Do you ever spend any time wondering why it is that you were born? I mean besides the obvious that your parents got together one time and got lucky? And I’m not really talking about spending a great deal of time and energy on the question, I’m instead questioning the thought behind the thought that might occasionally pop in your head. Things like have you ever wondered, is this all there is? Or what about considering that surely life is about more than just growing up, getting a job, paying bills, procreating and then hopefully retiring with enough money to enjoy some free time before we die?
Well this week I rediscovered an author I have enjoyed in the past named Martha Beck and she has a lot to say about following our life’s purpose. But she isn’t really talking about “what do you want to be when you grow up”—any more than she’s talking about “what do you want to do when you retire?” Instead she is talking about finding and then following your ongoing life path, regardless of your age.
In case you are unfamiliar with her work, Martha Beck is an author of soon to be ten books, an impressive three degrees from Harvard University, a mother of three children and considered the very first Life Coach in the country. One of the things that makes her most interesting is that people began calling her a life coach before it was even a “thing.” She herself isn’t crazy about the label—but because she’s come to be the leading life coach and trainer to thousands of other life coaches, she stuck with it.
But it isn’t her celebrity that makes her such a great teacher. It is her simple but personal approach to encouraging us to be true to ourselves. By using her own path of self-discovery mixed with her scientific background, she provides deep insight into every topic she pursues. Perhaps that is why I found her explanation of how these five paths can lead us all down the path to our true selves.
What are they?
#1 The broken path. According to Beck we all start out completely aligned and connected to our natural selves, but quickly become conditioned to our environment. Most of us quickly fall in step and try to fit the expectations of those around us—our parents, our teachers, our family. And if we feel any desire to be other than what they want us to be—we feel ashamed and usually start thinking that something must be wrong with us. Beck believes that in order to move past that “primal shame” we need two things: Self-acceptance and self-compassion. How do we heal our broken path? We learn to be completely okay with who we are. If you have been following my writing you know I’m doing my best to become aware of any place I’ve become broken and to leave it behind.
#2 The mended path. If a person is able to heal their broken path, they usually find themselves on a mended path. There is a great deal of “gold” in this path (think of the gold used to mend broken bowls in Japanese Culture.) In fact, people who have gone through hell and back often find that they have purpose in helping others overcome what they have recovered from. By healing yourself and then teaching others what you’ve learned, you find purpose in giving. And while that offers a profound purpose for a while, it usually runs its course and gives way to another.
As for my “mended path” I sometimes believe that because I haven’t had some huge overcoming like other authors (addiction, trauma, abuse, etc.) , that my example and story isn’t that powerful. Is that some of my primal shame? But Beck insists we all have a unique path to share with others.
#3 The path of fascination. Beck says, “Most of us have spent our entire lives thinking there is virtue in forcing ourselves to pay attention to things that don’t interest us.” That happens at home, at school, at church, at work, etc. And because we tend to numb what we are really guided to do; we often don’t find or see anything fascinating in ourselves or the world. However, Beck believes that we were each born to be interested in certain things and if we start to notice those things, narrow our focus on them and then name them, they become more predominent. She goes on to explain how this path actually led her to becoming a life coach when it wasn’t even a “thing.” She started with 1) curiosity about something; then 2) allowed her courage to tamp down her primal shame about what she felt called to do. Remember, if you are following your own path of fascination you can’t follow or mimic anyone else.
Thinking back I realized that my path of fascination has certainly led me to be a writer. I had little or no training, didn’t know a soul who was a writer, had no clue how to get started and had plenty of primal shame about doing it (still do sometimes). Yet I kept following that fascination and here I am.
#4 The path of mystery. If you allow yourself to follow your path of fascination you will eventually be guided to your path of mystery. This is a path where your intuition and serendipity will step in and lead you in different directions previously unimagined. How do you trigger it? Beck recommends you connect with your body in a deep way and trust the guidance that it gives us all the time—if we become attuned to it. How do you know if you are doing that? Make choices that lead you to find peace, joy and relaxation in the action, as you try to do what you believe you need to do. When there is relaxation and aliveness in the body, then your intuition is leading you on the path of mystery.
While I know that much of my life has been guided by the mystery, I also know that I have a long way to go with this path. My focus lately has been getting out of my head and tuning in and listening to what my body is attempting to tell me. Beck is big into body wisdom and with her encouragement I hope to improve.
#5 The path of truth. Although Beck admits that “truth” can mean many things to many people, she believes it relates to the true nature of All things. We find this path once we lose the falseness of acculturation. It is the space where things begin to work naturally—and we begin to live naturally. This path is all about being completely truthful with how our actions and thoughts line up in every instance of our lives. Something Beck says repeatedly, “Know what you really know, feel what you really feel, say what you mean.”
I’m guessing most of us want to believe that we are on the path of truth, but chances are good that we struggle with denial or numbing ourselves far more than we let on. According to Beck unless we are living completely, yes completely, in integrity and authenticity with ourselves and everyone else, we’re not yet on that path of truth. How do we know if we’re not? If there is tension, upset, fear or any negative emotion in our body at any time, that’s a sign we are off of the path of truth. And yeah, I’m obviously a work in progress!
What I find most refreshing about these paths to our purpose is that they don’t fit into what most people think of “purpose” at all. In fact, I don’t think we can even name “purpose” as a definitive description at all. Instead, I suspect deep inside that we each have a purpose that is more about living the journey as a unique expression of the Universe with as much peace, sense of truth, and aliveness as possible—rather than reaching any kind of destination or obtaining any particular designation. From there it doesn’t matter what we do, it is all about the why and intention behind the action.
