The Essentials: Arts, Self, and Martha Beck

Per the recommendation by one of my favorite bloggers, Jenny Blake of Life After College, I started reading Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star. Books about personal growth have always intrigued me, and I’m finding this reflective practice even more relevant to my life these days as I try to figure out the next step in life.

This weekend, as I read about the dichotomy of the social self (learned behaviors from our external world) and the essential self (the one that is connected to our true passions and impulses in life), the following passage leapt out at me:

By finding what you love best, by taking your true path to your own North Star, you put yourself in harmony with today’s increasingly changeable economic environment and add value to every job in ways that are absolutely unique. Your skills and passions will stay with you when corporate loyalty fades, or technology makes your job obsolete, or an opportunity that never existed before suddenly crosses your path. The stolid, predictable social self doesn’t have a clue about what to do in situations like these—but the creative and unorthodox essential self does.

This passage underlines the importance of the arts in education on a couple of levels:

First, I cannot underline enough the importance of creative thinking. It’s just one of the many life lessons that involvement in the arts helps young people develop. The arts cultivate self-expression and self-confidence that fuel the pursuit of new ideas and new ways to achieve results in any field. Whether or not my students eventually end up in careers in the arts is not the goal. As a teaching artist, it is my hope that I am helping my students develop the skills to commit to and articulate their unique ideas in their professional and personal lives.

Secondly, the arts are equal parts imagination and honesty. The art of acting has often been defined as acting truthfully under imaginary circumstances. Successfully “becoming” another person on stage requires a certain amount of self-knowledge. The more we understand ourselves and are in tune with what we want, the more fulfilling lives we lead. I believe the arts can empower young people by planting that seed of self-understanding that is essential to living a rewarding life.


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