and adaptable,, just like American business today. You can keep you nourishing and paying attention to what you have built and set strategies to have it expand or evolve. This will keep you in the "flow" of change itself so you can have some mastery over what happens to you and your vision.

Square One and Two are in the Ideal World which happens in your head. Square Three and Four are a call to Action. I coach people who find that the Vision is easier to construct and people who find the Action is easier. Whichever type businessperson you are, ask me how to make your other side strong and vital, to keep the arrow moving clockwise!

Here's to a happy, prosperous New Year!