So be retired! Why not? Be a life coach! Why not? Why not sing, dance, plant a garden, write poems, climb mountains? Does it even matter how we label ourselves—or whether it fits with what others find valuable? Forget anyone else’s approval and if you are worried about whether it will make you any money at all—that is a sure sign of acculturation. Another guiding truth that Beck says repeatedly is, “Everything I’ve ever taught in terms of self-help boils down to this — I cannot believe people keep paying me to say this — if something feels really good for you, you might want to do it. And if it feels really horrible, you might want to consider not doing it.”
I have come to believe that each of us was born to be a unique expression of the Universe during this time and place. Are we special? Only if every other person is too. And because we each have unique talents and gifts to share with the world, perhaps our only purpose then is to find the honesty to discover and then courageously share those gifts with the world as much as possible. It is fairly clear to me that our paths are never done until it’s time to leave this planet, so it’s likely that the SMART direction is the one that leads deep within.
I think everyone is a work in progress. 🙂
To me, it sounds relatively easy to understand how discovering yourself, figuring out what you like and what enriches you (and in turn maybe others), and then living by it is the way to go. Like Beck says, why is she getting paid to state the obvious?
Of course, in reality it’s not that simple, since social norms and life in general distract most of us from discovering our full potential, gifts, and “path” in life. You have to be in tune with yourself to reach that goal. This is not easy.
Timely post, Kathy, as one of the readers of my book just stated the following in her review of Plunge: “Liesbet Collaert writes a book that encourages her readers to stop and think about THEIR life. Are they living the best one they can?” 🙂
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Liesbet! I think your new book is an excellent example of how you followed your own heart, both while living the story AND while helping to bring it to print. NO one says it is all smooth and easy, only that the resulting joy and satisfaction is worth it. May we all keep walking that path! ~Kathy
Janis @ retirementallychallenged.com says
Very interesting concepts. I don’t necessarily believe that “each of us was born to be a unique expression of the Universe” but I do believe that we all have unique gifts. That we can enjoy these gifts and share them with others, makes our lives – and, hopefully, the lives of others – richer.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Janis! Don’t you love the word “interesting?’ ;-). Of course I get how “out there” that idea might be for many people. And I certainly didn’t arrive at it myself after reading a blog post. It’s taken me many, many years of reading, study, classwork, etc to get there so I realize that it is not exactly mainstream. Still, if it just gets people thinking about what they believe about why they are here, then I’ve been successful. And then yes, I’m hoping that it helps us all life lives that are a benefit to others and richer indeed. Thanks for your thoughts! ~Kathy
Patricia Doyle says
Fascinating. I’m going to need to reread this and internalize it. I recall reading Martha Beck’s Steering by Starlight book years ago and being blown away with some of the ideas. It was my first foray into self-discovery. What book did this path-way thinking come from? I’ve always been a fan of the life-path thinking… two roads diverged kinda being my personal life poem, It’s the journey my favorite quote. I’m beginning to align myself to the idea my purpose is to simply be.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Pat! I know this post was a little long and “deep” but I couldn’t figure out a way to trim it so–that’s what happened. I didn’t read Steering By Starlight but I think that’s the one about her son isn’t it? The book that stands out that I read is “Navigating Your Own North Star” which is very good. I’ve also had the pleasure of hearing her speak live at a conference and she is just as warm in person as in her books. She has a new book coming out early next year and I’m looking forward to that one. The basis of her version of purpose is a few video on her website. You have to sign up to get the link but it’s free and it’s called “5 Paths To Your Life Purpose.” You can find it here: https://marthabeck.com/ And yes, I don’t think she (or I) would disagree that your purpose is simply “to be.” Although I do think it is a bit more with “to be who you came here to be.” Does that still fit for you? ~Kathy
Donna Connolly says
Hi, Kathy – Your closing paragraph is spot on. Each and every individual is an important piece of our Universal puzzle. We all have gifts to discover and to share. When we are restricted from doing this or otherwise refuse, it is a loss to more than just ourselves. We need to nourish ourselves and find our path so that we each can clearly see that we are capable, cared for and connected. Great post!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Donna! I love that term “Universal puzzle.” Damn I think I’ll use that myself next time 🙂 And I also love that statement, “When we are restricted from doing this or otherwise refuse, it is a loss to more than just ourselves.” Clearly part of your purpose is sharing words that resonate! Thanks for your thoughts. ~Kathy
Mary@Growth Minded Marriage Podcast says
Yes yes yes.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Mary! 🙂 And I just saw your latest podcast just popped up on itunes so I will have to check it out in the next day or too. ~Kathy
Nancy Coiner says
Lovely! I’m not sure I believe in any primal natural self, but I agree that we can be headed TOWARD some (mostly) authentic, lively self. And I do like the notion that “purpose” can/should be linked to what we each love and gravitate towards. (Reading, teaching, writing for me….) You put it beautifully in the last paragraph!
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Nancy! Thank you! And I’m thinking that the willingness to define “self” in whatever way we do defines so much about how our life unfolds, don’t you? Of course I doubt that any of us would define it exactly the same or use the exact same words (shoot I not even sure that Martha defines it in the way I explain it but that’s what it seemed like to me!) And good for you for recognizing the things that you love and gravitate too–doesn’t that just help clarify so much? It sure does for me! Thanks for your thoughts on this. ~Kathy