Thursday, January 7, 2010

A Review of This Hungry Spirit: Your Need for Basic Goodness by C. Clinton Sidle (Larson Publications, 2009, www.larsonpublications.com)

In today’s self-help book market, finding something new is becoming harder and harder. In many ways, it’s all been said before, and often times far better, by far wiser people.

It was with this challenge in mind that I began reading C. Clinton Sidle’s This Hungry Spirit. The year was coming to an end, I had thoughts of resolutions and self-betterment for 2010 at the forefront of my mind, and as I shuffled through the stack of books I had to review, it seemed like as good a choice as any.

Sidle’s credentials are impressive. He is director of the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellows Program in the Johnson School of Management at Cornell, as well as being a leading authority on leadership, executive coaching, and developing human potential and author of two other books.

So what was different about This Hungry Spirit?

First and foremost, I found Sidle’s honesty about his personal life and challenges to be genuine to an extent that I have not seen in a long time in books such as this. While most self-help gurus employ anecdote to connect with the reader and illustrate the effectiveness of what they are teaching, there is often a sense of “talking down” or the author being so much farther ahead than the reader.

Sidle seems quite at ease with the fact that he is a “work in progress,” so it was easy to identify with and trust him—and by extension, his advice.

The book is a mix of explicative text, numerous (and genuinely helpful!) exercises, and, in the margins, post-it-like text excerpts that not only serve to review important points but offer the reader the opportunity to go back to This Hungry Spirit over and over again for advice, daily meditations, and reinforcement.

So what is this book all about?

In a nutshell, This Hungry Spirit explores the pursuit of happiness and the fulfillment of need that are the underlying higher motivations for any human being trying to actualize his or her full potential.

But what do we do? More often than not, once the lower needs are met, we pursue societal notions of “success”—an important job, high pay, awards and accolades, the accumulation of Things. But it is clear that many people (most?) with these items checked off their list are still not happy; still not fulfilled.

Similar to Ram Dass’s writings and lectures about seva (service) and Deepak Chopra’s advice to give, and give freely, of yourself, Sidle implores the reader to live in service to others in order to better meet the needs of service to self. This is an important idea and as the co-founder of a non-profit service organization, I can say without hesitation that it works.

As I mentioned earlier, the book mixes instructional text with practical exercises that rival anything that you would experience working with a therapist. There are a total of 39 of these exercises throughout the book and a “Leadership Wheel Assessment” in the Appendix. Each is designed to help deconstruct old mental models and build new ones, and the reader is often encouraged to go back and look at old exercises, which makes it easy to mark your progress.

The book is user-friendly and filled with upbeat and motivational section headings such as “Reap the lessons of adversity” and “When in doubt, return to your purpose.”

Besides the personal anecdotes, I found the selection of parables and bits of Eastern wisdom to be a delight to read. Sidle has done a masterful job of choosing them.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that there were a large amount of typos in the book, which is unusual for Larson Publications. I hope that these will be corrected in a future edition, as the book is simply too good to be bogged down by missing or misspelled words.

In the final assessment, This Hungry Spirit truly is a well-balanced, well-written, and very practical guide to feeding our souls and increasing our happiness. Its benefits to the reader are considerable.

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